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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Prayer - take three

As I said, I also looked at a book called 'The prayer God longs for'. Goldsworthy's book was helpful for looking at the theology of prayer but I also wanted to get right back to basics. And I wanted to see how what Goldsworthy said fitted, if at all, with the prayer we learnt in school.

I guess part of the reason the Lord's prayer has always struck me is because it seems so basic. And yet I have thought for some time that it couldn't be that basic. It was how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. (As a side note, the fact that they needed teaching is an encouragement to me! But also tells me that prayer is something we need to practice, it is a discipline, it is an outworking of our salvation, a fruit of our redemption...)
If this was all he said in teaching them to pray, then surely it must encapsulate so much, was my thinking. Or else, if it really is that simple, why do I often make my prayers so complicated and worry so much about how I pray/what I pray/why I pray?

James Emery White takes each line of the Lord's prayer (which he'd rather call the 'disciples prayer') and looks at it in detail. It's a really easy book to read, very simple and very helpful.

Having read this book, I'm now more convinced than ever of the need to pray this prayer, often. And the need to pray it because it encapsulates everything my prayers should be. It is (surprise, surprise) a wonderful framework for prayer.

When I pray “Our Father”, I'm reminded of the basis of prayer as discussed in Goldsworthy – God is addressed as Father because, firstly, He is the Father of Jesus. I am united to Jesus and I share His sonship. This is the reason I address God as Father – because of Jesus' redemptive work.

This then, right at the start of my prayer, focuses my mind back on Christ, on the fact that I can only address God as Father in the name of Jesus. And it also focuses me on the fact that I can only pray in the name of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. So right from the beginning, I am reminded of God's trinitarian nature.

But it's not just 'our' father – it's 'abba' father. It's intimate. I pray to the creator of the universe as my dad. As much as the theology is important, it should not distance me from God in my prayer. Rather it should bring me closer, as I understand that I can address Him in the most intimate way. I don't need to distance myself. I can pray to my Father, which means I can pray enjoying the fullness of a wonderful parent-child relationship. I can just crawl into His lap!

When I pray “in heaven” again this reminds me of the God to whom I pray. It reminds me of His power.

I don't pray to a small god, a god who is maybe capable of doing some cool stuff and a few miracles but not much really. I pray to the God of heaven (and earth). I pray to the God who is capable of more than I can ask or imagine. So often I put God in a box. When I pray our Father in heaven, I am forced to take down those walls and realise that He's outside them.

I am reminded of, and forced to recognise afresh, His immense power. Power over nature, over disaster, over salvation...over me. Do I pray like I know I'm praying to God in heaven?

“hallowed be your name” - this is a big one. Because too often it's easy to focus on the daddy side, the intimate side. It's too easy to not take God's name seriously enough. God's name is holy because He is holy. This isn't something to be taken lightly. Nor should we fear it in the sense that we lose the intimacy, but there has to be a balance.

Then we come to the crunch – being submitted to God by prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. I spoke a bit earlier about the “your kingdom come” bit. The emphasis is on the 'your' isn't it.

It's not me and my will, it's God and His will that ultimately I want. These are hard words to pray. Maybe that's why we (I) don't pray the Lord's prayer so often. It takes a complete submission and neglect of pride to pray these words.

But pride is what cut us off from God in the first place. It is a battle we (I) will face daily, our battle with pride. So these are important words to pray.
This line is an intense line in prayer, these are intense words. Because when we pray these words, we pray first and foremost that God's kingdom would come in US, and from us spread to the world.

What I find fascinating about the Lord's prayer though is that it isn't just about God's will. Because the second half of the prayer moves on to prayer for our daily bread (which includes everything, we need to be reminded that we are dependant upon God for everything!).

It also moves on to our need for forgiveness, and the enabling to forgive others. It makes perfect sense to me that Jesus could have just told us to pray for His will to be done in our lives, because surely that's the most important thing.

