And so we come to the last of the 5 spiritual exercises for a healthy spiritual
life. PRAY !
It’s probably the hardest of all the exercises and yet its the one Jesus told us to engage in. What is prayer ? Too often its deemed to be that which the preacher or the Minister does from the front of Church on a Sunday. I’m always amazed by the number of Methodists who will refuse to pray out loud citing reasons such as “I don’t know how” or “It’s not my job”. On one occasion I even had someone tell me that God doesn’t listen unless it’s a Minister or a Priest !!
The disciples asked Jesus how they should pray and in Matthew 6:9 onwards he gives them the Lords Prayer. Now I don’t think for one minute it was intended as a formulaic procedure to be intoned in the way we usually do; nor do I think that Jesus ever intended it to be repeated parrot fashion in every act of worship.
No I think that Jesus was offering us pointers we should pray for and about.
Firstly (v 9) our prayers should glorify God and acknowledge that we want to see his will carried out in our lives and in our world. It’s an opening of commitment to God
Secondly (v 11) it’s about asking for what we need from our loving Father in Heaven.
Thirdly (v12) the prayer reminds us that we are not perfect and particularly in the face of a perfect God. We need his forgiveness but we also need to follow his example and be prepared to forgive others.
Fourthly (v 13) we need Gods protection from those things that would divert us away from God, and there is much in this world that would distract us.
It’s also particularly interesting that in Matthews Gospel he follows the Lords prayer with teaching about fasting. Again I don’t think that it’s about food per se but about focussing on God, His will and his desire to enrich our lives.
So, why do we find this so difficult ? I think because we live in a world which declares that it’s not normal to talk to someone you can’t see and less normal to expect an answer !! and yet if we believe in a God who cares for us then we need to hold onto a God who wants to be in a relationship with us. And I think that’s the clue, relationship. Its not about having a set time of day, nor a set liturgy but it’s about an ongoing conversation throughout the day. If I want to tell Alison something I don’t keep quiet until 10.30 on a Sunday morning; no I share it there and then, AND, I listen for her response. It’s the same with God for we should be chatting to him all the time and listening for his response which may or may not be audible, may or may not be visible, and which may not come immediately. However, as people of faith we believe he will answer somehow and in some way, bringing to us what we need when we need it (need isn’t always the same as want).
So what do we say ? Well our two year old granddaughter is starting to expand her vocabulary at a phenomenal rate and starting to put together very simple sentences. I don’t expect to be discussing with her the nature of quantum physics just yet (if ever !), nor do I think she can cope with the veritable minefield of an in-depth discussion of the differences between Newcastle United and Sunderland ! However I still remember the moment when I arrived at her house, and as she saw me, she shouted “Grandad”. That is all she said for a while but my heart danced with delight. I don’t think God necessarily wants long and fancy words, nor does he want a deep theological treatise but he simply takes delight in our simple baby talk to him for that’s the nature of relationship. Joy by one half of the relationship in the sharing of love from the other half. A simple, sometimes no words, sharing of our heart with his.