Sunday, June 01, 2008

Acts 4:29-31

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

One area of our lives that we are least likely to be open about is a our prayer lives. I have reason to suspect that they are weak and feeble. My reason is that the world is such a wicked place. Evil triumphs. Corruption conquers. Wickedness wins. If we really prayed it would not be so.

James tells us that we do not receive because we do not ask.

What is wrong with our prayers?

Many of us 'say our prayers' religiously; every night before sleeping. I remember "God bless Mummy; God bless Daddy ... and all the starving children in the world. Amen" Perhaps, like CS Lewis, we have memorized great chunks of the prayer book. Cranmer's prayers were great prayers, but they were Cranmer's prayers. I had a phase (like 2.5 million others who bought his book) of reading the prayers of Michel Quoist; they have the advantage of reading like a real person thinks, rather than being a set piece in sixteenth century English, but they are Quoist's prayers, not mine. Such prayers become perfunctory. We go through the motions of praying. The result? God goes through the motions of listening.

Some people pray impressively in church, but these are performance prayers; meant to impress our friends and colleagues. I am sure God applauds the performance.

Mature Christians, convinced of the sovereignty of God, fall into the Calvinist trap. If God knows everything before it happens, what difference does it make whether I pray or not? He will do what he will do; nothing that I can do will make any difference.

We forget that God in his Word has instructed us to pray. Paul, writing to the Ephesians says, "Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." "In the Spirit" does not mean that we go into some sort of trance or get ourselves worked up with songs and choruses, it means that we pray with the help of the Holy Spirit and according to the will of the Holy Spirit.

Now, how do we do that? I guess we have to get to know the Holy Spirit. Shouldn't we know that already? Doesn't the Holy Spirit live inside every true believer? I am assured that He does, but many of us seem to be quenching his presence and power.

I doubt that I could explain the Trinity, but I know this: when the disciple asked Jesus to show them the Father, he replied, "If you really knew me you would know my Father as well." He had previously told them, "I and the Father are one." Paul, writing to the Colossians called Jesus, 'the image of the invisible God', and the writer to the Hebrews refers to him as 'the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being." The unity of the Trinity insists that the Holy Spirit is similarly just like Jesus. The Paraclete is 'one (who is the same as the other one) who stands alongside'. The role of the Holy Spirit is to draw attention to and glorify Jesus.

So to know the Holy Spirit we have to practise the presence of Jesus. And to do that we must know all there us to know about him. That's why it is essential that we read the Bible. Prayer without knowledge of Jesus is whistling in the wind.

Read about Jesus. Talk to him. Rely on him. Take him at his word. Don't make up your own Jesus. Don't rely on a picture of a man in a white nightdress with fair hair and blue eyes. Get to know the authentic Jesus. When you do, you will want to include him in all your conversations, whether with yourself or with your friends. That's praying.


Anonymous said...

I don't read the Bible as much as I used to; I don't know why. I do know that I enjoy the epistle readings in church, as well as our Old Testament readings. We of course have had Easter and the Ascension, and the lessons are familiar and interesting.

Prayer is difficult for me somehow. I do feel easier to pray for others than myself. I feel as you mention that God already has decided what is to become of me. I do believe that things happen for a reason; I believe that I was meant to encounter people that I have, occasions that I have.

I do know with some embarrassment that I have become much more of a regular church-goer since my diagnosis of CLL.

Anonymous said...

Terry, I enjoyed your post. Since diagnosis of CLL I have been praying more fervently, at odd times of the day. My wife and I have drawn closer actually praying together once in a while before we go to sleep, something that hasn't happened in our previous 15 years of marriage. We are closer now than we ever have been before. We are still trying to understand where we are in the journey, but clearly God is with us and we are trusting in Him. It's very hard not have anxiety and fear with this disease. That's where prayer comes in.