A quote………‘You know the value of prayer: it is precious beyond all price. Never, never neglect it’.
What is prayer?
With that quote from Thomas Buxton we are reminded of the importance of prayer. What though is prayer? Prayer is simply reaching out to God in love and faith and receiving what he longs to give us. But what is God like first of all? People picture him in all kinds of ways. Some perhaps see him as rather a remote figure. Lord of heaven and earth certainly, but disconnected from our everyday struggles. Others maybe see him as a stern father figure; very concerned to chastise our mistakes and whom we need to placate. Jesus though cuts through all of that and brings us to the heart of the matter. ‘When you have seen me you have seen the Father’, he said. In other words we see God revealed in Jesus Christ, and the God we see is one of unconditional love who wants us to know and receive that love. When we do that then we are most truly alive. St Augustine in fact said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. So, when we pray we are connecting with God who showers us with his love and gives us himself. Our job in prayer is to believe and to respond in the fullest way we can to God’s love, and this little leaflet makes some suggestions about how we might do that. We cannot attain God on our own, so we direct our prayers to God through Jesus who said, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’. We end our prayers with ‘Amen’ which means let it be so. Let God’s love rule in our hearts.
So, how should I pray?
You might like to use prayers written by others or you might prefer to use your own words. If you do, then talk honestly and openly to God. Be yourself. Tell him what is going on in your life. Don’t feel you have to use lots of words (in fact it’s better not to) or be a theological expert or know your Bible inside out. God knows and loves you and prayer is not about passing an exam or proving anything. We might feel we need to progress and worry that our prayer isn’t ‘working’ somehow. Prayer then becomes focussed too much on ourselves and our ego, when actually true prayer is about setting self aside (or losing our life as Jesus put it) and wanting God instead. So, make that time for God. You might find yourself wanting to sit in silence in God’s presence. A bishop once came across a working man praying by himself in church and asked him what he was doing. ‘I look at Him and He looks at me’ was the reply.
What should I pray for?
Pray from out of a sense of thankfulness for your life and from the love that God wants you to have for others. Ask that your faith would develop and mature and that God would help you to grow in the ‘fruit of the Holy Spirit’ (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). Ask for forgiveness and tell God that you love him. Ask too that God would strengthen you to deal with what each day brings. Name what is on your heart or what troubles you: situations in your life and the lives of those you love. Pray for your local community, for world events. Ask for God’s blessing and healing presence, and that his kingdom of love, forgiveness and justice would come.
Special times for prayer
Jesus said we should go into our room and lock the door, so in other words its helpful to set aside a quiet time (or times) each day when you can pray and be open to receiving and responding to God’s love. Jesus himself would often go alone into the hills to pray and you yourself might find the necessary quiet while out walking. Others will be able to find a quiet place at work. Yet others will find it easier to have a quiet time in their own house. Calm and still yourself before you begin; pay attention to your breathing. There are various ways you can use your quiet time:
- Read a passage of Scripture using Bible study notes which will help you to reflect on what you’ve read. Then move on to a time of prayer which will emerge from your particular reflections on the passage. When reading a passage of Scripture you might want to use the technique of ‘lectio divina’. Read very slowly and deliberately until a word of phrase claims your attention. ‘Chew it over’, reflect on it. Again, this will help to lead you into prayer. Or you might want to imagine yourself as one of the people in the story. This can be a powerful way to both learn something about the passage but also lead into prayer.
- Say the daily office. This is a structured series of prayers, psalms and readings for both the morning and the evening, and is available online. Just search for Church England Daily Prayer. Other online daily services are available. Search for Sacred Space or Northumbria Community or Pray-as-you-go.
We can use art, crafts, music in our quiet times. John Pritchard’s book ‘How to pray: a practical handbook’ is very helpful. All these ways of praying (and many others) are to assist us to be there for God and open to his transforming love.
When should I pray?
Remember that God is not just to be encountered in church on Sundays but in the rest of the week too, so pray every day. The specific times will vary from person to person, but prayers at the beginning and the end of each day are helpful. In the morning ask for God’s strength for each part of what you expect your day to be like. See each day as a gift and rejoice. In the evening give thanks and ask for forgiveness if that is necessary. Prayer during the day might take the form of short ‘arrow’ prayers lifting a specific concern to God or giving thanks for something. Take even just a moment to step within yourself to feel God’s good presence.
