When a baby is born, one of the obvious evidences that there is new life is the sound of a cry. It’s what a mother and attendant medical staff look for, or rather listen for. A cry is a baby’s way of saying ‘I’m here, I’m alive, I want!!!’ As time passes and the years progress these cries become more intelligible as language is developed, communication skills are honed and social skills are acquired. We don’t expect a new born baby to engage in a mature, reasoned and ordered conversation after being born. By the same token we don’t expect an adult to merely cry out with unintelligible cries all the time, though there are occasions when that is all we can do!
And so it is with one of the most important aspects of the Christian life- Prayer. I cannot emphasise enough that we will not progress in any area of the Christian life unless we continue to care for our own spiritual life, and prayer is vital to that. Nothing is more important than our own personal relationship with Christ and, like any relationship, it needs to be protected and nurtured. Prayer begins very much like a new born baby’s way of communicating, but as we grow and mature and develop so does our relationship with God.
What is prayer? There are many ways to answer this. Question 98 in the Shorter Catechism answers in this way: ‘Prayer is the offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies’. A succinct and yet replete description indeed!
Tim Keller in his book ‘Prayer’ focuses on prayer, amongst other things, as ‘conversing with God’ (p50) and ‘encountering God’ (p66). The sub-title of his book develops this description- ‘experiencing awe and intimacy with God’. This is really what prayer is about.
The best way to grow into that awe and intimacy with God in prayer is by using what we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ to help us in prayer. The disciples asked to be taught to pray (Lk 11. 1) and so prayer is something we do need to learn about too. The prayer isn’t his prayer but rather the disciple’s prayer (Jesus never has to confess sin). You can read it in Matthew 6. 9-13. Warren Weirsbe in his book ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’ (2010) helpfully suggests how to use the Lord’s Prayer to pray more effectively and develop our relationship with God. He takes each part of the prayer and summarises the theme of it. So ‘our Father who is in heaven’ he suggests focuses on the issue of ‘relationship’; ‘hallowed be your Name’ is about ‘worship’; ‘your kingdom come’ points to ‘citizenship’ and so on. He suggests the Lord’s Prayer raises themes of partnership, stewardship, fellowship, discipleship and ends with the benediction, ‘for yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory’.
As we do this, we will find that prayer leads us more and more into that relationship which is ‘conversing with God’ and ‘encountering God’, notwithstanding these times when all we can do is cry out to him, just like a baby, remembering he is our Father who knows us through and through.
Your friend and pastor
Rev Colin MacLeod