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A Prayer for Closet Christians

May 20, 2018

Matthew 6: 5-8, Luke 11:1-4

Ever been in a group prayer situation. You are sitting in a circle in a room and people are praying and you are all listening to each other pray. And you are sitting there thinking. Wow she prayed so well, such sincerity. Shall I pray next or shall I leave it till the end. Can I think of something good to pray? No I shouldn’t do that. That would be false. …Help! the silence has been a bit long. If I leave my prayer till last perhaps I won’t be able to think of anything… better jump in. Oh no too late. He’s praying now. Oh no… this is so cringey… such a cliché. Oops now I’m being judgmental.

Ever been there?

We have been trained to think that group prayer is a good idea. But I really wonder about that. I suspect that for most of us, most of the time, there is a kind of inverse relationship between our ability to attend to God and the number of people attending to our prayer. The more people gathered to pray (out loud that is)… the harder it is to attend to God. Prayer as public performance is problematic. Jesus says:

And when you pray, do not be like those who are playacting; … but when you pray, enter into your private room, and having closed your door, pray to your Father who is in secret.

Jesus warns us about public prayer.

Self-consciousness … really means conscious of our self before others, in the eyes of others. To some extent all of us are self-conscious. This is why group prayer and public prayer can be so difficult… To be asked to lead public prayer is to be called more an act of serving the prayer of others than actually praying yourself (in public). I think this is why those who lead prayers in church services need to prepare themselves to do so. In our congregation most write notes in advance. And don’t even pretend to be spontaneous.

So, if leading public prayer is a dangerous exception, not really praying, how should we pray? You’ve probably heard many answers over the years. What advice would you give to a new Christian who didn’t know how to pray and was asking you how to go about it?

[discuss]

The thing is… Jesus disciples asked him exactly that question. They assumed there was a way to pray correctly. And he answered them by giving them a template

In Luke’s Gospel the disciples have been watching Jesus praying. It’s part of their apprenticeship in the Kingdom of God. They want to learn Jesus way of doing it. So they ask ‘Teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’.

Jesus didn’t give the modern response… He didn’t say. Actually there’s no right way to pray. Just pray whatever you feel like. Treat God like a friend wanting a chat… a kind of invisible friend. Instead he gives them a template… a map of the territory of prayer, a method even. “When you pray, pray like this…

So my radical suggestion is! Why don’t we do what he says!

This morning I want to teach a model which kinds of makes the Lord’s prayer portable … in a simple diagram… a hexagon (stolen from 3DM – imagine each theme written on different sides of a hexagon.)

 

Side 1 – God’s character

Our Father in Heaven… Holy. Jesus had a unique theology. He lived his life completely enthralled to a vision of God, an understanding of God, a sense and feeling about God which is captured in this prayer.

Prayer begins in silent attention, attention and appreciation of God in God’s presence. We begin prayer with God’s name … not as a kind of routine… but because we remind ourselves of two essential core aspects of God’s character and identity. Firstly, holy. The word holy means ‘different’ or ‘other’. It is a way of saying that God our creator is unimaginably different from all that we know, from everything else in creation. Heaven similarly. God is not a big more powerful version of human beings. God is ‘other’. But its not just ‘otherness’. The one in heaven is called Father/Abba. But the word ‘Abba’, so central to Jesus’ relationship to God captures the sense that God is intimately with us as well. (Not Daddy, bad translation, not childish term, but intimate) As St Augustine put it, ‘closer to us than we are to ourselves’. So when we put Abba with Heaven we a placing that closeness alongside the otherness. Unimagineably different but unimaginably close. Prayer for Jesus begins with a sense that the One who gives all things to all people, is one who binds him or herself intimately to us.

Side 2 – God’s kingdom

The very next phrase comes directly from Jesus’ Gospel (his preaching). The kingdom of God is among you, at hand. God who is intimately close, is also active in life and history. God has a purpose. God has a will to be done. God has a social order to be established in our lives. We are caught up in something bigger than ourselves… and it is the work and will of God. And our prayer is all about our yearning for that and our desire to be part of that. Jesus prayer is still a big picture prayer. We need to pray in that context before we move on to our individual situation.

Side 3 – God’s provision

Give us today, our basic food and need for today. Jesus believed that God would provide enough. Do we believe that God will provide? Or are we anxious to store up for ourselves treasures. It’s the basic and profound challenge of life. Jesus’ prayer reminds us to trust God for enough. We live in a society which is ideologically programmed against ‘enough’. This is the prayer for our time – give us enough for today.

Side 4 – God’s forgiveness

Forgive us our debts/our trespasses, as we forgive others… It’s always a key dimension of prayer, because all of us have forgiveness issues. We pray to forgive. We pray to be forgiven. Jesus wants us to bring our difficult relationship issues into all our prayers. So he includes it in the template. Otherwise we will quickly move on. We don’t want to go there. Jesus wants us to keep going there.

Side 5 – God’s guidance

Lead us not into temptation… or more correctly. Lead us not to the time of trial. It’s easy to get sidetracked into the confusing discussion about whether God would actually lead us into a bad place… and forget the real point… It’s in the word ‘lead’. As disciples of Jesus we need to be led. The way of the cross is not an obvious one. Lots of people find another way. Jesus calls it the broad way. We need to be led away from this ‘temptation’ towards a road less travelled, a narrow way. Every prayer for disciples of Jesus needs to remember our need for guidance, guidance which is often counter-intuitive.

Side 6 – God’s deliverance

Deliver us from evil. I think this might be even more relevant to our time than trusting God for enough. We are in bondage. Not only is God’s kingdom bigger than us, the bondage of evil is bigger than us. Think about addiction, think about consumerism, think about distractionism and social media. Think about capitalism. Think about The Satan. The one the New Testament calls The Accuser. Think about how accusation makes the world go round. Just when we think we understand these forms of bondage we discover they are more complex, more spiritual than we previously realised. We cannot deliver ourselves from evil. Again and again we find we need to pray to be delivered. Jesus makes this an essential element of the rubric of prayer.

That’s it. The Hexagon (modified from 3DM opposite). It’s a portable, easy to remember, summary of Jesus lesson in prayer.

To pray is to be needy. To stand before God in our need. Not first of all our wants. Jesus outlines four domains of need that we have as disciples. When we pray we stand before God in our need… but we also stand before God with others. We pray for others in our lives. We bring their needs before God.

We don’t come with a shopping list. We come in contemplation. We come in silence. We begin with God’s character and always we qualify our prayer with the mystery of God’s will. Your will be done. Jesus offers us words to pray. But the words are open-ended. All our cries of need are surrounded by an openness, an attentiveness to God, who may show us what we don’t know about where the kingdom lies hidden, about what really is enough, about the relationships that need forgiveness, about the narrow path and about the evil from which we need deliverance.

Intercession and Contemplation come together in Jesus prayer. Listening and Asking cannot be separated.

It’s a powerful way to stand before God in need. I also find it a powerful way to pray for the people I care about in my life… especially when I am out walking. I go around the ‘hexagon’ contemplating each dimension of Jesus prayer in the life of the person I care about. Their sense of God’s character, their place in God’s work in the world, their reliance on God’s provision, their need to forgive and be forgiven, their need for guidance and their deliverance from evil.

This week I want to offer you this prayer anew, this template. I want to invite you to receive this gift of prayer afresh. Take time out to be needy before God. Go for a walk and go around the hexagon in prayer for yourself. And then take another walk and pray around the hexagon for someone you care for.

 

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