John 17.20-26, Revelation 22.12-14, 16,17,20,21.
A month or so back, an envelope arrived through my door bearing the seal stamp of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This does not happen every day and so you can imagine my surprise as well as a pang of angst – what have I done now?! I needn’t of worried though. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised and excited by Archbishop Justin’s letter. The Archbishops had written to every serving parish priest in the Church of England expressing their longing “to see a great wave of prayer across our land, throughout the Church of England and many other Churches” this week from the 8th to 15th May.
In their letter the Archbishops said:
“At the heart of our prayers will be words that Jesus himself taught us – ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.’ It is impossible to overstate the life-transforming power of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that is reassuring enough to be on the lips of the dying and yet dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas. It is famous enough to be spoken each day by billions in hundreds of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us ever closer into friendship with Jesus Christ. It is simple enough to be memorised by small children and yet profound enough to sustain a whole lifetime of prayer. When we pray it with sincerity and with joy, there is no imagining the new ways in which God can use us to his glory.”
The Archbishops hope for this week of prayer running up to this Pentecost is for every Christian to receive a renewal of the Holy Spirit which brings new confidence and joy in sharing this life-transforming faith. To aid this week of prayer there will be prayer stations set up in both Holy Trinity and St James’ church. Each station presents a different way to pray, a different way to engage with God. Prayer is the backbone of our faith. Without prayer our actions hold no power or substance in the world.
We know this. We know that prayer is important in our lives as followers of Christ. We know it is something we should do and we do prayer together every week in church. We may prayer during the week too. However, sometimes prayer does not come easily. We may find there are many barriers to prayer, like not having the time or quietness in which to pray. We may feel we don’t the right words or are not worthy enough to speak to God. Perhaps we have found our prayers have not been answered and so we give up praying as prayer seems pointless.
We all have our own personal barriers which prevent our relationship with God from deepening. In times like these, a careful, open, kind and honest self-examination may be needed. I was thinking about this when stood in kitchen the other day, doing the washing up. Every day I like to drink coffee and I use a cafetiere. Washing out the dregs of the pot and the plunger has become a daily ritual before making coffee. I like to take apart the plunger to clear out all the dregs. If I don’t the freshly made coffee will be tainted and not taste as good. So daily my cafetiere is broken down, cleaned and put together again. And this reminded me of prayer. Through prayer, God breaks us down, clears away the dregs, and transforms us, builds us up into the person he wants us to be.
But this only happens if we allow God into our inner being. If we give him the space to do the work in us. The way we prayer can either help or hinder the way God works with us. There is no right way to pray but there is ok and better. This better way can be seen in the passage from John we heard. Jesus is modelling how to pray. He shows that his relationship is very intimate with God. So intimate in fact that he calls God Father. This closeness in their relationship is the same closeness Jesus wants us all to have and is the purpose of his prayer. He asks God that all people “may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us”. Notice how Jesus prayers. He does not tell God what he wants but asks. Sometimes our prayers can fall into a list of demands, of commanding God what we want done. God does not need micro-managing; he does not need to be told what to do. God is already aware of the situation and will deal with it as He thinks best. Our place is to trust in God. To trust God will answer our prayers but be humble in knowing that God’s way is not necessarily our ways. That how God will answer will be what we really need, not what we think we need.
Notice also the way Jesus phrases his prayer; “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me”. There is a sense of a conversation here, like one talking to someone known and deeply loved. Sometimes we feel prayer is like a one sided conversation. Like we are speaking out into the ether in the hope God might be listening. Or worse, that God expects amazingly intricate, and holy language, when all God wants really to hear is us as we are. We do not need special words with which to speak to God with.
Lastly, we may say I have no time to pray. To me that’s a little bit like saying I have no time to breath. Yet we breath without consciously thinking about it, and without breath we’d suffocate. Life without daily prayer is like slowly suffocating. Without prayer, without having daily conversations with God, we cut ourselves off from our source of life. Our lives stagnate, as they are without God’s guidance or openness to being changed by Him. We can lose our true sense of purpose without the discipline of prayer. Another word for discipline is training. Through the training of pray we hold ourselves accountable before God in recognition of our need for His place in our lives.
Jesus taught his followers to pray intimately to a shared Father through using the pray Our Father. This God whom we can call upon as Father has time for each one of us. The same time he given to me is given to you, no more, no less. Through the Our Father prayer we are united not only with God but with each other. We join in with God’s holy dance of love and celebration. Of freedom to be truly human children of God in a world which ignores God and His gifts. In this week of prayer leading to Pentecost when our hearts are set on fire again through the gift of the holy spirit, the Archbishops hope is that the Our Father becomes central to our daily prayers. This invitation to pray more fervently, more deeply is an echo of the invitation we heard in the reading from revelations:
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.
God invites us anytime, anyplace, in any way to Come, drink from His life giving water. Come into the Father’s arms, for you are his beloved children. Open yourself to hearing his words safe in knowledge that he will hear you. Take time this week to renew your prayer lives. To visit the prayer stations in church. To once again, dedicate yourself to your Father who is longing to hear from you once again.