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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...


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