What’s your default starting point for prayer? Is it “sorry”? Confession? Mea culpa? For Jesus, the starting point for prayer is praise and worship. It is magnifying God, making him big, worshiping him.
As the Westminster shorter catechism says:
What is the chief end of man? (our main purpose in life) Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
Hallowed be your name.
“May your name be kept holy” (NLT)
“Reveal who you are” (MSG)
“Help us to honour your name.” (CEV)
Magnify the Lord. Make him big. Come with a sense of awe.
God is the starting place of prayer – Our Father, hallowed be your name.
As Tim Keller writes:
“The problem is that if God is not the starting point, then our own perceived emotional needs become the drivers and sole focus of our prayer.”
“we should do everything possible to behold our God as he is, and prayer will follow.”
“Ordinarily our prayers are not varied – they consist usually of petitions, occasionally some confession (if we have just done something wrong). Seldom or never do we spend sustained time adoring and praising God.”
We can worship and glorify God in different ways. We can think on and meditate on his nature and characteristics, we can use music and song, we can meditate on key scriptures about God, we can immerse ourselves in the praise language of the Psalms (the last 5 Psalms, for example, are all praise psalms.)
I have been spending some time thinking again about some of the names of God (with reference to Hermann Bavinck)…
Elohim – this name emphasises God’s power and might; he is the high and strong one.
Elyon – the God who is exalted high above everything
Adonai – Lord of Lords / Lord of all the earth
El Shaddai – Power and infinite strength. This reveals to us God the One who possesses all power, can overcome all resistance and make all things subservient to his will.
YHWH – the highest revelation of God in the Old Testament – I am who I am – the unchangingly faithful one.
There are plenty more, but as we start prayer by focusing on God our Father, and lifting his name up as holy, we make him big and we put ourselves and our problems and our emotions into perspective.
We give our prayers scale.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory…” (2 Cor. 3:18)
In our current evening series we have been looking at prayer, using Tim Keller’s book on the subject as our starting and reference point. One of the aspects that we have been thinking about is the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer template was given by Jesus to his disciples when they asked him to teach them to pray. It has been central to the church’s teaching and practice of prayer for two millennia.
Martin Luther used the Lord’s prayer as a main starting place for his times of prayer. He would “riff” on the prayer, i.e. pray over and around the individual sections, turning the lines over in his mind and reflecting on their truth. Sometimes, as he did this, he would catch a certain stream of thought and stay with that. He would feel the Holy Spirit “preaching to him”. Other times, he would not get much revelation or insight and move on.
In these next few blogs, I thought I would simply reflect on the different sections of the prayer as I do when I am praying often:
“Our Father who is in heaven”
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
I think about this verse when I come to pray. I begin to reflect on God as my Father – as my dad. Abba, papa, daddy, Father. I think of my children coming to me. Of how much I love them and care for them and want their best. I know that my Father in heaven has my best interests at heart. I know that he hears me. He sees me in my room (or wherever I am praying). He will reward my prayer. I take him at his word. I can trust him. I don’t have to babble on, or pray religious formulae. I am speaking with my Father. I cannot see him – he is unseen. He is in heaven. But I know that he is there and that he hears me and that he will reward me.
This is my starting point. God as my loving Father. I anchor myself in this truth. I think about this truth. And I am reminded also that the Holy Spirit helps me in this. It is by him that I can say “Abba, Father”. The Spirit testifies that I am a child of God, adopted into his family. You cannot pray to God as Father if you are not a Christian.
I am not coming to a disinterested deity – I am coming to one who did not spare his own son for me, and will graciously give me all things that I need.
It has been great to have David and Greta from New Zealand back with us in Plymouth for a weekend of ministry and empowerment for greater service. They ran seminars on Friday evening and Saturday, and preached and ministered at the church on Sunday. They shared a good deal of material with us both publically and privately.
I thought I would share a few of the things that stood out to me and made me think, and I am inviting you to do the same in the comments section below!
In our Sunday evening services, we have been looking at and thinking about prayer. This last Sunday evening, the youth team directed our thoughts again to the Lord’s Prayer – the prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples in response to their request: “Lord teach us to pray.”
The Lord’s Prayer has been front and centre of Christian thought on prayer for the nearly two thousand years since the disciples made this request. It is part of the catechisms and is a foundational part of Christian teaching on prayer.
