‘Prayer and Fasting’, Jesus Lifestyle, Matthew 6:5-18.
Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 6:5-18 and Psalm 57.
Father send your Holy Spirit, to teach us, as we dive into the Bible would you awaken our hearts, expand our minds and shape my identities and lives today, and teach us how to pray… Amen.
Ever think about many people pray?
In 2018, a survey was held in the UK by Tearfund. Only 33% of adults attend church, once a year; and around 9% attend church regularly – which means at least once a month. These are sad numbers for a nation with such a great Christian heritage – it truly is a post Christian nation; today it is what you would call a mission field.
But the same survey revealed that 51% of UK adults pray. That is nearly 27m out of 52m adults. Even among those who said they were ‘non-religious’ one in five said they pray regularly – which meant at least once a month.
When they asked where they pray… significant numbers were praying on the go, prayer incorporated into their busy lifestyles… 15% of those praying, doing so when they were travelling; 20% prayed during household activities such as cooking; while 12 % praying doing leisure activities such as exercising. One third of those who said they prayed, did still did so at a place of worship; and one third – 33% prayed when waking or before going to sleep…
Finally. Among half of those who prayed, 49% agree that God hears their prayers. And 2 in 5 – 39% agree that prayer changes the world.
Jesus now reaches the place of prayer in the Sermon on the Mount.
‘’’Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before people, to be seen by them. … when you pray do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. …
But when you pray go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. ….’’
So Jesus begins with the heart motivation.
Why do we pray?
Jesus challenges, praying wanting to be seen by others.
Yet how can it be relevant for us?
Why do they want to be seen / heard. It is to have approval, or respect, to be seen in a good light.
How this can happen for us.
We are in a group, eg a life group, where everyone is praying for something. It is an open time of prayer. Everyone else has prayed. We feel we ought to pray. We do not want to, but we wonder what people will think if we do not pray outloud – because the last time we did not do it either.
So we pray, because we want their approval…
Or it can be who you are praying with. But let’s get honest. When I am in the position where I am praying with eg a Bishop, or a few years ago, I remember when I was praying with a Christian leader I really respected and who has been used greatly by God, the temptation was there, to do a special prayer, a solid one, something worthy of the psalms!
A bit sad really. I share this to show the temptation can be there, which is what Jesus warns us about. I can face it in the settings I am in. I have to choose to reject the idea and just pray as I can, not as I can’t. To pray to an audience of One, our Father in heaven.
You may feel that way. Firstly can I say. Sometimes people feel intimidated by a priest. I hope you know me well enough now not to be! But if you pray with me, or I am in a group, and the thought comes into your mind, oh, we are praying with Revd Grant before a service or in a council meeting or a study group, and I need a really good prayer as a priest is here – just ignore it, pray as you want and as you can and it is okay to pray in silence.
About praying outloud. I want to share one story from my previous church.
St John’s. Peggy Jones. Lovely elderly lady. In some informal services, we would pray for people on our right or on our left. Peggy didn’t do praying outloud. So rather than do it to please me or to fit in, I remember, when it came to praying for the person on your right she would take their hand, and hold it while she prayed for them and then let it go, so then the next person could pray. It was beautiful to see.
When Jesus says go into a room, he does not mean that is the only way to pray – is on your own. We know Jesus prayed publically, with others – we see it in Gethsemane. The early church prayed together – as seen in Acts 4. Jesus means pray in such a way, as if it was only between you and God – as if no one else was around – let that be your hearts’ attitude in prayer…
How to approach prayer?
Keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep it up.
Keep it simple – Jesus wonderfully says we do not need to babble away to persuade God to listen or act, he already knows what is going on and he wants to hear from us. Instead. God invites us to pray directly, truthfully, simply, in the way he has made us. You can pray anywhere – while cooking, while exercising, while travelling to work as well as in that special place in your home.
