Prayer: Days 6-8

 

 

Day 6

Do I need words to pray?

Like so many things in life, so with prayer, going deeper often means less, not more. Here are some ways of simplifying and purifying your prayer each day. The simplest prayer of all is just saying the name of Jesus.

“All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved,” says St Paul (Romans 10.3). The name Jesus means “God saves”. As we say his name, so we invite Jesus to be with us.

The Jesus Prayer

This way of praying is known as the Jesus prayer. It is very popular in the Orthodox tradition of the church. There are various wordings, all roughly the same. One of the most common is: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It’s based on the cry of the repentant tax collector in Jesus’ parable: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18.13). But it also echoes St Paul’s great hymn of praise in Philippians: Jesus is the Son of God but empties himself to take the form of a servant (Philippians 2.6–11).Try saying the prayer over and over again. Breathe in on the first two phrases – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. And breathe out on the third – have mercy on me a sinner. As you do so, breathe in the righteousness and peace of God, and cast out all those things that separate us from God.It is a prayer that is to be said slowly. It is meant to be said many times over. It is one of the simplest ways of praying. It can be prayed by anyone, anywhere.If you find yourself sometimes waiting in the dark of the night and gripped by fear or anxiety, it is a wonderful way of calming the spirit.This kind of prayer is also a good way of praying when we are feeling tired or distracted, or where we just don’t know what to say.

Holding cross

And if even saying the name of Jesus becomes impossible – in the loneliness of isolation, anxiety or illness – another way of praying is to hold on to the cross of Christ.I always carry a holding cross in my pocket. I often find myself clutching it and receiving comfort. It is a tangible reminder of the cross of Christ through which I have been brought into relationship with God.When my father was dying, I gave him a holding cross. When he was no longer able to speak to me, he held onto the cross. When he died the cross was in his hand.

Silence

Then there is that prayer which has no words at all. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the psalmist (Psalm 46.10).The prayer which is stillness and silence is about waiting on God and letting God be God. The awesome majesty of God stops us in our tracks; silences the frantic jabber of our minds; and brings us to our knees. This kind of silence is not emptiness: it is heavy with the mighty presence of God. In all our prayers, and however we find prayer working for us, there should always be this silence and this waiting upon God.Paradoxically, some of us find interior silence easier when we are moving. But this walk could be a prayer walk. We walk and reflect. We walk and we pray for others.If you don’t find silence easy, then begin with just a few moments. But as you grow in prayer, so you will also find that you grow in an ability to find this interior stillness.

The Lord’s Prayer

Finally, the heart and foundation of all Christian prayer is the Lord’s Prayer. If we do nothing else, we should try to recite this prayer at least once every day.It is to this prayer, and what it can teach us about the whole of prayer, that we will turn next. “Be still, then, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46.11)

Are there any other prayers you know by heart? You could try keeping a notebook of new prayers you discover.The next time you’re in a quiet place, listen to the silence …

Prayer

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today 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 the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever

Amen.

(The Lord’s Prayer in contemporary language)

 

Day 7

How did Jesus teach us to pray?

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them a simple formula. He said, “When you pray, this is what you say” (Luke 11.2).He then told them that prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer.

This is interesting. Jesus didn’t exhort them to spend hours in meditation. Nor did he expect them to always be able to express prayer in their own words. Of course, he longed that they would grow in the same intimate relationship with God that we see in his own life and ministry. But his first priority was to give them a prayer that would be the foundation and the heart of all prayer.So, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us all we need to know about prayer. Here is a short and simple way of beginning to understand this.

Our Father in heaven

To say Our Father means to recognise that the heart of prayer is relationship with God. God is like a loving parent. When we pray we come into relationship with the one who loves us unconditionally. Even if other human relationships, even our own parents, have let us down, God will not. Also, God is not “my father”, but “our father”. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t just bring us into relationship with God, it brings us into relationship with each other. By saying this prayer, we acknowledge our solidarity with all those who are our sisters and brothers.

Hallowed be your name

To say hallowed be your name means that we give God thanks and praise, acknowledging our dependence on God. We recognise that God is the source of everything and that nothing exists – not even the next breath we are about to take – without God. We adore God, not because God needs adoration, but because God has shown us his love in Jesus Christ and brought us into this living relationship.

Your kingdom come, your will be done

To say your kingdom come, your will be done, means that we surrender our will to God’s will. We seek God’s purposes for God’s world. Some people imagine that somehow praying might change God’s mind on something. It’s as if they’re thinking: if we could just get enough signatures on the prayer petition, maybe God would change his mind. But the purpose of prayer is not that we might change God’s mind, but that God might change ours.

On earth as in heaven

We seek God’s kingdom – that is God’s reign of justice and peace – on earth as in heaven. We seek to align our will with the will of God. Even Jesus had to learn this in his earthly life and ministry. We see this when he battled with the devil in the wilderness. We see it most poignantly in the garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that, if it were possible, God might take the cup away from him. But after much struggle and anguish, Jesus arrives at a point where he can completely accept and receive God’s will for his life.

