Luke 11;1-13 (Matthew 6: 1-18.) The Lord’s Prayer.
In St Luke’s gospel the Lord’s prayer was given by Jesus to his followers when they asked him to teach them how to pray. There’s no doubt that prayer should be at the centre of our lives, and yet like the first followers of Jesus, we all experience times when it seems impossible to pray.
A Saint ,whose name I can’t remember, once said, “There’s only one way to God, and that’s through prayer”. But this raises a lot of questions as to what prayer actually is, and I expect you’ve met God in many different ways. When some words from scripture seem to be directed at you personally. When you receive communion. We meet him in each other, when we act lovingly. And we meet him in the beauty of nature.
So, we may take the view that the whole of our lives can become a prayer, and this makes much more sense of the statement that prayer is the only way to God. However, whenever you try to pray seriously in a formal manner, over a period of time, it isn’t long before you become aware that prayer can be tedious, boring and hard; and often seems to go unanswered.
Prayer is one of life’s great mysteries. Most people pray at least sometimes, and some people pray a great deal. At its lowest, prayer is shouting into empty space in the hope that that there might be someone out their listening. At its highest, prayer mergers into love, as the presence of God becomes so real that we pass beyond words and into a sense of his generosity and grace. But for most Christians, for most of the time, it takes place somewhere in between these two extremes.
Sometimes we feel guilty because we think that we’ve forgotten to tell God something, or to pray for somebody who needs God’s help. And so, we become tempted to try harder, and our prayer life starts to involve long lists of our own, to say nothing of the long lists produced by various church groups. Of course it’s important to pray for particular people and situations, but if we concentrate on this, then we shall feel guilty for much of the time that we pray, because we shall always forget to remember somebody or something which needs to be held before God like this.
Jesus told us not to rush to God with lengthy shopping lists. In fact he criticised people who piled up a heap of words on the basis that the more they said, the more they were likely to be heard. And yet, when we try to wait silently on God in prayer, it’s all too easy to allow our minds to be filled with lots of thoughts which quickly break up our prayer time. So it seems that whenever we try to pray we run the danger of being caught between a rock and a hard place.
Well, we need a framework which will help us as we try to pray, and a framework is just what the Lord’s Prayer gives us. So, what I should like to commend to you this morning, is a method of praying which I find helpful, and which might be useful to you too.
Much of what I’ve said boils down to the suggestion that we don’t need to use a lot of words in prayer, but we do need to concentrate on God in order to bring to him all the things that we should. And it’s when we’re settled and quiet, that we’re most likely to hear God speaking to us through the thoughts and convictions and flashes of insight which can appear at those times.
When we’re serious about prayer we know that we must find a regular quiet time best suited to our own pattern of life. For me its very early in the morning. For some people it might be late at night .
So, perhaps some time over the next few days when you begin your prayer time, use the Lord’s prayer as a basis for your conversation with God. Begin by just saying “Our Father”. Then stop. Just concentrate on that, until you feel it’s time to move on. There’s no need to say anything; you’re placing yourself in the presence of God your Father. Hold that thought in your silence and just wait for God. Rest contentedly in His presence and don’t worry if you aren’t immediately transported into realms of spiritual delight. God knows when you need that kind of consolation. He also knows when it’s time for you to learn how to give your will to him as well. And that means being prepared to sit in silence, content to leave to your heavenly Father, the consequences of your prayers.
When you move onto the next phrase,-who art in heaven-just repeat the process. Perhaps as in your prayers, you acknowledge that God is in Heaven, and as you think about what that might mean, your understanding of heaven may change and grow. And of course, God will use all kinds of things to speak to you about heaven as you acknowledge his presence there in your prayers. You would probably be surprised at the vast amount of information which you already have buried deep in your mind about heaven. God isn’t in the least surprised, and is quite able not only to bring this information into your conscious mind, but also to modify and refine it. But you have to give him a chance.
By now, I guess you’ll have realised that it might not be possible to completely say the Lord’s Prayer in the amount of time which you’ve made available. Well, that doesn’t matter in the slightest . Maybe Jesus intended this prayer to be repeated in its entirety, and of course that’s something which we all continue to do. But I rather suspect that he’s also happy for us to use it as a kind of scaffolding. This prayer isn’t a magic formula. It’s something we can mean with our minds as well as say with our lips, and it was given by Our Lord in response to his followers request.
Can there be any wonder then, that it’s such a powerful means of realising the closeness and love of God? Amen.