Keep it real –
Nicky Gumbel shares: ‘’I don’t find communicating very easy. Thankfully, I’m married to a very good communicator. Recently [my wife] Pippa and I were going to be interviewed at an event in London. We spent the first part of the morning planning together, preparing what we were going to say. Then we got on our bikes and cycled to Westminister Central Hall, talking along the way. We both spoke at the event and then chatted over lunch. We cycled back home, discussing how it went. Over supper and watching a film that night we continued to talk.
Then Pippa said to me, ‘’Nicky, you haven’t communicated with me all day!’’
said, ‘We’ve done nothing but communicate all day! We were talking this morning, we were talking on our bikes, what do you mean, ‘I haven’t communicated with you all day?’
Her response was : ‘Yes, we’ve been talking, but you haven’t said what is really going on? You haven’t said what you’re really thinking, what you’re really feeling.’
She was right; communicating properly involves expressing what is really going on inside.’’ (Nicky Gumbel, Jesus Lifestyle, p.153)
Keep it real in prayer. Say to God really what is really going on, what you really think or feel.
Keep it up. Later in Matthew 7, Jesus encourages to keep on praying. Sometimes we just keep praying when we feel nothing, or we do not yet see any results or even growth or change… but we stick at it, like a marathon runner who has hit the pain at 12 miles but he presses on…
So keep it simple, keep it real, keep it up.
A model how to pray.
This model, shaped by the Lord’s Prayer is very well known to those who follow Lectio 365 prayer app or did the Prayer Course inside the life groups..
Rejoice & Reflect
Pause. As Pete Greig says, to move forward in prayer, we must learn to pause! What is this? Simply. As we sit in the chair, or go on the walk or kneel by the bed, we stop praying. We pause. We are still. We put down the prayer list for some moments, we surrender our agenda, we stop talking at God, to pause and wonder at who He is, and enjoy, you could say, being with him. To let our compass settle on him.
If nothing else, to simply focus on God as our Father in heaven…
Rejoice and Reflect.
We note the model Jesus gives us. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. We pause, are still. Then we honour God’s name ourselves. Honouring who God is – name means God’s character. Praising, adoring how he is revealed in creation, in his word and by Jesus. This rejoicing may also include thanksgiving for all God has done and for all he will do, for the prayers he has answered and the promises he has made. We see how many times Paul in his letters, mentions that when he prays for the churches, he prays with thanksgiving.
Reflecting refers to the use of scripture both to praise and worship, but this may also be the place to take a bible passage to reflect upon it, so that the asking that later comes, is shaped and formed by that scripture passage.
Ask. ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven, give us today our daily bread.’ Jesus shares God’s prayer list for us! Ask is about bring our personal petitions – our personal needs, our daily bread ; it is about also intercessions, for God’s will, his rule to break into lives, situations, cities, companies, nations, for regime change, his kingdom to come. When Jorin leaves for Lebanon, we want to be alongside her in intercession, praying for her, the projects she is involved in, for the broken nation she has been called to.
Yield. The final step is the step of yes as Brother Andrew called it. To yield. To surrender to God’s will on earth. We yield to his will through his word, his bible. We listen to what he is saying to us, correcting, teaching. We yield to his holiness through confession – forgive us our sins – and reconciliation – as we forgive those who have sinned against us. We yield to God’s power – seeking his help in our daily lives – lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. We are engaged in daily spiritual warfare, an enemy who seeks to draw us away, who seeks to damage, even destroy our walk with the Father.
We yield to God’s power.
Rejoice and Reflect
Who we approach. Our Father in heaven.
Nicky Gumbel shares about Jonathan Aitken. (Gumbel, ibid., p.154). He was a British govt minister, who was sent to prison, and became a Christian there.
Before he converted to Christianity, Aitken said he treated God a bit like he treated the bank manager.
