Jun 242016
 

WhyPrayDo not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

Just before we start an in-depth look at the Lord’s prayer, let’s consider why we need to pray in the first place. If our father in heaven knows what we need before we ask Him, why should we bother? After all it is quite clear in the bible that God does know all things;

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. (Psalm 147:4)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)

(1) Because He has asked us to!

You might even say He has commanded it. Jesus gave a parable encouraging us to pray “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) It was the parable of the persistent widow.

(2) Because He wills it

It is amazing that the sovereign God, the one who created all things and controls them should want us to pray. It is a mystery, but clear in scripture that He does:

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Psalm 2:8)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

(3) So that we rely on Him

Another mystery that’s difficult to fathom is that God wants a relationship with us. He loves to be consulted and asked and just simply to talk with us. But oftentimes we don’t pray until the situation gets desperate. The story of Jonah is a case in point

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish,saying,“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. (Jonah 2:1-2)

Even when we’ve been completely disobedient, God still wants us to pray

(4) He wants our obedience

Sometimes, we just need to trust that God knows best. If He has asked us to pray, it is for a very good reason and we won’t always know what that reason is! Are you obedient? Here’s a sobering verse:

You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:2)

(5) Because prayer changes things

Of course God knows our needs, but like an encouraging parent, he dignifies us and helps us experience the joy of seeing things happen through our prayers. He wants to partner with us and that we should learn and grow through this partnering relationship.

There are many other wonderful aspects of prayer we could look into and I just want to finish with a few more thoughts:

· We pray because we love. We are in a relationship with God and we want to spend time with Him.

· We want to know God more fully. Not just to get things but to know Him One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

· We pray to acknowledge our dependence on God: In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)

· We pray so that God might receive glory – It’s all about His name and reputation

Finally, we are followers of Jesus and He actually prayed quite a lot!

Next week we will start to look at ‘The Lord’s prayer’ and discover Jesus’ richest teaching on prayer.

 June 24, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jun 172016
 

Babbling like pagansAnd when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7 NIV)

This week we continue on the subject of praying and Jesus again turns to how we should not pray. I’ve used the New International Version this week because I was quite interested in the phrase “Babbling like Pagans” and wondered what it meant. From the outset, I want to make it clear that I don’t think all pagans babble, just in case any happen to stumble upon this blog and get offended. It’s not exactly clear from historical evidence what Jesus was referring to and perhaps the ESV makes it a little clearer. That says “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do”. The truth is the word translated ‘babble’ here is not found at all in the rest of the bible or any other ancient manuscripts. We don’t really know how to translate it. Jesus was certainly aware that some people tried to impress God by using religious language or using certain phrases over and over again.

I imagine that Jesus may have in mind the story in the Old Testament where Elijah takes on the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings. It has always been one of my favourite bible stories. Elijah has basically challenged the prophets to a dual to see which God will answer their prayers and send fire from heaven. The prophets of Baal have already been praying all morning;

And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18:27-29)

They said a lot and they did a lot, but firstly they were praying to the wrong God and secondly they were trying the wrong way to impress him.

The One true God has already been impressed with Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice and so when we come to God humbly, in Jesus’ name we stand a lot more chance of being heard.

We can certainly be guilty of vain repetitions. I have heard the Lord’s prayer quoted Verbatim almost as a mantra on many occasions and I rather think the point has been missed. As I intend to show you over the coming weeks, I believe the Lord’s prayer is a template with various prayer headings rather than a phrase to quote repetitively. I also believe that saying the rosary can be very similar, just quoting something over and over again to seek to obtain absolution. It’s as if we are trying to impress God by the number of times we pray ‘Hail Mary’(apart from the fact the ‘Hail Mary’ is praying to the wrong person!). These examples can certainly be ‘vain repetitions’.

I certainly don’t think Jesus is referring to the length of our prayers, because he sometimes prayed all night. Nor do I think he is saying not to repeat ourselves as Jesus himself prayed the same thing 3 times in the garden of Gethsemane (That God would take the cup from Him).

Some would say that praying in tongues would constitute babbling. I would take issue with this. Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it is babbling. You would be considered extremely insensitive if you went to a foreign country and described their language as babbling just because you didn’t understand it. Speaking in tongues is described in the bible as a heavenly language (1 Corinthians 13:1) so I would be very careful dismissively calling it ‘babbling’

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

I would say that praying in tongues is the perfect antidote to repeating yourself unnecessarily!

We’ve considered quite a few ‘do nots’ so now let’s have a look at the sort of prayers that God does listen to;

Pray in faith

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Approach God with humility and sincerity

When we come to Him we acknowledge His supremacy and we yield to His will. It’s not about us making our lists of demands, we humbly recognise our position before Him

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. (Psalm 138:6)

Pray according to his will

And this is the confidence that we have towards him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

We only need to open the pages of the bible to discover what God’s will is. It’s a really good habit to pray as you read. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you do.

