A journey to reconciliation through forgiveness

Even though I did a lengthy placement with a chaplaincy team at a prison, I don’t really think I can imagine what it must be like to be in prison.  After all, even though it was intimidating to be under lock and key and to have my movement and freedom restricted, at the end of the day I could leave and go home.  An experience of prison is not like the impression we get from watching Porridge with Ronnie Barker, much as we might love that classic series; neither are the Prison Officers like Mr MacKay – at least not the ones I met!

It is one thing to be imprisoned for breaking the law.  It is something entirely different to be imprisoned when you have done nothing wrong.  But that is exactly what happened to Paul.  Our reading today is taken from Paul’s letter to Philemon which he wrote when he was imprisoned because of his commitment to Christ.  I wonder if Paul’s letter is the kind of letter you would expect someone to write when they are imprisoned?  And of course this was not the only letter that Paul wrote from prison.  He also wrote those other epistles – to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.  For Paul, his present hardship was an opportunity to serve Christ in a deeper way.

It is a little ironic that Paul (who was held captive), writes his letter to Philemon, to (try and secure the freedom) of Philemon’s slave called Onesimus.  Paul knew all too well what it was like to be held captive, and if you remember last time I shared with you I that said God notices the hurting and has compassion on the bound, the burdened and the broken.  Despite Paul’s personal situation, he modelled Christ by continuing to do what was right and holy, irrespective of life’s difficulties and uncertainties. He put aside bitterness and all those questions that are raised – all for Christ’s sake. Nothing that life could throw at him could bind him and separate him from the love of Christ…we must remember “if the Son sets us free, we will be free indeed.”  (John 8:36) Paul kept the faith and stayed in the knowledge of the love of his Saviour and he was able to serve God in an incredible way by encouraging and challenging Philemon.  (cf. v. 5).  Paul then had been willing to give up his rights for Christ’s sake, and even that could be used to the honour and glory of God.

So what do we know about Philemon?  Philemon was a wealthy Gentile Christian in Colossae; we are told that the church met in his home and of course he was a slave owner. Paul refers to him as:

  • his dear friend (1b)
  • a fellow worker (1b)
  • a convert of his who owed Paul “his very self”

After the introduction, Paul begins by commending and encouraging Philemon because of:

a)    His love for all the saints

b)    His faith towards Jesus Christ

Paul essentially carries out a spiritual health check on Philemon – love and faith are present, and these in turn have borne fruit by refreshing the hearts of the saints.  Love is a hallmark of a genuine Christian faith, and it is heartening to know that in faith and when we show love to one another we to can be refreshed.  No wonder Paul always thanks God for Philemon in his prayers.  But the sense we get from what comes next is “All this you do; let me then spur you on to even greater things.”  The love that we have in Christ is the love that keeps on giving.  That’s how it should be for us too when we accept the gospel and allow God’s word to speak into our lives.

When we consider the friends we have, are they people who challenge and encourage us to be the best that we can be?  Do we challenge and encourage them to be the best that they can be too? What would we be commended for?

So was Philemon willing to do the same as Paul? Was he willing to give up his rights for Christ’s sake too? Would he be willing to free his slave Onesimus who had somehow wronged him (Philemon 18), and then made his way to Paul in prison (Philemon 9) where he became a Christian (Philemon 10) and a useful partner with Paul in the gospel (Philemon 11, 13).

Paul is saying to Philemon that Onesimus is not simply his brother on Sunday in church…but on Monday morning as well as in the home and the workshop.

Paul knew that under the law, Onesimus had to return to his master.  Paul not only implores Philemon to receive (Philemon 17), forgive (Philemon 18) and acknowledge Onesimus’ new status as a fellow believer (Philemon 16), but he also requests that Philemon would relinquish all claims on him so that he can continue serving with Paul (Philemon 13).  Paul does this without exerting any apostolic authority; Philemon is convicted by Paul’s argument alone and as far as we know Onesimus was indeed set free.  The Christian faith can break down all social, racial and economic barriers.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, make nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

How does this speak into our lives today?

