Oswald Chambers, the author of the famous devotional book My Utmost For His Highest once said that: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work.”
We were reminded of that at Annual Conference a few weeks ago. Some of us here today might have even heard or read these words of wisdom from Chambers before.
It’s a great quote, and carries a lot of weight to the importance of prayer in our lives. See, prayer isn’t simply supposed to be an “add-on” thing to our Christian lives.
Prayer isn’t some kind of initiation ritual that will lead us to greater things later on. It’s one of the primary things that we are called to do as disciples of Jesus.
We are a people who are called to pray.
It’s one of the ways that God’s grace intersects with our lives.
Almost every significant orthodox leader or reformer in Church History has been deeply rooted in the practice of prayer. We are called to pray, for ourselves, for our neighbors, and for our world.
Because prayer changes things.
At Annual Conference this year, Rev. Doug Newton of the Greenville FMC down in Greenville, IL (where Steph and I went to college) talked about how as disciples of Jesus, we are “partners with God” through prayer.
Think about that for a second.
It means that we have the power to change God’s mind about things in this world!
Time and time and time again in Scripture, we see it play out that exact way.
We see it happen in the Old Testament, when the prophets pray to God, and God chooses to change his mind about something, or withhold wrath from His people, even though they were sinful
We see it in the New Testament, modeled in the person of Christ, and in Acts, when the disciples got together to pray as a community, we also see it through the prayers, as well as exhortations of Paul, that people who follow Jesus should pray!
And with all of the violence, and pain, and suffering, and grief, and sickness, and heartbreak, and poverty, and hate in the world…
We are called to pray.
We are called to be partners with God, working alongside of Him to make a difference in the world, to influence others for the better, to lift up other parts of the larger Body of Christ.
Maybe our question shouldn’t be “why should we pray?”
But perhaps instead should be “Why shouldn’t we pray?”
And yet, even in spite of all of this, it’s still hard to pray, isn’t it?
We still struggle.
Our prayers become cold when left on our own, or maybe we pray the same thing over and over again, not really seeing any difference being made. Or maybe all of our prayers are internal, about ourselves, and not so much for others. Or perhaps we spend our energies in prayer lifting others up, but fail to recognize our own need for grace.
Luckily, we aren’t left without help.
Turn with me in your bibles to Matthew 6:9-13
What a short, beautiful, little prayer, isn’t it?
So simple, yet so rich, and full of meaning.
There’s really three things that are going on here in what we have come to know as “The Lord’s Prayer.”
First, we see what is called “Adoration” in v. 9
“Our Father in Heaven, holy is your name…”
Adoration is a necessary part of prayer, for the simple fact that it helps us to be reminded of the fact that God is God and that we are not.
We give praise to God, not only for what he has done for us as His people, but also because of his very character, his nature, who God is.
So when we recognize God as “Father,” not only are we being reminded of our place in the world, but also of God’s place in the world, and in the Cosmos.
We are seeking to recognize, once again, that God, by his very nature is holy, which implies not only forgiveness, but also love, grace, peace, joy, etc.
It’s why we start the Pastoral prayer with the words “We thank you for who you are, that you are good, and great, and that your love endures forever…”
Second, we see the “supplication” part in v. 10-11 & 13,
“Your kingdom come, your will be done…And do not bring us into temptation, but rescue us from evil…”
Supplication is really just a bigger word for petition, which is another bigger word for asking.
It’s the place of prayer where we lay out what we desire for God to do for us, through us, or in us.
It’s asking God to help us.
Remember, that’s a Biblical idea.
We see it clearly in Luke’s Gospel:
“…Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened,” (Luke 11:9-10)
I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that it is okay to pray for ourselves. We’re not expected to do this thing called life on our own. We’re called to partner with God through it, and to ask for the things that we need, and to request the things that we desire.
Obviously, just because we desire a big screen TV, or the latest phone, or a certain kind of Bible, even, doesn’t necessarily mean that we will get it.
When we bring our requests to God, we must remember that we are in the process of being made new, transformed more and more into His likeness & image, so that over time our desires become holy.
The point is that we focus more and more on God.
Also good to point out that God isn’t a means to an end, by which we get “stuff.”
Jesus is telling his disciples to ask that God’s kingdom would be present here on earth, that God’s will would be done, and that they would be delivered from the possibility of temptation, as well as from sin (evil) and Satan (the evil one).
This even seems to match up a bit with what Wesley describes as a “prayer lifestyle” doesn’t it?
Avoiding temptation, being rescued from sin, asking that God’s kingdom and will would come to pass here on earth?
Sounds a lot like Holy Love to me.
Want a quote that’ll mess you up?
Go home and think about this one all week- I mentally “chewed” on it for at least a month:
“Whether we think of or speak to God; whether we act or suffer for him; all is prayer when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him.” – John Wesley
What Wesley is getting at here is the idea of a changed heart, of changed desires for God, where all we want out of life is to live on His love, and to serve Him in every aspect of our lives.
In short, this is what Sanctification is- and it’s also why Wesley believed that prayer is a “means of grace”- because it can be transformative, if we let it be.
Next, we arrive at v. 12: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,”
This, simply put, is confession at its very core.
Recognizing that we are sinful people in need of being forgiven on a daily basis, while at the same time extending grace to those who have wronged us really gets at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
It’s why we pray the confession for sin from the Book of Common Prayer every week during the Pastoral prayer.
You know it, it’s the one that goes “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you, in thought, word and deed…”
We can’t ever hope to get right with God, or grow in love or maturity as a follower of Jesus if we don’t think we need forgiveness, or think that we don’t need to give it to the one who has wronged us in some way or another.
So where does this leave us?
Just because it’s a short prayer doesn’t mean that magically it becomes easier to pray.
I get that.
This summer as you all know, we’re going to focusing on prayer, and exploring different ways of going about it.
Trying different “avenues” of prayer, as it were.
So this week, I’d like to challenge each and every one of you to do something.
Whether you pray regularly, or if prayer is a struggle for you, it doesn’t matter.
But maybe, if you’re unsure how to start, or don’t think you can pray well,
Just pray the Lord’s Prayer
Once in the morning, and once in the evening.
Or, better yet, as often as you remember.
If you think you can’t remember it?
If you don’t have the ability to keep a Bible with you throughout the week, write it down on a small piece of paper, or card, stick it in your pocket, & pull it out when you need it, or are reminded to pray.
We’ll be sure to re-post it on our Facebook page every day this week to remind you to pray it every day.
And we do that so that we can become more effective partners with God.
Let’s say the Lord’s Prayer together. Just sit right where you are, and pray along with me, will you?
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
holy is your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom, the power,
and the glory, forever. Amen.
This sermon was originally preached at the Alexandria First Free Methodist Church in Alexandria, MN on 6/21/15.