Give us today our daily bread

To pray give us today our daily bread means asking God to show us what “enough” looks like. We ask God to give us today what we need for today and to save us from craving more than our share. This goes against the grain of the way we usually live our lives.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us

If we come to God with penitent hearts, being honest about our failings and our need of God’s grace, God is always ready to forgive. When we say forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us we are acknowledging our need of God, and we are asking God not just to be merciful to us, but to enable us to be merciful to others.We have all had the experience of going to bed and thinking “why did I say that?”, or “why did I do the other?” When this happens, we are recognising our sinfulness even if we don’t actually use the word. We are acknowledging that we fall short of our own standards. However, even reflecting very briefly on the life and teaching of Jesus, shows us that we also fall short of God’s standards. This is the reality of sin. We are not the people we are meant to be. We are not even the people we want to be. We are certainly not the people God intended us to be. But God, who is loving and merciful, the lover who comes into our presence to tell us we are loved, is always ready to forgive.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

When we say lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil we are acknowledging both our human frailty and our human destiny. One day we will all die. At that point – the time of trial – we are asking God to deliver us from the snares of evil, from the terrible temptation to still put self first, and to bring us, through Jesus, into everlasting life.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever and ever

So the Lord’s Prayer ends with this final affirmation of God’s sovereignty over all things and for all time.

Amen

This word – the word that ends all prayers – means “I agree”. Or “so be it”. It is a way of giving our own affirmation and seal of approval and commitment to the words we say. This is especially important for the Lord’s Prayer. It is a radically beautiful and life-changing prayer. We should say it as if we mean it. We should expect it to change us. Don’t say Amen at the end unless you are ready for such a revolution! “We do not complain of what God does not give us; rather we thank God for what he does give us daily.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

What does it mean that God rules over everything? How might this affect your life? When might you pray the Lord’s Prayer tomorrow?

Prayer

Lord of heaven and earth,

as Jesus taught his disciples

to be persistent in prayer

give us patience and courage

never to lose hope,

but always to bring

our prayers before you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

(Common Worship Rites on the Way)

Day 8

How do I pray when prayer seems impossible?

    Throughout Christian history, when people sought to deepen their relationship with God they went into the desert. They pursued isolation. This way of living the Christian vocation was called the solitary life. Abba Moses, one of the Desert Fathers, used to say to his novices, “Go to your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”   Those early monks who fled into the desert were imitating Jesus in his isolation. There are many times in the gospels where Jesus deliberately removes himself from people. He disappears off to a deserted place to pray (Mark 1.32). He dismisses the crowds and goes up a mountain on his own (Matthew 14.23). He sits by a well in the desert (John 4.5). He prays on his own on the night before his death (Luke 22.41). In particular, the monks remembered the days Jesus spent in the wilderness and the temptations he faced there (Matthew 4.1–11).

Encountering the darkness

The spiritual life always involves an encounter with darkness. The people of Israel are led through the desert into the Promised Land. Jesus began his ministry being driven into the wilderness. The garden of the resurrection is entered through his suffering on Calvary. Similarly, our faith must pass through periods of barren difficulty, doubt and despair. But doubt is not the opposite of faith. The opposite of doubt is certainty. Doubting is part of believing. It is the shadow that is created by the light. This is why when people become Christians, we do not ask them to say that they know beyond doubt that Jesus is the one they must follow. We ask them if they believe and trust. When we follow Christ we are not giving our assent to a set of abstract propositions, but to a person. To the living God who is made known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are saying that God is community, and that we are called to live our lives in community with God and with each other. It is often in prayer that we become most aware of the dark and difficult times of the Christian journey.

Sometimes this is because we are facing a crisis or a tragedy in our life or in the life of the world. Sometimes it can be what feels like a loss of faith. We feel angry and resentful towards God. It feels as if God has let us down, or even abandoned us. Prayer suddenly feels impossible or useless. God seems absent. When this happens prayer becomes empty, familiar words and rituals lose their comfort. Church becomes boring. Other Christians become irritating, and faith can suddenly feel a ridiculous charade. The energy of our faith is sapped. Although these experiences are dark and terrible, they are also normal and inevitable. All the great spiritual writers speak of the desert experience as part of the Christian journey. Many Christians are ill-prepared for the dark times that will inevitably come. Often people not only give up on prayer, but give up on God when they find themselves in the desert.You might be feeling great despair and darkness right now. Prayer might have become very difficult. But if all you do is hold on to your desire to pray, then you are already on the road to recovery.

Finding refreshment in the desert

When you journey through the desert, what you look for is an oasis: a place where you can quench your thirst. The oasis will be different for each of us: it might be a familiar prayer; a verse from scripture; a piece of music; a photograph; or even some symbolic action. Discern what it is – no matter how small and seemingly insignificant – that still connects you to God, and hold onto it tightly through the desert. Discern what it is that still connects you to God, and hold onto it tightly. Some of the things you have read about here can be your oasis in this desert. Even if it is just clutching the holding cross in your pocket. Or crying out the name of Jesus from the depths of sadness and fear, then you are a person of prayer, in community with God and held by Jesus. As you hold onto him and cry out to him, he is holding you.

In the Bible, the desert is always a place of discovery. The prophet Isaiah says, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom.” (Isaiah 35.1) May this be true for you, too. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139.11–12)  Do you know Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd”, which is itself a beautiful prayer? Find a copy of the text, and next time you are feeling sad, read from it. Could you commit to memory a prayer that will stay with you even (maybe especially) when you feel far from God?

Prayer

O Lord, support us all the day long

of this troublous life,

until the shadows lengthen,

and the evening comes,

and the busy world is hushed,

and the fever of life is over,

and our work is done.

Then, Lord, in thy mercy

grant us a safe lodging,

a holy rest, and peace at the last;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

 


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