The first half of the prayer focuses on God, the second half focuses on us. It is always good to have God as the starting point and focus of our prayer life.
Many people have learned to recite the prayer off by heart, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the prayer that Jesus taught us is a pattern – a template for prayer if you like.
Martin Luther would often start his praying by “riffing” on the Lord’s Prayer; meditating on the individual lines, thinking around them, praying them – sometimes following a stream of thought as he felt that the Holy Spirit was preaching to him! There are some good modern thoughts and contemplations around the Lord’s Prayer here.
I have been using the Lord’s Prayer much more in my own prayer life, turning over the individual lines in my mind, meditating on aspects of them, using this as a starting point for my time with God. I have also started talking to my children about it at our breakfast devotions. We take a line and we talk about it and think about it. It is a great starting point for learning how to pray – straight from the mouth of Jesus.
In the coming blogs, I will think about and write about some of the different aspects of the prayer and how to integrate these into your own prayer life.
We hope you all enjoyed Geoff Lee's daily blog during our 40 Days campaign, it was great to see so many people reading and responding everyday. Following the success of the blog during this period Geoff is going to be writing a weekly blog, which he will upload every Monday (as of 27 April.) Please continue to read it and leave your comments!
“[The man/woman who delights in and meditates on the word]
is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he/she does prospers.”
You have completed the 40 day challenge.
Thanks to everyone who has participated in any way. Thanks to the readers and commenters to this blog.
You may have been very industrious and consistent (congratulations to Lydia for posting every day for 40 days, even from America! – have a nice time y’all), or a little hit and miss. You may have loved every minute, or had a bit of a roller coaster ride.
But it’s okay.
I like what Eugene Peterson says in this regard:
“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
I can identify with that.
And based on the fact that my most commented-on blog post of the 40 days was the day I expressed my frustrations and failure, I think most of you can too!
So let’s be very clear (I’m beginning to sound like a politician!) – 40 days of the Word is not going to turn you into a Super Christian, with a shiny B on your chest for Bible Man/Woman!
But I do hope that it has opened your eyes to see wonderful things in God’s law. I hope it has reminded you of the treasures that are in God’s word. (I liked Rob’s description of 40 days being like finding an old trunk in the attic.)
40 days is just the trellis.
Jesus is the vine.
And we can go on developing a rich and real relationship with him in the ebb and flow of our daily life and walk with God.
We are not automatons. We are children of the living God.
May you be filled with a delight and desire for God’s word and his presence. May his word continue to be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.
May his words go to your heart and thrive there.
One more day to go! Time flies when you are having fun.
As we approach the end of 40 days, the question inevitably arises:
“What happens next?”
It’s a well-known fact that a lot of people who go on a diet can focus for a season and lose weight. They may even be able to reach their “target weight”. But many people then struggle to maintain what they have achieved. They put all the weight back on again!
Maintaining is just as difficult as changing your diet and losing your weight.
Now that we have focused for 40 days on the Word of God, have practised daily reading and meditation and prayer, the challenge we face is to continue – to maintain our walk with the Lord.
And not to return to bad habits.
This weekend I will be talking about what happens next. I will be talking about approaching this with VIM (an old-fashioned word for energy and enthusiasm).
VIM stands for …
I think that 40 days has given us a fresh vision of how we can engage with God’s word. It has opened our eyes to see wonderful things in God’s law. We can have a sense of enthusiasm and vision of developing and maintaining a daily habit of time alone with God.
That’s the vision.
But then you also need the intention. The decision. The resolution. The determination. I am going to continue in God’s word. I am going to maintain godly habits. I am going to delight in this book. I am going to create the time and place and space in my life. I am going to prioritise this.
That’s the intention.
Finally, you need the means. How are you going to do this? What plan are you going to put in place? What are you going to read next? How are you going to share what you have learned with others? How are you going to stay accountable? What is going to happen on DAY 41?
Vision and intention without means leads to fuzzy daydreams that will dissolve into thin air.
We will be looking very practically this weekend at what to do next.
Come with a pen and paper.
Make a plan.
From now on, I am going to be a man or a woman of the Word!