  • Our journey of faith is a journey from slavery (to sin) to freedom (in Christ).  It always has been for God’s people.  There are always areas in our life into which we need to invite Christ as Lord.  It can be hard, but it is not a journey we make alone…we are accompanied by God who is “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1) and we as the body of Christ, the people of God, journey together.
  • That journey is also a journey into reconciliation – Christ reconciles us to himself – through forgiveness:
    • 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
    • God always initiates, always takes the first step.  God always shows us the way.  “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)  This is echoed in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.”  As Christians, we are called to a lifelong journey of practicing forgiveness, justice and reconciliation.  As God’s makes the first step, we are called to make the first step with others.
    • When we examine our lives in the light of the Gospel, as we receive the Gospel are we too prepared to forgive, acknowledge and relinquish or do we harbour grudges?  If you do harbour a grudge or hold unforgiveness in your heart, what steps are you prepared to make today to move towards reconciliation and forgiveness?  Are you prepared to let go and let God?
    • As we gather before the Lord’s Table today, reminded of the price Christ was prepared to pay that we might be reconciled to him, let us be reconciled to one another and those whom we know.  Let our remembering be shown in how we leave this place today.  As we share the peace, let us be reconciled – to God, to one another and to ourselves.  Every time you forgive and give someone to God, you plant a seed that may bear the fruit of the Spirit.
    • If the words I have shared today have really spoken to you and encouraged or challenged you, don’t forget that prayer ministry is available, either in the side chapel after you have received communion or a blessing or after the service with me or any of the wider team.
    • But now let’s ask ourselves…are we prepared to lay all that we have, all that we are at the foot of the cross and say in the silence of our hearts…“Lord Jesus Christ, all that I have, all that I am I give to you.  Help me to let go of the things that hold me back.  May your will be done and your kingdom come. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.”  Amen

Living in love

A favourite singer / songwriter of mine has written well over 100 songs in a career spanning over 4 decades.  A few years ago in an interview he was asked why so many of his songs were about love, or featured the word ‘love’ in the title.  The singer replied “How could I not sing about love…it is the greatest inspiration we can ever know…nothing compares to it, nothing even comes close to it.”  I have to say I totally agree with him.

If you look at the NIV Bible, the word love can be found 445 times in 409 verses in the Old Testament, 318 times in 257 verses in the New Testament or 763 times in the entire Bible!  When a word is used so many times, I think it is reasonable to conclude that it is important and we should sit up and take notice.

But WHY do we love? 

The Bible tells us quite simply “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  We are also told that “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7b-8) Since we are created in God’s image and likeness, our capacity to love and be loved is an integral and an implicit aspect of our humanity; if we don’t love, we are in some way less than human. (Genesis 1:26) We are hard-wired to love.  The love that we are capable of giving and receiving has its source in God.

How do we know what love is? 

Love is a strong positive emotion of affection or pleasure.  Love may involve sacrifice and it often involves putting other people first.  Love is characterized by the desire to want good things for someone no matter the cost and as we shall see there are hallmarks of love.  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)  If we profess a faith, a hope and a love, then that has to be backed up by our actions and truth.  Christ’s love for us was such that he was prepared to give the most precious things possible – his life.

A good friend of mine is a pastor from a local church whose passion and heart is for the local community.  The focus of his ministry involved coming alongside people who lived on a nearby housing estate.  Over time he began to be trusted by people and he became known as a person of integrity.  It is a real privilege when you make deep connections as he did in that place.  One day he encountered a family who were going through some real trials.  They were broken…broken physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  And they also had a real need for the things that so many of us take for granted.  They needed food (they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from).  The pastor sent out a text message to his network of contacts asking for donations of food, asking people to drop the donations off at the church building.  He was delighted when box after box of food and supplies turned up and when he delivered these to the family it was as if all their Christmas’ had come at once.  At the end of the day, love is a word of action.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”  (1 John 4:9-12)  No one can ever say God doesn’t understand or that God doesn’t act.  He knows all too well what it is like to be human.

What does responding to God’s love look like?

I said earlier that the Bible tells us “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  The love that we give and receive is a consequence of God’s love, and our being created in his image and likeness; it is a natural or instinctive response to God’s love.  An analogy perhaps is that a plant cannot help but be drawn towards the sunlight; plants always grow towards the sunlight.  In the same way, if we are as we are created to be, we cannot help being drawn towards God’s love and we are called to reflect, emulate and live his love.