‘’I spoke to him politely, visited his premises from time to time, occasionally asked him for a small favour, or overdraft, to get myself out of difficulty, thanked him (without really meaning it) for his assistance, kept up the appearance of being one of his reasonably reliable customers, and maintained superficial contact with him on the grounds, that one of these days he might come in use..’’
That was how Aitken saw God before he became a Christian. Jesus desires us, his followers, to have a much different image of God.
Jesus addressed God as Father. He used the Aramaic ‘Abba, the word used by children to address their father ‘ daddy.’
John says : ‘to all who received him – Jesus – to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God.’ We – as Christians – have been adopted into the same family as Jesus –‘You received the Spirit of sonship And by him we cry ‘abba father’. The Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are God’s children.’’ Romans 8:15-16.
So not only does Jesus address God as Father, he says we can address him in the same way. There is no jealously, no sibling rivalry between Jesus and the children of God.
God is the perfect Father. Yet for some who had not had a good relationship with their Father, there is difficulty in calling God ‘Father’. This may be due sadly to abuse,
or your Father was unloving, distant or never there or over demanding. Perhaps you felt that on your school report card, Bs were not enough or 6s or 7s. Your Dad only wanted As, 9s and 10s…
For some, it is extremely difficult to call God ‘Father’ and perhaps it will take much time before feeling comfortable or able to use that title.
The way we view God will affect how we feel about praying. A small step that may help. If we struggle to call him Father, we try to remember what Jesus said in John 14 ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,’’ Try to get your image of God the Father from Jesus, not from your earthly parent. Picture Jesus of whom compassionate and kindness was true: ‘’a bruised reed he will not break.’’ Matthew 12.
Our Father in heaven. Is Jesus only telling us where God ‘lives’. Jesus shares these words to help us have perspective. The word ‘in heaven’ reminds us that our Father is being worshipped in heaven – whether we pray for him today or not! That there are billions and billions of angels who praise and worship him 60 seconds a minute, 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.
‘In heaven’ reminds us of how big and great God is.
‘Our Father in heaven’ gives us two perspectives as we approach God in prayer. ‘Our Father’ invites intimacy with God. ‘In heaven’ points us to his supreme majesty. So ‘our father in heaven’ simultaneously embraces both approaches. We approach God with a feeling of awe and intimacy at the same time.
‘Our Father in heaven’. That title helps us see the immediate contrast between our heavenly father and our earthly father. When Jesus told us that we can address our Father in heaven, we are to look beyond the present realm.
Our human father has limited ability, he cannot do everything.
Our human father has limited authority, he cannot control everything.
Our human father has limited availability, he cannot always be there.
Your Father in heaven. He has unlimited ability. Job 42 ‘’I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.’’
God has unlimited authority. ‘’’’I make known … what is still to come. I said ‘my purpose will stand’ and I will do all that I please.’’ Isaiah 46:10.
God has unlimited availability: Psalm 139 ‘Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make the bed in the depths, you are there …’’
So as we approach prayer: ‘Our Father in heaven’, reminds us to let God be God and to recognize God is wholly other.
He is in heaven, we are on earth. It reminds us – how big he is, how small we are; how much he knows, how little we know. Our Father is in heaven, yet he is also close at hand. He is in heaven but a very present help in times of trouble. In heaven does not mean he is distant. He can and has come alongside us by his Holy Spirit – his presence felt to comfort, console, to guide.
Jesus says much about prayer..
But in these moments we are reminded – our heart attitude matters, why we pray.
When we approach, we want to keep it simple, keep it real, keep it up.
How we approach we suggested the simple model – PRAY – pause, rejoice and reflect, ask, yield.
And who do we approach – Our Father in heaven.
To explore much more we suggest the Prayer Course run by 24-7. Over 8 sessions it explores the Lord’s Prayer. Or why not try the Lectio 365 prayer app
Shall we pray…
Lord of heaven and earth,
as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer,
give us patience and courage never to lose hope,
but always to bring our prayers before you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.