Sunday 3 May 2020
Our readings today are from:
Today I want to explore the question:
Is prayer confession or conversation?
I suppose, before we try to answer this question, we should look at the question do we pray and if so why?
I could cite the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-15 but we would need to look first at verses 5-8 because that is where Jesus tells us both the “Where” and the “How” we should pray, as well as caution us on forgiveness of others being a precondition for our forgiveness. Interestingly, whilst the Lord’s prayer is commonly said each week in church in verse 6, Jesus tells us to go into our rooms and close the door. In other words, it was originally given as a personal prayer. Or, the other place the Lord’s prayer is found is in Luke chapter 11 verse 2 where again the teaching is about, how to pray and not so much why.
People have been praying since around 1450 – 1410 BC when Genesis was written. Genesis chapter 4 verse 26 ends with the words "at that time, people began to call on the name of the Lord ", and the references to people praying continues on until Revelation chapter 22 verse 20 ending with a simple prayer "Come, Lord Jesus".
These many references in the Bible tell us about the circumstances behind the prayers but it is in Luke chapter 18 verse 1 that Jesus tells us to pray; - Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should "always pray and not give up".
I came across an excellent description of prayer by John Chrysostom who is quoted in the book "Faith that works" by R Kent Hughes -
Prayer has subdued the strength of fire. It has bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, burst the chains of death, expanded the fates of heaven, assuaged diseases, dispelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, staid the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. In this communion with God, there is an all-sufficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine that is never exhausted, a sky obscured by clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings!
These 20 reasons plus Jesus "Telling his disciples, that’s us, to always pray and not give up" is the why! I would like to dig into some of these reasons over the next couple of weeks but for today let’s dig into the Lord’s Prayer!
The Lord's Prayer (Verses shown in italics)
Our Father, who art in heaven,
I start with a question, what is your image of "Father"? I ask because, that will set your heart as if in concrete when you settle to pray this prayer. For some, God is Judge and so their prayers are more likely to be either confessional in nature. For others, their guilty feelings can result in a questionable expectation of the answer they might receive. Only you and God know how you feel when you pray.
hallowed be thy name;
For God’s name to be so "hallowed" was one of the reasons Jews had so many names for God, they wouldn’t dishonour God’s name by speaking it. It was why the Arc was kept in the Holy of Holies where only the high priest went and then only once a year. It was separate from mere mortals; all be it only by a curtain: that separation reflecting the way our sin separates us from God. God is so Holy that even when we stretch our imagination to breaking point, we still don’t come close to understanding God’s holiness. After all, how could we truly know what the holiness of God’s name is like, unless God himself reveals it to us. Yet, it is in acknowledging just how holy God is, that we demonstrate our realising how lowly we are. It is in that humility we allow him to reveal his Holiness, further emphasising our lowliness.
Thy kingdom come;
By asking for the perfection of Heaven to come, means we need to give up our kingdom, our sphere of influence and all out earthly belongings. Anything less and the perfection of Heaven is lost once again. It has to be all or none. It is a bit like sin – it is as black as hell or as white and pure as Christ! And yet God wouldn’t take away what we have unless it were to give us more.
Thy will be done;
Is this implying we are to be puppets? Not at all – it is the true expression of our humility, "We submit all to God". If angels worship God, and have done so from a time before we can even imagine, then they can’t be puppets! For them to be puppets would also imply that everything they say and do, is God directing the puppet show. It would be the height of arrogance. For Adam and Eve to be given freedom of choice would also imply God is two faced, and he is not! God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So, what is this telling us then? Could it be that in the perfection of Heaven we will be at one with God. Synchronicity – we may experience it occasionally with those we are closest to but ultimately, who wouldn’t want to be so close to God that we experience it all the time.
On earth as it is in heaven.
No more war, no more sin, no more death! Hallelujah
Give us this day our daily bread.
We should do well to remember we can expect our needs to be provided but not our wants!
And forgive us our debts,
This has to be taken with the next!
As we forgive our debtors
Do you see the conditional nature of our request for forgiveness – As we forgive others! We need to learn to hold on to hurts and grudges lightly whilst we hold onto Christs forgiveness tightly.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
I have been asked to explain why we need to ask God this? Is it because he is punishing us the person asked! Certainly not. Better to read it as if there were a comma after us. A plea for God to lead us and a direction we would have him take us.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.
This again is an acceptance of God’s holiness for all time.
It should be clear to us that our prayer is our attempt to become closer to God! To strive to be at one with him! Synchronicity again, that enables us to be able to ask the prayers God wants us to ask! Then we will see that God answers prayer today, just as he always has. But more than this, that God will answer your prayers and mine too. That is when our prayers are in sync with his.
So, what about my title? Is prayer about confessional or conversation? The answer should be both!
Our sinful nature requires us to come confessing our sins and seeking forgiveness. Thanks to the Cross and Christ's obedience, if we are sincere in our repentance our forgiveness is assured! That allows us to come in prayer as conversation. But if your experience of Fatherhood is less than perfect, I pray you can look more to the Reformer Anselm’s premise, that God is "that, than which nothing greater can be conceived" and see by comparison the purity and perfection that earthly fathers fail to achieve are there for us as adopted Children. I pray to that you will find room in your heart for a Father in Heaven whom you can pray to and experience his pure and perfect love; whom you would want to be in synchronicity with and whom you would want to pray to as conversation. As my wife quite rightly taught her Sunday school children, like a telephone conversation.
Should it be that you don’t pray or don’t pray believing your prayers are heard perhaps you might like to start that telephone call now. Just pick up the hypothetical handset and say Hello! God is listening!
Matthew 6:5-15 New International Version (NIV) Prayer 5
Luke 11:1-4 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer 11
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Father,[a] hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.[b]
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[c]
And lead us not into temptation.[d]’”