Persistence in prayer
Simply making the time for prayer can be difficult for many people in the busyness of life. However, keep going. Jesus taught that we should be persistent in prayer; St Paul said we should pray ‘without ceasing’. We might feel we are doing nothing when we pray but carry on. Prayer is of immense benefit. It ‘unites the soul to God’ as Mother Julian said and it changes us. We most truly love when we are praying in God’s presence, and that love spills out (gradually, over the years) into what we do and say to transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ.
Praying with others
This can be very encouraging; it might be in a formal church prayer meeting or with a small group of friends (a prayer triplet perhaps). Begin with some words of Scripture; then discuss what needs to be prayed about before bringing those concerns to God. Some people will want to pray out loud, others might wish to pray silently. Prayers are also said in church services where the whole church family is involved.
The goal of prayer
Our particular times of prayer (and different ways of praying) help us to hear God’s voice which is always with us, but which we often don’t notice against the backdrop of our day to day lives with their worries and concerns. The ultimate goal though is for all life to become a prayer; for all life to be pervaded by the presence of God’s ‘light and tenderness’. When that happens then life is opened up as something of outstanding wonder and beauty and limitless potential. It really is!
(c) St John’s Publications 2016
TO HELP YOU TO PRAY
Use the following suggestions to help you in your prayer times……
Let the peace of this place surround you
as you sit or kneel quietly. Let the hurry
and worry of your life fall away from
you. You are God’s child. He loves you
and cares for you. He is here with you
now – and always. Speak to Him slowly
and thoughtfully – give yourself time
for Him to bring things to mind.
Lord, thank you……
for your presence here, for the
opportunity to pray,
for the promise of peace,
for the beauty of the world,
the kindness of people….
for all those whom I love….
and those who love me….
for your love towards me (and
for the Cross of Christ and the
power of the Spirit.
Help me to show my gratitude in
deeds as well as words.
Lord, I am sorry……
for the times when I have been
hasty or unkind (especially to…)
thought or acted selfishly, failed to
forgive or ask forgiveness,
forgotten in your presence,
taken your love for granted.
I thank you for your promise to
forgive all those who turn back to
you in penitence.
Lord I am troubled.…..
I am anxious and distressed for
Help me to trust your love,
for you carry our sorrows.
Teach me to act and speak
in the way that you want.
Give me the wisdom to know
when not to interfere.
Calm my fears,
for all things are in your hands
Lord, I pray for……
my family….and friends,
my neighbours at home, at work,
the ones I like….and dislike….
for those who are ill….
for those who are troubled
or who mourn,
for the oppressed,
for those involved in disaster or war.
Bless them, Father,
in their various troubles
and show me how I may help.
O heavenly Father, your will for me
(and for all people) is my eternal
happiness now and for ever. I thank you
for the blessings you have given me and
ask for the strength to walk in the way
where you lead me. Help me to
remember the love of Jesus shown on
the Cross and to accept the new life,
love and freedom which He offers to me.
The Lord’s Prayer – based on two talks given at the Pastoral Workers Quiet Day at Foxhill Retreat Centre in 2015
The Lord’s Prayer as we know it comes from two places in the New Testament. In Luke’s gospel the disciples ask Jesus to teach them, not a prayer that they could use, but rather how to pray and Jesus replies, ‘Pray then in this way’. What follows is what we call the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew’s gospel we find the Lord’s Prayer set amongst some general teaching that Jesus is giving about prayer.
What we have in the few words of the Lord’s Prayer is something which is both robust and profound enough to be a guide to prayer in general, but is also short and simple enough to be used as a prayer in its own right. The Lord’s Prayer has been prayed down through the centuries, and all over the world, in Sunday worship, all kinds of prayer and Bible study groups and by individual people on their own. It really is a prayer that can be prayed by anyone – even the youngest child.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, in their call to prayer for the evangelisation of the nation in 2016, had this to say about the Lord’s Prayer:
‘It is impossible to overstate the life-transforming power of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that is reassuring enough to be on the lips of the dying and yet dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas. It is famous enough to be spoken each day by billions in hundreds of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us ever closer into friendship with Jesus Christ. It is simple enough to be memorised by small children and yet profound enough to sustain a whole lifetime of prayer. When we pray it with sincerity and with joy, there is no imagining the new ways in which God can use us to his glory.’
So, let’s look in more detail at the Lord’s Prayer….
Consider first where the emphasis lies. The first part is all about God. What sort of God are we talking about though? Some people imagine God as a distant figure, remote and unconcerned with our day to day lives. Yet others picture him as a stern, head-teacher sort of figure, someone we need to placate because he is very interested in chastising our mistakes. Yet the God we see through Christ is one we are invited to address as Father; our loving father in heaven. A father who is always with us, always delighting to supply our needs and on whose care we can rely.