But He cares! He is our daddy. And the Lord's prayer demonstrates completely, I think, how well He knows us. The structure of it belies that. We are focused first and foremost on who He is and that His will is most important – and it is in that context that we move on to pray for our needs.

Yes, he wants to hear about our needs, which is remarkable in itself. But He teaches us to pray for them in a way which humbles us before Him and reminds us that His glory is number one, and that He is all powerful so we have nothing to fear/want for.

We are totally dependent on Him. And we are forced to be honest with Him when we pray that he would forgive us “as we forgive others”. Again, these are hard lines to pray. But pray them we must. I must.

And then finally I am humbled (if I haven't already been!) by asking God to deliver me from evil. I'm reminded that this is a spiritual battle. And it's a battle that I am fighting in every day, but that I cannot win. It's a battle I have to rely totally on God for strength in.

There but for the grace of God go I.

I am susceptible to any temptation that I judge others on yielding to. I don't want to admit that, I'd like to think there are at least some areas in my life that I am in control of and that there are some temptations I would never yield to. But that's just not true. I need God to lead me away from temptation, to deliver me from evil.

I guess I've just been reminded of WHY prayer is a necessity. I always knew it was, but I'd lost focus on why. When I pray, somehow, God listens. I can understand the theological reasons for that – my unity with Christ through His redemptive work on the cross – but it still blows me away when I really think about it.

I am a child of God. I really am. This isn't a fairy tale, this is reality. I have the utter privilege of calling the creator of the universe daddy. And I can talk to Him. I can talk to Him about anything, and He will listen, because of Jesus.

But more than that, somehow, again beyond my comprehension, is the fact that even when I don't want to pray, He will help me through His Spirit – and that both the Spirit and Jesus intercede FOR me is something I'm still trying to get my head around. I guess it's when I lose that focus that prayer becomes hard. I need to be excited about prayer – not whip myself up into an excitement but focus on who God is, what He's done for me, and how I can, amazingly, have a part in His plans through the medium of prayer, by praying for His kingdom to come...

And I've been reminded, and encouraged, that there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. I can be confident that God hears my prayers because of Jesus, and that even when I don't know what to pray, the Spirit intercedes for me.

And so I know God hears. What then, does He simply ignore me sometimes?! Of course not. If he did, I would have no basis for calling Him Abba. He is my dad, and so I know he listens. But I also pray His will be done. And in that context, I know that He will answer. He will answer in accordance with His will.

Often this is hard to swallow. But it's the best way. And so I go on praying. I go on praying because that is how I learn to pray. That is how I am moulded, refined, transformed. I go on praying because of who God is. I go on talking to my dad by the enabling of the Spirit, in the name of Jesus.

I think I'm going to leave the study of prayer in terms of reading books on it for a while, and just focus on praying! There's so much more that I could look at, so many more aspects of prayer. But for me, for now, this is enough. It's been enough, it's been great, to just focus again on WHO God is. That's what I need to remind myself from now on of when I pray. And it's a matter of discipline.

Apparently William Wilberforce said once “All may be done through prayer – on then, pray, pray, pray.” For me right now the question isn't whether I understand prayer and the intricacies of how it works or not, the question is whether I'm praying, to my Father, in the powerful name of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit.

I know this isn't always going to be as easy as I'm making out! Which is why I like this story...

Prayer - take two

So there you go. I guess mainly my drive was to re-affirm my confidence in prayer – something which had been shaken through my time of being ill.

Initially shaken because I just felt too tired to pray, then shaken because when I did pray, the thoughts on my heart weren't always firmly focused on God's faithfulness. They had been, but as time went on they became more of the “God get me out of this” type, and I wasn't sure I should pray those or not. Truthfully, I was a little confused!

I wanted to look at the Lord's prayer – a prayer which has always fascinated me if only for the fact that you rote-learn it in school (perhaps not these days) and Sunday school, but then never seem to pray when you're older, at least not in my experience.