When we consider what responding to God’s love might look like, we gain some insight from today’s readings.  With this in mind, turn with me if you will to our first reading which is taken from the book of Hebrews 13.1–8, 15–16.

The church is at her best when she shows God’s love to the world.  We should do everything in our power to live out that love and living out that love begins right here.  Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)  In the passage from Hebrews, three aspects of love in action are brought to our attention:

Keep on loving each other as brothers.  This is echoed in 1 John “For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”  (1 John 3:11)  Because of what Christ has accomplished for us, because of God’s great love that has been lavished upon us, we are called children of God.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we must strive to keep on loving each other as siblings.  If we love God, we will love one another.

The focus of that love is inward looking – it relates to the body of Christ.  When we see divisions, or splits in the church it is utterly heart-breaking; it is like a divorce.  It isn’t always easy; we would be in denial if we thought otherwise.  We are all human beings in a broken world.  We all make mistakes.  But we must remember at all times “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)  I will talk more about this later.

Do not forget to entertain strangers.  The second aspect of that love is outward looking – it relates to people outside of the body of Christ.  And love is never an empty word. It always bears fruit; it is always associated with an outpouring of compassionate deeds.  Love is a word of action.  If people coming here don’t experience something of love then we have failed.  It has to be seen in every aspect of our “being church” – and lived out by me and by you.

Recently at one of the churches I minister in, we were blessed to be able to host a musical production of Annie.   A number of local families were involved, and as the children were rehearsing in the main part of the church here, I spent time with the mums and dads of those children.  They were making costumes, designing posters and publicity material, sorting out make up.  One of the simplest things I did was to try and listen to these people, many of whom had never set foot in the church building, and to make them welcome.  And one of the simplest but most powerful ways of making them feel welcome was to make them a cup of tea.  Henri Nouwen described listening as a form of spiritual hospitality.  We can also show hospitality by making people a cup of tea.

I am sharing that, not in any way to “blow my own trumpet” – it isn’t about me, it never is; but because I want you to know how powerful listening is and how powerful something as simple as making a cup of tea can be.  There have been many times I am sure when you have listened to one another and to folks outside and subsequently lifted them up to God in prayer.  And every Sunday we are blessed with refreshments at the end of the service.

One of the families volunteered to do catering for the event and it was lovely to see a whole family working together to provide drinks, hot dogs, buns, and biscuits to the people that came.  When people are loved and valued and appreciated they are released to love, value and appreciate others.  When we are secure in the knowledge of the love of God, we too are released to love, value and appreciate others.

The third aspect of that love is also outward looking.  “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated.”    We begin to be reminded of Jesus’ words “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”  (Matthew 25:35-36)  If we do all of the above, we show love.

The writer of Hebrews includes those who are ill-treated along with those in prison.  I would like to suggest that people can be imprisoned in many ways – through illness –physical, mental or spiritual, and infirmity.  So if we perhaps struggle with prison ministry, we have an opportunity to get involved in social justice issues through other ways – by looking to organisations like Amnesty International or Open Doors or even campaigning with our local or national government.  We can also get involved in pastoral visiting, volunteering with mental health support, bereavement support groups or other volunteer organisations.  It is all a response to the love that we have been given.

What goes wrong?

So what is it that stops us from being loving and loving others?  I think a root cause is pride or a lack of humility.  Our focus becomes shifted or distorted; we take our eyes off God.  When we take our eyes off God, we fail to remember or acknowledge his love.  The guests at the dinner in our Gospel account today shows that…they picked the place of honour at the table.  And Jesus reminds us that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Something else that causes us to take our eyes off God is fear.  So often in life we find that those who struggle to receive love, struggle to show love as well.  It is as if they have placed themselves behind a wall or a barrier and nothing can get out or in.  Many things may tip people into a place in which they find themselves bound and incapable of loving or being loved; failed relationships, shame, low self-esteem, or abuse.  People begin to live in fear – the sentiment is “I’m scared to love and lose again.”  But the Bible tells us “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)  God’s love is perfect; God’s love will not let us down.  It is constant, enduring.

What’s the solution?

