Prayers of the New Testament 1/4
The prospect of spending an extended time in prayer is daunting for many people. Disciples of every generation know they ought to pray but need guidance on how to pray. Jesus recognised this in his teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15. He encouraged us to draw aside from the public gaze to spend time alone with God. As we do so we receive the promise of his presence and the opportunity to discern his perfect will.
Juan Carlos Ortiz, an Argentinean Evangelist, once received a parcel from his children whilst ministering in my home town on a tour of the UK. The contents included a scribbled picture from his toddler, an untidy letter with mistakes from his middle child and a perfect neat letter from his eldest. He asked the congregation, 'Which do I like the best?' The answer was all of them! He delighted in the way his children longed to communicate with him.
Pray Without Ceasing will release the truth that God delights in us praying in ways that are appropriate to our personality. We do not have to achieve a certain standard but simply share our heart with God. During our recent 24/7-prayer week, people offered prayers in dance and movement, pictures, poems and models as they expressed themselves to God.
This is how you should pray
The Lord’s Prayer is both a prayer for liturgical use in worship and a model for our own prayer providing a framework that guides us into a balanced prayer life. The prayer falls into two sections covering God’s concerns and our needs. This study explores the first element, 'Seeking God’s Face' (vv.9-10).
Our Father in heaven
Compared with Luke’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4), Matthew takes the intimate term Abba and places it in a formal liturgical setting, balancing intimacy with community and reverence.
Intimacy with God is the object of prayer. Oswald Chambers stated that there is no other motive for prayer than getting to know our heavenly Father. We are invited into a relationship which is not a biological relationship but one based upon our adoption as God’s children through new birth. We approach God with confidence because we have gained access through Jesus into his presence (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Commentators interpret the prayer in eschatological terms, concerned with the coming and consummation of the Kingdom of God. NT Wright describes the Lord’s Prayer as 'the true exodus prayer'.
The term 'Father' poses pastoral difficulties for many people. However, the intimate relationship into which we are called by God can be a liberating healing experience leading us out from the slavery of abuse, damaging experiences of parenting, absence of affection or dominance, into a relationship of care, protection and intimacy. The bonds which enslave us differ from person to person and from group to group. The exodus begins by experiencing the depth of God’s love in that place of slavery and answering his call to place our hope in him for the future. The journey towards healing and wholeness begins in communion with God, the atmosphere into which we can move towards true shalom; peace with God, ourselves and others. Intimacy with God is a healing experience which allows us to move forward from communion to commission as we seek the will of God in our lives.
Community is the context of the prayer. We receive the invitation to share in the relationship between Jesus and the Father and an invitation to discipleship within the community of faith. The Didache indicates that the prayer was initially used by those who had been baptised and was to be repeated three times a day. Today it is in the public domain. It is a prayer people have heard even if they are not able to recite, and is a model to be used by this and future generations.
Private devotions and fellowship in prayer are equally important. The discipline of praying with others has ensured that in keeping an appointment with others, we keep an appointment with God. Jesus also encourages us to agree in prayer (Matthew 18:19).
Reverence prevents us from down-sizing God. We are reminded of the sovereignty of God, who holds the future in his hands and calls us into that future. We respond with awe and wonder as we are reminded of his power and mystery. Yet God does not remain hidden in heaven. His character has been revealed to us in nature, scripture and supremely in Jesus. He encourages us to seek his face (Psalm 27:8) with the promise that this will not be a fruitless search for God longs to be found (Matthew 7:7).
Hallowed be your name
This is an expression of longing to see God honoured in the world today and the hope that many will enter a personal relationship with him. The reputation of God is in the hands of each of us as we represent him amongst our relatives, friends and acquaintances. This phrase should provoke an examination of our walk with God. Do we bring honour or dishonour to God by our life and witness?
Your Kingdom come
This statement looks to the consummation of the Kingdom when Jesus returns in glory. It also raises the priority of praying for the growth of the Kingdom in our generation as people respond to the gospel through the witness of the church. Such kingdom building is at the heart of the priorities of the Methodist Church, which must be underpinned by our daily prayer.
Your will be done on earth
The true response to intimacy with God is obedience (John 14:15). An encounter with God’s holiness evoked a response of repentance and commissioning to service in Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-8). In seeking God’s face we will also seek God’s purpose.
Continual communion with God will change the direction of both our lives and the church. Renewed by the Holy Spirit our minds will be able to discern what God’s will is (Romans 12:2). If we truly love God, we will be led through repentance into renewed living.
As it is in heaven
As individuals, we are created in God’s image and for his purpose. To attune our wills to God’s will bring healing, wholeness and fruitfulness into our lives creating a ripple effect into the world as God’s rule touches others through us. When we submit to the rule of God, the resultant blessing is not only for us but also for God’s world.
Communion with God was observed by the disciples to direct and empower Jesus for his daily ministry. As we seek the face of God the same results will be apparent in our lives.
Questions for personal or group study ~nnHow do you express your personality in your prayer life?n~ ~nIf you consider the concepts of intimacy, community and reverence to be important in your communion with God, how do you maintain the balance?n~ ~nHas intimacy with God led you to an exodus experience? Is the movement towards healing and wholeness a feature of your discipleship?n~ ~nConsider how God communicates his will to you. Maintain a journal jotting down verses, words and insights given to you. Be surprised at the way God communicates.n> ~nHow can we place and keep prayer on the agenda of our churches? What new expression of the Kingdom is God calling the church to?n~ ~nHow has God renewed or redirected your church through participation in the Pray Without Ceasing initiative? Have you communicated this to the district or connexional coordinator?nn~
The Revd Paul Wilson is the minister of a large congregation at Knutsford Methodist Church.
Headline Winter 2005/6 pp.12-13