I had this instinct that surely there must be more to that prayer than this. I think I've had that for a while, I remember in exec meetings at uni asking if we could pray it together, and getting cell to pray it together.

But I started by reading 'Prayer' by Philip Yancey. Whilst this book is great and I'd recommend it, it wasn't really entirely what I was looking for when I embarked on the was certainly honest, which is one thing I love about it. And it made me want to pray honestly, to actively give God the thoughts He already knew were in my mind.

But like I said, I wanted to focus more on the Lord's prayer. And also I still had this niggling feeling that practical ideas/strategies for how to pray, how to persevere when praying's hard (although those suggestions are helpful and it's nice to know you're not the only Christian who struggles with prayer) weren't the answer, at least not the answer I was looking for. I knew I had to get to the root of prayer – why we pray in the first place, and remind myself of who we pray to.

So I turned to 'The prayer God longs for' by James Emery White, and 'Prayer and the knowledge of God' by Graeme Goldsworthy. Again, I'd recommend both books!

Goldsworthy begins his book by suggesting that how well we know God will have an impact on how we pray, and goes on through the book looking at this. Firstly he looks at how our knowledge of God relates to the basis of prayer, then the source of prayer, the enabling of prayer, the pattern of prayer and the progress of prayer throughout the Bible. To be honest, I need to read this book again to fully grasp it – I think the main problem is that I didn't read it all in one go, I read a bit on one day each week.

But it was really helpful, if somewhat technical in places. The first couple of chapters and the last one in particular were really helpful, mainly because they just reminded me of how great God is and what a privilege prayer is – this book REALLY made me want to pray, and made me excited about praying. But what I love about it is that it made me excited about praying by showing me who God is.

He reminded me that in the beginning, God spoke, and that a central aspect of prayer is the doctrine of the trinity. As for the basis of our prayers, this is our sonship in Christ. Jesus is the only true Son of God, and so it is only in union with Him we can cry Abba. We share Jesus' sonship – how amazing is that?!

So our prayer through Jesus is heard in the same way as Jesus' own prayers – that knocked me off my feet. Because it means it's ok when I don't pray as I should; it's ok that I can't find the words sometimes or sometimes I find it hard to muster up a prayer. Because Jesus has redeemed me – and that redemption includes my feeble prayers. If we really grasp that, Goldsworthy suggests, our prayers will no longer be half-hearted, but confident.

I love the words of The Vision, especially the last bit where it says “And this vision will be. It will come to pass; it will come easily; it will come soon. How do I know? Because this is the longing of creation itself, the groaning of the Spirit, the very dream of God. My tomorrow is his today. My distant hope is his 3D. And my feeble, whispered, faithless prayer invokes a thunderous, resounding, bone-shaking great 'Amen!' from countless angels, from hero's of the faith, from Christ himself.”

Sometimes, often in fact, my prayers are feeble, and they're not filled with much faith, and they're whispered when I don't quite believe God can answer...but I pray in the name of Jesus.

I've also learnt that developing our prayers is a fruit of our salvation, because prayer is, mainly, an activity of God's people, God's redeemed people who belong to Him because of Christ's work.

I've often wondered about how we should pray in terms of seeking God's will. For example with guidance for things, or for different situations. When praying that I'd get better I wondered whether that was what I should be praying, or whether there was any point if it wasn't God's will. But I've come to see that my focus was wrong.

My focus shouldn't necessarily be on WHAT I pray about – of course I am to pray about things in life, circumstances, situations – but I need to think about HOW I pray for those things. Do I pray for those things in a manner that suggests I want God's will, no matter what I'm praying about.

Goldsworthy asks at the end of one chapter “Are you thinking God's thoughts after Him?” Am I? That was a real challenge for me. When I pray, what is my primary concern. I've already said that of course we should pray for circumstances etc – but primarily I guess I've come to realise that I should be placing a big focus on praying in accordance with the gospel, which means praying in line with the storyline of the Bible, which is creation and redemption – which means praying “Your kingdom come”.