We are human, and we live in a broken world.  We all make mistakes.  Godly humility can be shown when we have the guts and the courage to admit when we are wrong, and when we ask for forgiveness.  I think Heaven rejoices when a sinner repents.  Let’s remind ourselves:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

Let us say in the quietness of our heart…“Lord God, I want to know your love more fully in my heart.  Your love conquers all, your love sets us free.  When we stumble and fall, when we are fearful may we be restored by your love that casts out all fear.”  Amen

Teach us to pray

Prayer is a tremendous challenge for many people.  The reality is that many of us feel inadequate or even guilty when we think about prayer.  There are perhaps four key reasons for this:

a)    We don’t pray enough.

If you are a parent with young children, you will be all too familiar with how challenging it can be to have a quiet time at the beginning or end of the day – or even during the day!  The same applies if you work shifts or long hours.  It can be really hard to develop a pattern of spirituality that feeds us and sustains us.  I am sure we’re all familiar with the expression “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.” Even when we do sit down to pray, we so easily get distracted and find our mind starts to wander.  My friends sometimes calls me kangaroo brain because even at my best, my mind is jumping all over the place thinking about all sorts of different things at once.  For me, my mind needs no encouragement to get distracted or wander and so I have to try really hard to concentrate when I pray!  It can be very hard to sustain a disciplined routine of prayer.

b)   We don’t think we are very good at prayer.

We struggle to find the words, and we are constantly having little internal debates in our minds: can God really hear me? Is He there at all? Are my prayers simply bouncing back off the ceiling?  What will He think of my prayers, my fumbled words?  Are my prayers good enough? And if we are praying in a group, what will other people think of our prayers?  It is as if in our mind we can sometimes have a view of what prayer should be like, complete with big, flowery, complicated words and faced with that perceived gap we just give up.

c)    We give up when we don’t get immediate answers or the answers we want.

It has been said that there are three possible answers to prayer:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Not yet

Why is it I wonder that we so often are only content when the answer is yes?  Jesus said “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)  When we ask for something in someone’s name, there is an implicit sense of intimacy, trust and respect.  If I am seeking to realise those qualities in prayer, it would hardly be fitting for me to pray for an Aston Martin or a Ferrari so hardly surprising that such prayers wouldn’t necessarily be answered.

Many years ago I knew an elderly lady at church who was really faithful in prayer.  She shared something of her faith journey with me one day, and spoke of praying for her husband.  She had been a Christadelphian for a big part of her life, and had been praying that her husband might become one too for over 20 years.  But then she had a personal encounter with Jesus and gave her life to him; she was released into a fullness of life and relationship with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Her prayer and the focus of her prayer shifted…she now prayed that her husband too would have that relationship with Jesus and spent the next 20 years thanking God that he hadn’t become a Christadelphian.  We must ask in Jesus’ name to the glory of the Father.  We must pray to the Father in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

d)   We find it all too easy to pray on our terms and not God’s.

I know there have been times in my life when I thought I knew better than God.  For the record: I don’t!  When Abraham interceded for the people of Sodom (Genesis 18:22-19:29), there was no arrogance in his heart and prayers.   He knew a poverty of Spirit and a willingness to “speak God’s heart to himself.”

So then we come to today’s Gospel reading which features the  Lord’s Prayer which is one of the most beautiful, complete and balanced prayers that we find anywhere in Scripture.  The first ‘half’ of the Lord’s Prayer is centred on the glorification of God. The second ‘half’ covers the physical and spiritual well-being of believers…there is a completeness to it.  It’s reminding ourselves of God’s character and what being in that relationship with a loving Father will be like.  It is a prayer of prompting…we are prompted by an awareness of the presence of God, Our Father in Heaven and our response is to bring Him praise.  There is a purpose and a hope, a recognition of His provision, a getting right with him and one another and a request for protection.

Let’s step back for one moment and think about this time and this place when Jesus was with his disciples.  We are told that Jesus was “praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”” (Luke 11: 1).  The disciples had heard Jesus praying to His Father; prayers of faith, prayers of hope and prayers of intimacy and love – not some formal, stuffy, high-minded, complicated prayers with lots of flowery words.  The disciples too were no strangers to prayer themselves; it will have been embedded in their culture, custom and practice.  And yet here they are, having heard Jesus’ prayers that were somehow different with their heartfelt request…“teach us to pray”, much as John’s followers had been taught by him.

