Prayer. It’s one of those things we know Christians are supposed to do but perhaps we don’t find enough time or energy for. Or perhaps we are stuck with the same words we used as children:
“God bless mummy. God bless daddy…”
Or perhaps we think that praying is best left to the professionals: after all, that’s what vicars are for, isn’t it?
Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray. His answer was to give them the words we call the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Our Father’. Some have called this prayer ‘a summary of the whole gospel’. Others note that whatever differences of belief and practice divide us, The Lord’s Prayer is said by Christians of all traditions and denominations.
In Matthew’s gospel a slightly longer version of the prayer is given as part of Jesus’ teaching that we call the Sermon on the Mount: here the context is a warning against thinking that God is likely to be impressed by the many words we might use in prayer. Keep it simple, Jesus says, and don’t pray to impress others. It’s just between you and God.
Many who are not regular churchgoers have this prayer tucked away somewhere. Occasionally when I have been praying with someone who is quite ill and not at all communicative, I have noticed that the words of the Lord’s Prayer seem to strike a chord. Their very familiarity is a point of contact.
I’m not sure that when Jesus was asked, ‘teach us to pray’, his aim was to give us a formula to recite. After all, in the Sermon on the Mount we are told not to ‘heap up empty phrases’. Rather, I think that the Lord’s Prayer is an example of what prayer is all about. It begins by addressing God in a way that is both intimate and reverent – as ‘our Father in heaven’. Our first concern in prayer is for God’s kingdom and God’s will, before we come on to our own needs (our ‘daily bread’). Then we seek God’s forgiveness, which is tied in with our willingness to forgive others, and ask for God’s protection in the face of temptation and evil.
The Lord’s Prayer, then, is not a formula but a pattern for prayer. It’s also a useful resource to fall back on when we have no words or thoughts of our own!
In 2016, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York invited members of the Church of England to pray, “Thy kingdom come”. The invitation was offered for the period between Ascension and Pentecost that we should pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help us become better witnesses to Jesus Christ and that others might come to faith in him.
“In praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ we all commit to playing our part in the renewal of the nations and the transformation of communities.”
Archbishop Justin Welby
In 2017, the invitation is being re-issued. This year, Pentecost falls on Sunday 4th June. At Pentecost, we hear of God’s Spirit being poured out on the disciples, as Jesus had promised. It is the coming of the Spirit that turns them from timid followers to bold witnesses, and makes them the Church. (We sometimes call Pentecost ‘the birthday of the Church’.) This year, as well as attending a service on the day, can I ask you to set aside some time to pray? Perhaps you could do that as soon as you finish reading this! You might simply ask God to pour out his Spirit on you – in a new way, with renewed love and power. And then you might ask God to make himself known to your family, friends, and neighbours. You don’t need many words. Just the willingness to connect with ‘our Father in heaven’. You might think of a handful of people who need your prayer, that they will come to know Jesus Christ.
If you want to know more, there are resources online (‘Thy Kingdom Come‘).
May God bless you as you pray ‘Thy kingdom come’.