Having said that God is not our ‘mate’, he is to be approached with awe and adoration. Hallowed be your name we pray. We remember that God’s very name is hallowed, holy and special, so we approach Him with reverence and humility (which is the attitude we should always have when we pray). We pray too that God’s kingdom would come; for his rule of loving relationships and justice in the world, and for his will to be done in our lives as all of this is already done in heaven.
Read these familiar words through slowly:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.
Familiarity breeds contempt they say. These words are probably very well known to us, but when you stop to ponder them they speak of wonder and transcendence. There is holiness there, something which we are able to approach (even if only from faraway); something which we are able to gaze at even if it’s only ‘as in a glass darkly’ as St Paul says. God has put eternity in man’s hearts as it says in Ecclesiastes 3: 11. There is something in this part of the Lord’s Prayer which puts into words the longing we each of us have deep down for something ‘other’, for transcendence; for God. It’s a longing which takes shape differently in each of us – it might tug at our heart strings with, say, the sight of hills in the distance, light dancing on the water, bird song; the beauty of a butterfly’s wings. So many things.
Then the prayer switches as fast as lightning from the greatness of our Holy God to our need; from God’s glory to our sinfulness as human beings. We might not like to think of ourselves as sinful, yet the Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all imperfect in one way or another, yet the God we see in and through Jesus looks at us with kindness and pity and not with blame.
In the Lord’s Prayer we ask particularly for three things:
‘Give us this day our daily bread’.
Note that we don’t ask God to give us our daily cake! We ask God for the basics in other words, not the luxuries. We ask for enough to give us a healthy life in both body and mind and for the things that we need for fullness of life.
‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we also have forgiven those who trespass against us’.
We pray that God would forgive us as we forgive those who have hurt us. We remember that we are sinners who need to be forgiven. Guilt cripples and disables, we can’t flourish when we are loaded down with guilt; we need to be able to forgive when someone has hurt us so that we can have the fullness of life which Jesus talks about. Sometimes we hang onto our hurts and bear grudges. Sometimes we even prefer to hold onto our grudges; we pile them up around us and cling to them down through the years. ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. Forgiveness is not something which can necessarily be done immediately; it can be very difficult and take months or years, but God will always help us. He longs to do so in fact. We just have to ask and be open to receive.
So we pray for help to be able to forgive so that we can then live in the freedom of God’s love. And we pray this with confidence. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” Jesus says (Matthew 26:28). When we pray for forgiveness, we expect it not merely because God is our Father, but because God (our Father) gave his Son to die in our place; to die for us.
‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’.
There are all sorts of temptations which lie in wait all around us to snare us and hold us fast; different for each one of us. We are keen to steer clear of them, we don’t want to sin, but yet how difficult it can be. So, we turn to the one who really can help; we turn to God and we ask that he would help us. We pray that God would guard us from temptation’s onslaughts and guide us untouched through its siren voices. Deliver us from evil we pray.
A point worth noting is that the Lord’s Prayer moves seamlessly from the immensity and vastness of our Holy God to – well – us and our needs with these three petitions we’ve just been looking at (Give us today our daily bread; forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation). So, the sections of the prayer concerned with God and with us are next to each other. They are close to each other and because of that they show us the link there is ‘between holiness and earthiness’. In the middle of life we have that longing for God, for transcendence; for our true home. In the very centre of our work lives, our domestic chores, even our church committee’s – we find that eternity is bound up with the everyday. Stop for a moment, push aside the curtains around your preoccupations and dare to feel God’s good presence. You might know William Penn’s words: ‘Every day, as you have opportunities, step within yourselves, and feel God’s good presence. This will carry you through the day’s business’. You might like to do that from time to time each day; it’s a good spiritual discipline.
Something else that is worth noting is that we pray to our father, asking for our daily bread and for our trespasses to be forgiven. Do not bring us to the time of trial we pray. Rescue us from the evil one.
We live in fact in very individualistic times. We are quite ‘me-orientated’. Image is important, celebrity status too; we care much for our own success and achievement. Yet the Lord’s Prayer packs quite a punch because it reminds us that we are people made to exist in relationship with God and with others, and that the journeys we all make through this life are made, not in solitary fashion, but with other people. Indeed our very journeys as Christians are made, not by ourselves, but with other people. We need the company of others in fact as we follow Jesus – and the Lord’s Prayer recalls that to mind. Our personal spirituality is important, but nevertheless those little words ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’ all send a very strong signal that Christian faith is not to be a purely individualistic thing but is to be lived out among other Christians.