I tend to think that when Jesus heard the disciple’s request “teach us to pray”, His heart must have rejoiced.  He must have had a huge smile on His face.  I sometimes wonder if in His response, with that huge smile, He might have said “Oh, alright then…if you insist!”  I also wonder what on earth the disciples expected Jesus to say, how did they expect Him to reply?  Is Jesus’ reply what YOU might have expected?

In reading the Lord’s Prayer, I really want us to be encouraged.  We would be deceiving ourselves if we didn’t think that Jesus sometimes has hard and testing things to say to us in the Gospels.  But on prayer, I am pretty sure that the last thing He wants for us are feelings of guilt or inadequacy.  God yearns for us to be in relationship with Him and the relationship we have with God is something that shapes our spirituality and approach to prayer.  The great theologian A.W. Tozer said “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.”  Our image of God should be based on his revelation of himself in his Word and in his Son, our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ.  How do Jesus’ words of teaching on prayer shape our understanding of God, and therefore our spirituality and approach to prayer?

It seems pretty clear from Jesus’ words that he was encouraging his disciples – and us – to pray in a way that shows intimacy with and reliance on God.  Jesus tells us to use that very personal and intimate language “Father.”  Jesus using ‘Father’ as a title is highly distinctive; it is not a title given directly to God in the Hebrew Scriptures, although it is occasionally used as a metaphor. The Aramaic word for ‘Father’ is “Abba” which is a term of endearment and intimacy. St Paul writes in both Romans and Galatians that as sons and daughters of God, we cry out Abba, Father.  We pray because we have a good Father, who gives good gifts to his children.  Our asking is not a heavy pleading with, or an anguished persuading, but the natural response to a loving God who cares for us.  In its simplest form, prayer is chatting with God from our heart about the things of the day with humility and gratitude that a great, awesome and holy God yearns for us to enter into his presence.    I also believe that when we have courage to pray, coming before God just as we are, that he rejoices.  It is all about our attitude…our heart attitude, our head attitude and our attitude of spirit.  In prayer we “join our hearts with Gods”.  No wonder St Augustine said “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Since the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, it suggests that prayer is something we can learn.  I think prayer is like a muscle we can “work out” and one of the power foods we can use to fuel that work out is God’s Word.  I don’t believe any sincere and heartfelt prayer is ever wasted.  I do believe even the shortest of prayers prayed in this way can move God’s heart – it’s about how we pray not how many words we use!  And you know, however weak and inadequate we feel, Jesus himself takes our poor, hesitant prayers, and perfects them by joining them to his own perfect and complete offering of prayer to the Father, which is why in the Christian tradition we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. No wonder one introduction to the Lord’s Prayer is “Uniting our prayers with the whole company of heaven, as our Saviour taught us, so we pray.” We do not pray alone.  And, as St Paul reminds us, the Holy Spirit – the good gift the Father gives us when we ask him, himself prayer deep within us, with inarticulate groans of desire.

Prayer is something that is active and dynamic – it implies action not inaction.  To pray, ‘hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come’ (11:2), is to hand over the sovereignty to God. To be able to continue, ‘Give us each day our daily bread … forgive us our sins … do not bring us to the time of trial’ (11:3–4), is to find that he then supplies all our need. The old life is shed, abandoned to him; then the new is received, and may be characterized as the new life in the Holy Spirit.

In our passage, immediately after his teaching on prayer Jesus presents his disciples with two parables.  The first one deals with the practice of prayer (11:5–10), and the last one speaks into the nature of prayer (11:11–13).  The first parable (the story of the friend’s request for loaves at midnight) teaches us to pray persistently…“because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” In other words, it is about the practice of prayer – our part in it.  The second parable is concerned with the basis of prayer, or God’s part in it, is the subject of the sayings about the father who naturally will not give his son a serpent or a scorpion if the boy has asked for a fish or an egg.  God listens, and understands.  He “perceives our thoughts from afar”…he is “familiar with all our ways”…there is nothing about us he does not know.  God knows our needs better than we know them ourselves.

