A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Prayers of the New Testament 2/4
Seeking The Grace of God (Matthew 6:11-13)
Churches preparing for Pray Without Ceasing, have followed various initiatives to gather prayer requests. Door-to-door visitation, local press articles and church websites have all resulted in a flow of requests from people in the community. People are often willing for the church to pray for them and their needs.
Christians are often reticent about praying for themselves. Often they feel ‘unworthy’ because their needs are ‘nothing’ when compared to the needs of others. The Lord’s Prayer corrects such thinking. The model of the Lord’s Prayer guides us not only to ‘Seek God’s Face’ (vv. 9-10) but also to ‘Seek God’s Grace’ (vv.11-13). It contains four petitions requesting things for ourselves. Having drawn into the presence of God and sought his kingdom, we realise that he is concerned about every aspect of our lives (Matt 6:33). God’s love and favour towards us encourages us not to be anxious but to bring our prayer requests to him (Matt 6:34).
‘Give us today our daily bread’ (v.11) has been interpreted in a variety of ways.
The early church fathers, struggling with God’s being concerned with the mundane things of life, allegorised this petition to mean the provision of Holy Communion and the Word of God. The reformers removed this spiritualisation and took bread to be a symbol of everything we need.
These interpretations when taken together encourage us to have a day-to-day dependence upon God for all our spiritual, mental, physical and emotional needs. The faithfulness of God ensures that we have ‘Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside’ (Hymn and Psalms 66). We commit our needs to God knowing that he cares for us (Matt 6:31-32) and can meet all our needs in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19).
The temptation to be purely selfish in our prayers is tempered by the inclusion of ‘our’. This ensures that we pray for social justice and the needs of the disadvantaged. We are not praying as isolated individuals but within a global community of faith. The Methodist Prayer Handbook and various prayer letters can resource us in praying for others.
The petition does not exclude us from working to meet our needs. The provision of a job, the strength to work in difficult situations or guidance in the decisions of the day may be the very petition we need to make. The workplace, the place where we serve God, should be a focal point for our prayers.
‘Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors’ (v.12) should not be interpreted as making God’s forgiveness conditional upon our forgiving others. When interpreted in the light of verses 14 and 15 and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt 18:21-35), we realise that we must not only receive forgiveness from God but also forgive others. God’s forgiveness is a sign of his grace, something cannot earn. However, the gift of forgiveness brings the responsibility to forgive others. We are praying that God will make us merciful.
This petition concerns our relationship with God and with others. Our relationship with God is impaired if we are holding bitterness and resentment towards someone. In the same way that oppressing the poor prevented God hearing the prayers of the Israelites (Isaiah 1 and 58), an unforgiving spirit may prevent our prayers being heard. As we come before God, we must be intent to make right any wrong. In seeking peace with God, through the forgiveness of our sins, we must be willing to seek peace and restored relationships with others.
‘And lead us not into temptation’ (v.13) is praying for protection from times of testing. Whilst God does not tempt people to do evil (James 1:13), he does allow us to go through times of testing. Such testing may be allowed to develop us until we reflect the character of Christ in our lives (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Recognising our weakness we should ‘watch and pray so that we do not fall into temptation’ (Matt 26:41). This petition should restrain us from rushing into circumstances that expose us to temptation and instead alert us to the tricks of the devil. It is only when we are alert that we are able to take the way of escape when it is offered to us.
The temptation may be to turn away from God when his teaching challenges our present lifestyle (John 6:60ff) or when life itself is difficult (2 Tim 4:10). The prayer of confession in the Covenant Service (Methodist Worship Book p.285 para.13) exposes those areas in which we frequently fail. The neglect of personal devotions and corporate worship all too readily cause us to fall into temptation (Heb 10:25). Equally persecution or ridicule can prevent us from standing firm in our evangelistic and prophetic witness.
The Pray Without Ceasing initiative will hopefully give us greater clarity in recognising the priorities God has given to the Methodist Church and help us stand firm against the pressure to conform to the world’s standards.
The petition ‘but deliver us from the evil one’ calls us to recognise our weakness in facing Satan. Our deliverance is only through Jesus who was handed over to Satan, triumphed over him on the cross and rose victorious on Easter Day. By calling upon God for help we will be delivered.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer coupled with putting on the whole armour of God will help us to resist the devil and see him flee from us (Eph 6:10-18). It is the power of God that gives us strength during times of temptation and oppression.
The Lord’s Prayer is a model for our daily prayer life. As we delight in our relationship with God, we will gain confidence to make our requests to him. This model prevents us from treating prayer as a shopping list of requests. Instead it helps us to mirror Jesus, and from those moments of intimacy, move into fruitful mission.
Questions for personal or group study
- What initiatives have you tried to gather prayer requests from your community?
- How do you respond to those who feel ‘unworthy’to pray for themselves?
- Share examples of how God has answered prayer and provided for your needs.
- Forgiving others is very difficult. How do you interpret this petition? Can an unforgiving spirit be a reason that God does not hear our prayers?
- Reflect on ways in which you are being tested at the moment. Are you willing to undergo a lifestyle change in order to avoid areas of temptation in your life?
- In our Covenant Service we seek God’s forgiveness for ‘our hesitating witness for Christ’. The devil would certainly prefer us to keep silent. How can we be better equipped to talk about God?