When we come to pray
We draw on a wide range of resources.
We use the memories of the prayers prayed by others;
Our parents perhaps
Or those who were in Christ before us
And whose prayers have nurtured and guided our faith.
We respond to God in creation
With awe and joy and humility before the creator God.
There are books of prayer;
The prayers of the saints from across the centuries
And around the earth.
The one book
The book of prayer that is central to all our life as Christians is
Today I want us to consider how we can draw on the bible
in our prayers.
There is some very clear teaching about prayer in scripture
But I’m not looking today to the teaching
So much as the actual practice of prayer.
We began this morning with Psalm eight;
A prayer that praises God for his glory in heaven and on Earth
And that exclaims aloud over the mystery of God’s regard for human beings;
Crowned with glory and honour.
Such prayers abound in the bible;
Prayers that take a good long look at who God is
And that shout out his Glory.
Prayers that consider his consistent compassion for his people
And sing with a humble, joyful gratitude.
Such prayers are precious and beautiful.
But the prayers of the bible are far richer than this.
There are many types of prayer
And they’re all here.
Marva Dawn tells how,
After the attacks of September 11, 2001,
Many Americans changed churches.
The churches they attended sang songs of Joy and thanksgiving
But they had forgotten how to sing the songs of lamentation,
Songs of sorrow and pain.
Those churches that kept the song-book of the bible
as part of their worship
Grew after 9/11.
Because the bible includes pain and suffering.
The book of lamentations – five chapters of sorrow.
Psalm 88 with its dismal conclusion:
“You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend.”
Because that’s the way it is sometimes!
And the bible doesn’t sweep unhappy reality under the mat
And pretend that ‘she’ll be right.’
And the praying saints of the bible
weren’t always all that saintly either
so we get prayers of confession and repentance:
How many of us have been grateful for David’s prayers
After his adultery with Bathsheba.
David gives us words to pray
When shame puts our brains into neutral
And words stick in our mouth.
Sometimes the prayers of the bible seem sinful;
How can we justify psalm 137
“8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us—
9 he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.”
There is no way that I can make that ok in the light of Jesus
Who says that to children belongs the kingdom of heaven.
This is an unholy and vindictive rage –
And it is completely and utterly human.
And it is divinely inspired.
It is in scripture,
And do you know what it does?
It teaches me that when I am at my ugliest
My least holy
My most stupid and evil
I can still pray.
I can still come before God
And speak the pain and bitterness of my heart
And God will hear me
And not shut me up.
God is big enough to cope with my tantrums.
You can take your unholy rage to God
And put it in his lap
And he will bring you healing.
Or you can bottle it up
And give yourself ulcers
And your family headaches.
So I’m glad for psalm 137.
And of course, the bible is filled with asking;
That’s what the word ‘prayer’ means – to ask.
When Jesus’ friends asked him to teach then to pray
He taught them to ask for things:
For God’s holiness
For God’s kingdom to come
Even for the bare basic of daily bread.
Nothing is too big
Nor is it too small
To bring before God.
God is the ruler of the universe –
Our prayers can be for the whole cosmos.
God is the creator and sustainer of the ant and the microbe –
He will hear and answer prayers for very small things.
So much of Jesus’ teaching was focused on encouraging people to go to their Abba, father,
and ask for what they needed.
In our pain we can do it-
Remember Jesus in the Garden?
“Let this cup pass me by – I don’t want to die.”
Our fears and trembling are legitimate before God.
Remember Jesus on the Cross
Praying into the absence of God
“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”
Quoting the psalm of suffering
a desperate plea for the comfort of God’s presence in darkness.
In all times and places
In every condition
We are to come before God with our prayers
And continuing with the Lord’s prayer
Jesus knows what we most need
And commands us to ask God for forgiveness
– and reminds us in the same breath to forgive each other.
Jesus teaches us to ask God for things
And for each other.
And some prayers don’t involve words
And these too are in the bible:
Psalm 131 1 "O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mother’s breast;
like a child that is quieted is my soul. "
There are moments when words are simply inadequate;
When the only response to God is silence:
The silence of Awe
The silence of sorrow
The silence that comes when words run out
Or the silence that comes before all words.
And in the silence,
Remember Elijah at Horeb:
"…there was a great wind,
so strong that it was splitting mountains
and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord,
but the Lord was not in the wind;
and after the wind an earthquake,
but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
12 and after the earthquake a fire,
but the Lord was not in the fire;
and after the fire a sound of sheer
13 When Elijah heard it,
he wrapped his face in his mantle
and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Then there came a voice to him that said,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
The sound of silence belonged to God
a long time before Simon and Garfunkel came on the scene.
There are prayers of praise and thanksgiving
Prayers of petition and intercession
Prayers of sorrow
Prayers of confession and repentance
And prayers of silence.
And the bible teaches us how to pray
By showing us
The breadth of prayer
And the heights and depths of prayer
And leading us
On our journey of prayer.
So that’s what we’re going to do now.
Rather than have me talk all about it
We’re going to do it;
We’re going to use the bible as a text-book of prayer
And worship God together
in the words of Scripture.