Praying through the Lord’s prayer is an excellent template as I said before and we will look at this over the next few weeks. I’ll leave you with more excellent advice from the bible on this subject, which puts it all quite simply:

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

 June 17, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jun 102016
 

Praying in secretBut when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

In this part of ‘The sermon on the mount’ we are covering Jesus’ teaching on prayer. We are spending a few weeks alternating between how not to pray and how we should pray. Last week we looked at how not to pray – by praying to impress other people. This week Jesus talks about the correct attitude of praying – in secret. I don’t for one minute think that Jesus is condemning all types of public praying. There are instances in the bible where he prayed in public himself and the early church prayed in corporate prayer meetings often. In this passage, Jesus is not addressing corporate prayer, He is addressing private prayer between an individual and God.

Before we analyse the passage, let’s consider the awesome privilege we have in the first place of entering into any communication with Almighty God. The creator of the universe, the Holy God who dwells in unapproachable light has made Himself available to us. Jesus died to make a way into the father’s presence through His supreme sacrifice. God has not given in and said “Ok you can come to me if you want to” no, He has actively pursued us. He passionately desires a relationship with us because He loves us. Isn’t that amazing?

Going back to the passage, Jesus is saying “when you pray.” It is an assumption that we will. It certainly isn’t ‘if’. As Christians we have given submitted ourselves to God. What he wants for us matters. We have made Him Lord of our lives and so He now has control over us. We couldn’t be called followers if we had no interest in where He wants to take us.

Going into a room is not literal but symbolic. Not all followers of Jesus have a private place they can go to. Going into a room and closing a door is symbolic of finding a place where you can commune with the Lord privately. Shutting the door is an act of dedication of saying to God that “only you matter” This is ‘our’ time. For that reason, I don’t think it’s a good idea having your phone with you. To spend quality time with God we need to give Him our undivided attention. Jesus himself was constantly surrounded by people but He found time to be with the father. He would get up early in the morning or retreat to a solitary place.

We obviously can’t see God, so this discipline is a tremendous act of faith. We are exercising our faith every time we go to Him alone and consequently our faith will grow.

Jesus wants us to pray in private so that our motives are pure. If our communication is in secret it is not impressing anybody else. On our own we get His undivided attention, a personal audience with Him. The reward is God hearing our prayers and answering them. It reminds us of our dependence on Him. By praying behind closed doors you are showing that God means more to you than anybody or anything else.

It seems crazy, given the immense privilege we have, but praying to God, for the Christian, is one of the hardest disciplines to engage in. It takes great practice and commitment. If you don’t do it so much, don’t be discouraged, God wants to help you. Jesus’ disciples found it hard, so don’t be surprised if you do too. Over the next few weeks we will be investigating some amazing teaching on prayer. Let these blogs inspire you to go deeper into prayer and discover the delight of spending time with our amazing God.

Let me leave you this week with a poem;

Mid all the traffic of the ways,
Turmoils without, within,
Make in my heart a quiet place,
And come and dwell therein.

A little shrine of quietness,
All sacred to Thyself,
Where Thou shalt all my soul possess,
And I may find myself.

A little shelter from life’s stress,
Where I may lay me prone,
And bare my soul in loneliness,
And know as I am known.

A little place of mystic grace,
Of self and sin swept bare,
Where I may look upon Thy face,
And talk with Thee in prayer.

by William A Dunkerley

 June 10, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jun 032016
 

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the subject of giving as one of the 3 main symbols of piety at the time of Jesus. This week, and for quite some time, we will be looking at the next symbol of piety that Jesus addresses – prayer. Jesus is going to give us the richest teaching on prayer ever taught, but first He is going to address the wrong way of praying – as showing off!

Jesus again uses the word ‘hypocrite’ to describe the people who love praying in public places. If you remember a couple of weeks ago, I said that a hypocrite was another word for an actor; someone who is putting on a show, playing a role of someone they are not. This was exactly what was going on here. These ‘prayers’ were all about the performance. It was all designed to show how pious they were.

The Synagogue and street corners were normal places to pray, because devout Jews would stop whatever they were doing at the appointed hour of the day and pray (much like Muslims do today). The appointed times were; 9am, midday and 3 in the afternoon and you can imagine these pious Jews making sure they were in a very public space at these times for maximum exposure! They were not seekers after God but seekers after popularity and honour. They just wanted to be seen and that was their reward (all of it!).

I don’t believe that Jesus was condemning all public prayer. As was very often the case, He was addressing his listener’s attitudes. He was showing them (and us) that we can very often be more worried about our reputation and what people think about us, than what God thinks. God is much more interested in our character than our reputation. One version of Philippians 2:7 is that Jesus made himself of ‘no reputation’ (New King James version). If Jesus wasn’t worried about His reputation, then neither should we.

I want to bring this closer to home and consider how this might look in our day. Very few of us have access to a synagogue or are likely to stand on street corners and pray but we can sometimes have a wrong attitude when we pray in public. I think certain attitudes can affect us when we pray in corporate prayer meetings and as I have given some thought to this, I must confess I have been guilty of some of these attitudes too. How many of us like to demonstrate how knowledgeable we are when we pray out loud in a prayer meeting, quoting verse after verse we have memorised? Or pray for an extended time for added effect? We can show off without even noticing it. Our natural inclination to be popular and well thought of takes over.

God is not interested in how long our prayers are or whether we have remembered lots of verses to quote. He is looking at your heart, your desire and your sincerity. We have such an awesome privilege when we pray, to speak to the God of the universe. Let’s not spoil it and ignore Him to impress others.

Next week we will look at how God wants us to pray most of the time – in secret!

 June 3, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »