6th Sunday of Easter year A 2005
God’s Invitation: Your Decision
4 – Prayer or Superstition?
Church links: Alsop Fenny Bentley Parwich Thorpe Tissington
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Why should we pray? Does pray ‘work’? how should we pray? is prayer just a form of superstition?
Have you ever thought how significant it is that prayer is part of all the major religions, in some form or other? Even though the different faiths of the world all have different beliefs about God, all take as one of their starting points the fact that prayer is important.
For the impulse to pray seems to be part of what it is to be human. People have an awareness, however dim, that there is something, someone, some power who is greater than ourselves – and want to relate to that being – the being whom we in the Christian tradition call God.
But of course the different religions do not agree on how God should be addressed, and how our prayers to him should be carried out. This isn’t to be a sermon on prayer in the different religions, however, but it is the fourth sermon in my series “God’s invitation: your decision”. It is about the belief, in the Christian faith, that God invites us to pray; that prayer is an essential part of our faith.
However long we have been Christians, however, prayer can sometimes be difficult. We may feel that we are just going through the motions; we may wonder whether our prayers are actually being answered. So how can we pray better?
I would like to suggest three ways of looking at this:
(A) - By examining the Lord’s prayer line by line, to see the different aspects of prayer which it contains:
"Our Father, who art in heaven" - taking us immediately in thought and prayer into the heavenly realms;
"Hallowed be thy Name" - reverence for the name of God, and for God himself;
"Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." - praying that all those things which are God's will may come about;
"Give us this day our daily bread" - a prayer for our daily needs, not just for food, but for all the things which we require;
"And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" - a reminder of our sinfulness, and that we need forgiveness from God just as others need our forgiveness;
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." - prayer for protection from those things which are sinful and not of God.
"For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever"- a conclusion in which we give God praise and recognise his eternal power.
(B) In the Christian tradition, there are four main forms of prayer:
(i) Worship or adoration : this means remembering that God is the Creator of all things, and should be thanked for the blessings which we have from Him. Even if not everything in our lives is satisfactory, there are always things for which we should give thanks, such as health, family, and security - which should not be taken for granted.
(ii) Confession of our sin, and asking God for forgiveness : there are always aspects of our lives in which we fail God and one another. Confession of our sins to God means humbly acknowledging this, and seeking God’s forgiveness and guidance as we try to make amends and to avoid falling into the same traps in the future.
(iii) Intercession – the Church’s word for “praying for other people”. When we pray for someone who is in trouble, we can never tell what God’s will for them may be. Our prayers are, rather, an expression to God of our
concern for them, offered in the belief that there is sometimes no other way for us to show our care. Saying prayers for those in need, however, should not be an excuse for failing to give practical help where we can.
(iv) Listening to God : prayer is commonly thought to consist of talking to God, in the hope that He will hear our prayers. However, just as important, if not more so, is listening to what God is saying to us. It isn’t always easy to distinguish between what God is saying and what our own inner voice is telling us, and we must be careful not to rush into doing something “because God has told me to do it”. But if we learn how to cultivate an inner stillness, it makes it easier to distinguish between those of our impulses and instincts which are selfish, and the voice of God guiding us towards a better path. We may also find that if we ask God for guidance when we can’t see how to resolve a particularly difficult problem, unexpected insight is given to us, and the way suddenly becomes clear (although in my experience, such answers are not always given immediately, and we often have to wrestle with the problem ourselves for some time).
C – Learning prayers by heart:
It’s up to each one of us to persevere in prayer, and not to give up when it seems difficult. Sometimes this time of dryness in prayer is necessary, to help us go beyond it… As I said, as we turn more regularly to God in prayer, we should before long begin to see things in a new light, and to realise that our prayers are increasingly being answered – in ways, sometimes, which we did not expect, but which teach us new truths about the mysteries of God.
God invites us to be faithful in prayer, and to commit ourselves to praying regularly – what will your decision be?
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