Praying the Bible

This is the mini-sermon I gave this last Sunday – Bible Sunday.  It’s quite short for a couple of reasons: 1. It was school holidays so the kids were participating, and we used some time in the service to have a bible quiz, and 2. I wanted us to do what I was preaching about in the service; so after I’d finally had my say we all spent time, together, praying some of the prayers of the bible.  The Songs of Zechariah and of Mary from Ch. 1 of Luke’s Gospel, (the men, then the women praying) The promises of Isaiah 60. 1 – 3, 18, 19 proclaimed from the front then the congregation responding with Ephesians, 2.4 – 7, 3.20, 21.  Psalm 64 read responsively as a prayer of confession and contrition, followed by silence.  After the silence, Psalm 65 read together as thanksgiving for God’s grace and mercy.  Then Psalm 144 read as a blessing.  Unusual for us, as Evangelicals, to do something so liturgical as a solid 15 minutes of shared readings, but several have since said they really appreciated the chance to pray in that way.  It’s great to have such opportunities to explore God’s word.

 

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

Of course

The Bible.

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;

Mere dust

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

That finishes:

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 ask.

 

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

-for ourselves

And for each other.

 

And some prayers don’t involve words

But quietness

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,

God speaks.

 

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

silence.

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.

In Silence

God speaks.

 

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.

 

 

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