When we seek to single-mindedly yield ourselves to him, what happens? We find that this great, holy and awesome God is also our heavenly Father, who meets our seeking with his giving. When we ask, seek, and knock, he gives the answer we need (11:9–10). As the response of a human father to his son’s need is not one of cynical disregard (11:11–12), neither is God’s response to our need anything less than the provision of ‘good gifts’, and what Luke sums up as the gift of the Holy Spirit (11:13).  God constantly sends himself, such is the enormity of his desire to be in relationship with us.

So trust in God, know that your prayers are heard and never ever wasted, that your prayers are like a beautiful fragrance to God no matter how short or fumbling and be persistent knowing that God really will provide your needs.  Amen

Pre-pentecost musings

I have been reflecting on John 17:11-19 recently.  It features  part of Jesus’ longest recorded prayer, the part in which he prays for his disciples.  It can be argued that since we too are disciples his prayer extends to us too.

In it he prays for 4 things:

  1. That they may be protected (both from the world that hates them and from the evil one)
  2. That they may be united
  3. That they may be delighted
  4. That they may be sanctified

I want to share with you three thoughts to consider:

  • It really struck me that (huge generalisation here) the church rarely prays for protection, and I think that is a huge omission.  Remember, as Christians we are in the world but not of the world.  I feel moved to pray for protection, especially in what for me is a time of transition and invite you to reflect on the passage and join me in that prayer for your church and community if you feel burdened too.
  • Jesus didn’t simply pray that the disciples would be united; it was much stronger than that, “so that they may be one, as we are one.”  If you want to see a perfect example of unity and relationship, look to the Trinity.  And that’s how Jesus wants us to be too.  The hard question we need to ask ourselves when engaging in anything is “Does this glorify God, and does it demonstrate unity?”
  • Jesus prayed for the disciples to be sanctified, to be set apart, to be made holy.  And again he didn’t simply pray that; they were to be sanctified in the truth and God’s Word is truth.  God’s mission is one of light confronting darkness.  We must be the light-bearers to those who walk in darkness; we must help them to find that light where they are. We are to be ‘set apart for the gospel of God’ (Rom. 1:1).  And we are set apart by the Word of God.  Jesus and God’s holy Word have to be at the centre.  If we want to know Jesus more, we read the Bible.  If we want to get to know God the Father more, we get to know Jesus.  And as we approach Pentecost let’s not forget that we come to the Father through Jesus the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, help us to be protected, united, delighted and sanctified.  Amen

Teach us to Pray!

Many people struggle with prayer.  We may feel inadequate and clumsy, and even perhaps unworthy.  We may think that prayer is something that others do and we simply go along with them or that we don’t really understand prayer, or why we need to pray.  We are not alone in that.  In Luke’s gospel, we are told how the disciples encountered Jesus in prayer and when he had finished praying “one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”” (Luke 11:1)  The disciples had a growing awareness of the need to pray, and of their own inadequacy at prayer.  They realised that prayer was central to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, and they knew they needed to learn how to pray to grow in their relationship with God.  Jesus’ wonderful response was to teach them the Lord’s prayer.

Prayer may be many things: a declaration of truth, the heart of relationship and intimacy with God, knowing God’s heart, a lifeline to the Lord, a vehicle for confession, worship & praise, a journey into humility, an opportunity to draw close to the Lord, a request for God to act from an open hand of need and hope, a time of intercession and joyful and continuous (1 Thessalonians 5:17)!   Prayer may be personal and intimate (“go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-8)) or corporate (“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you one earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.”  (Matthew 18:19-20)).

Eugene Peterson shares a helpful insight in telling us that “Prayer has to be a response to what God has said.  The worshipping congregation—hearing the Word read and preached, and celebrating it in the sacraments—is the place where we may learn how to pray and where we may practice prayer.  It is the centre from which we might pray.  From it, we go to our ‘closet’ or mountains and continue to pray.

I think that God rejoices when we come before him in prayer; he yearns that we, the pinnacle of his creation, might be in intimate fellowship with him.  We can come before our heavenly father, Abba father, daddy, knowing that we are loved as we are because in Christ we are children of God.  And so I invite you to ask God with me, just as the disciples asked Jesus…“Teach us to pray.”