Let’s go back to those three petitions (give us today our daily bread; forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation) and this time look at them from a different angle. When we do we find that they deal with our present, our past and our future.
We pray that God would give us our daily bread, all that we need for now (no more, no less); for the strength and grace to deal with whatever needs to be dealt with. Then we pray that God would forgive us when we have strayed or gone wrong, for the past in other words. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory after all. We also ask for help to forgive those who have hurt us and by doing that free ourselves from bitterness and resentment. And then we pray for the future, for what is yet to come, that we would not be led into periods of testing where we might be vulnerable and where our humanity or integrity are challenged.
There is a focus in the Lord’s Prayer on living in the present, in the time we have now. The Common Worship liturgy for Morning Prayer includes the prayer ‘rejoice in the gift of this new day’. With the start of each day we pray out of joy and thankfulness that we actually have that day with all its varying opportunities and potential. God’s mercies are new each morning and with each new day we have the chance to start afresh; to receive God’s love and strive to live as God would have us live.
None of this means that we are not to recall the past. After all the past has made us what we are now. By remembering it we can trace our journey through life and understand why we have come to be as we are. By keeping in mind what has gone before we can be better prepared for the future. We can hopefully learn from what has gone well and what has not gone so well, so that what we do now bears the ‘imprint of an accumulated wisdom’.
Nor does this part of the prayer mean that we are not to plan for the future either. We necessarily need to make plans for what will come next. It does mean though we are not to unduly focus on the future in the sense of worrying about what is to come. Jesus tells us not to worry in Matthew (chapter 6: 25-30).
In fact being able to remember the past and learn from it, and anticipate the future, are all part of what defines us as individual people with a self. God’s call on our lives though is to live in the present, to focus on what is before us now; one day at a time, dealing with what needs to be dealt with today and striving to be content with what we have now.
There are times when that focus is necessarily skewed when, say, a bereavement, draws our thoughts into the past as we remember, or where a difficult situation leads us to plan for a future where out difficulty is solved.
But what is the overall general trend of our life? Where do we put our focus? There are people whose focus is very much on the past. They live in the past dwelling on what has gone and can never come back. Regretting decisions they have made which have set the direction of their life and hanging onto that regret; regretting changes that have happened in the world around them. A new housing estate on the edge of the village for example which has meant strangers mixing with the villagers. Their church has changed; the pews have gone and nothing is the same again.
There are others though whose focus is much more on the future. There they live anticipating the months ahead, planning for something with real longing without which they feel they can never properly live; but yet which might never happen.
Actually God calls us to live fully squarely in the present, (give us this day our daily bread) because it is there where the opportunities are to live as God would have us live, and to seek God – and maybe find him. As we ask for our daily bread we are reminded not only of our dependence on God but also of the gratitude we should have because God delights to supply our needs. We can be confident and hopeful too because the kingdom is God’s (its power and glory), and God’s kingdom is not something which is here today and gone tomorrow but exists for all time.
The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of great depth and richness. We begin by addressing God as Father, but as we go through the prayer we also see that God is our benefactor, our saviour and our guide. The Lord’s Prayer pulls no punches by describing us as sinners, but it also reminds us that we are worshippers, beneficiaries of God’s grace and pilgrim people. We are people made to be in relationship with God in fact. Our human need is great but it is met by the endless generosity of God.
And finally as a guide to prayer the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that prayer is about hallowing God’s name, bringing in His kingdom, and doing His will. It tells us that when we pray we should praise God, pray for his kingdom to come and ask for what we need so that as we journey through the days we have been given we can live in that fullness of life which Jesus promises us.
Let me finish by sharing with you my own first memory of the Lord’s Prayer which was when I was 12 and had moved to Spalding in Lincolnshire with my family. I started going to the local high school where we had a formal, traditional and religious assembly every day. The headmistress would process into the hall with the head girl carrying her Bible and we would sing a hymn and always, but always say the Lord’s Prayer (kneeling on the hard wooden floor using our hymn books as kneelers). I learnt to say the Lord’s Prayer by heart and have said it many times since then: in church services, in prayer meetings, in care homes, at the beds of the dying, in the homes of the lonely and the bereaved, and of course on my own. It has brought me comfort, strength and hope; it has challenged me too as I’ve reflected on God’s call on my life. It has also reminded me that my life is set very definitely within a framework of God’s grace and loving care. I pray that you would find in the Lord’s Prayer a source of God’s grace too.