I'll come back to that when I talk about the Lord's prayer. But something the speaker at Portsmouth houseparty said struck me about this as well – he said that each new day is simply another day to proclaim Christ – that's the main reason for each day. Each new day isn't another chance to spend time with each other or accomplish certain things, it's the grace of God giving us one more day to preach Christ crucified. If that's the case, then that should be the focus of my prayers each morning.

Prayer is to the Father, through Jesus, enabled by the Spirit. This is prayer. In and of itself it is nothing to do with me. This is something I definitely need to remember when I'm struggling to pray – when my body and mind are tired, when I'm feeling low, when I'm wondering what the point is. The point is that God is God – that prayer is the result of knowing Him, the way I interact with Him (however I'm feeling).

Goldsworthy concludes his book by looking at characteristics of authentic Christian prayer. I was challenged that prayer should always be trintarian – I need to remember that when I pray. As much as the songs we sing neglect all persons of the Godhead, as we discussed in our Relay day on the Trinity, how often do my prayers? Indeed, it is only through the Spirit turning me to faith in Jesus so as to have access to the Father that I can pray at all! “Prayer is a foretaste of eternity with God”

Prayer - take one

As part of Relay we do an elective study module - this term just gone I decided to look at prayer, for reasons that will be somewhat explained further on in this or another post. Anyway, the south east relays (plus staffworkers Kath and David) met at beginning of December to present to each other (and Kath and David!) what we'd learnt. Thought I might blog it, but probably in a couple of posts coz there's quite a bit!

So, post 1.


Prayer – a little word with big implications! And many aspects – a huge topic. And so obviously there's no way I will have studied all those aspects in one term. So I'm going to start by reading you what I wrote for Kath when I started this elective study, because that explains (I hope!) where I'm coming from in my study of prayer:

I seem to go through phases as far as praying goes. Sometimes I can't stop! This itself is split into 'sections' as it were – I can't stop praising or I can't stop asking! There are times, wonderful times, when I just cannot stop communicating with my heavenly Father. And then there are times, not so good times, when it seems like such an effort. When it seems too hard.

It often feels like I'm the only one with that experience. But experience assures me I'm not! I wonder, why is it that sometimes, far too often in fact, prayer can seem like such a struggle, an effort. Surely it comes down to our motivation and our focus.

Surely if we knew why we pray in the first place – I mean really knew – then it wouldn't be so hard? Because surely the reasons are good ones (God being God)! Surely if we could focus on that in the dry times then it would help us, even when the going gets tough.

And so my first question is why do we pray?

And I know there are times when I pray with the utmost confidence in who I am praying to and what the result will be. But then at times I pray so halfheartedly, not really expecting or knowing if God will answer my prayers.

So my second question is what happens when we pray?

And then there are times when my prayers are unsteady because I'm not sure I'm even supposed (/allowed?) to be praying what I am!

Hence the 3rd question – What should we pray when we pray?

I know there have been many books written on the subject, and I aim to look at these during the course of my study (some immediate ones which spring to mind are 'Prayer' by Philip Yancey and 'Praying and the knowledge of God' by Graeme Goldsworthy). But I also want to look at the prayers of the Bible. I want to know what the Bible tells us about prayer.

I'd like to base my elective study for this term on prayer mainly because it's something I struggle with, because it's something I want to understand more, because I want to engage in prayer more, and because I want to help my friends do the same.

I want to be excited about prayer.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A return to blogging - courtesy of Mr Townend

From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin's faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
But the skies were filled with the praise of heaven,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel.

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father's hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again -
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend's betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world's transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free -
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He's standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own belovèd
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the Bride will run to her Lover's arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

Stuart TownendCopyright © 1999 Thankyou Music