Psalm 1:1-6 and Romans 10:17
“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God”
I am going to focus on the video devotional content today from Pastor Kurt Johnston, which was very good – one of the best I have heard in 40 days. He is considering the passage from Romans 10:17 - “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God”.
What we hear, what we pay attention to, has a great effect on our lives, on our beliefs and on our behaviour. Kurt told us how his dad always used to say to him: “You are all that and a bag of chips! (American English for crisps)” A slightly odd saying, no doubt, but you could get the gist of how Kurt listened to the praise and affirmation of his father and believed it.
In the same way, our heavenly Father wants us to pay close attention to his word and, as a result, our faith will be greatly affected and strengthened.
What we are listening to affects everything. When we listen to the wrong narratives, and believe them…
“You’re nothing but a loser…” “Nobody likes you…” “Everybody ignores you…” “God can never use you…” “Nobody cares about you…” “Church is a waste of time…”
Whatever it is – if we listen to it, and believe it, we will live by it.
We can listen to lots of voices….Twitter, Facebook, Newspapers, Magazines, Internet sites, TV, Radio, other social media, peers, friends, Satan (who is called the accuser of the brethren)….
(By the way, if you spend a lot of time accusing fellow believers, and judging their faults, you are probably in agreement with the devil. There’s a thought.)
Not every voice we are listening to is helping us, building faith in us, painting a picture of who we really are in Christ.
Are these voices helping me grow my faith?
We need to allow God’s voice to rise above the rest, because when it does, our faith will be increased in wonderful ways.
This is what Psalm 1 is all about….”Blessed is the man who does NOT walk in the counsel of the wicked…” He’s careful who he listens to. Instead, he meditates on the law of the Lord.”
Hopefully, 40 days has helped some of us recalibrate what and who we are listening to.
I don’t want us to lose this balance. Because faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of God.
You are all that…and a bag of chips!!!
As we meditate on Psalm 1 for the week, today we are asked to use the “picture it” method. So, in my mind’s eye, I pictured a tree by streams of water in the different seasons, and then I used poetry to try to express what I saw….
Fruit in season
Birds darting, bees dancing, sun sparkling and pushing through
Boughs weighed down with summer’s
Speckled lush provision and canopies of colour,
Reaching down and running fertile fingers through
Chortling and laughing streams of water.
Flowing, growing, singing, dancing
Life is here
Leaves falling, wind whispering, cobalt blue skies
Lighting up fading carpets of golden glory and
Glistening and reflective waters hushed quiet,
Hinting at wintery days ahead, the birds and the bees
Slowing, glowing, falling, recalling
Silver and greying, swaying under charcoal blackened sultry skies
Rain falling, stumbling and tumbling over
Stripped and ripped branches, resigned and recoiling under
Nimbus onslaught, vulnerable and exposed, next to
Flailing, railing, hiding, residing
Life is here.
Buds peaking, titmice screeching, branches creaking and
Unfurling as they awaken, stretching in the sunlight,
Basking in bright birdsong, announcing the rites of spring
Darkness is smeared with streaks of clear blue and yellow hue
Humming hazy warmth hovers over the skipping stream
Waking, reaching, coping, hoping
Life is here.
Planted – solid, eco systems, networks, longevity, seasons, rootedness, stability
Streams of water – refreshing, nourishing, outside life, ebb and flow, life-giving, sustaining
Fruit in season – fruitfulness, at the right time, seasonal, again and again, cyclical
Leaf does not wither – ongoing life, vitality, freshness, sustainability
Whatever he does – across the board, no matter what, every area of life, integrity
Prospers – success as God sees success, life and health and wellbeing, shalom
Not so the wicked….they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Dried out chaff. Here today gone tomorrow. Lightweight. Gone with a gust of wind. A change in fashion. A quirk of culture.
Do you want to be rooted, refreshed and replenished?
Or dried out and blown about by every gust of change and every whimsical wind of culture and popular demand?
Do you want fruit growing, leaves with sap rising, fresh waters flowing?
Or a husk of a dried-out life, all hollowed out and empty in the middle?
You have a choice.
Walk in the counsel of the wicked. Listen to the wisdom of this world. The counsel of culture. Television truth.
Or walk in the counsel of God. Meditate on his words. Delight in them.
One is futile.
The other is fruitful.
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.” (NLT