In study 8 the Catechism instructed us about the behaviour of a Christian. A person who follows Jesus should live a life honouring to God, a life lived in line with the Ten Commandments. Yet, the truth is that no believer, no matter how strong their faith, can live a perfectly good life. In fact, we will find it difficult to live a reasonably good life. The Catechism reminds us of this and points out that God is ready to help us if we pray to him. Prayer is the God given way for help in the Christian life. God himself will give us help if we ask for it in prayer. Therefore, prayer is not something we just do when we feel like it. It is an essential part of the Christian life.
God's "help", his special freely-given kindness, is there for the asking. The Holy Spirit's role in our life is to strengthen, encourage, and equip us for our Christian life. He is there to support us day-by-day. As Jesus said, "I will be with you even unto the end of the age." He is not promising a trouble-free life, he is just promising that he will stand with us when we try to live in a way honouring to him.
So, going forward in the Christian life is not dependent on our own effort, or how able we are to live a good life, it is dependent on God's help - His special grace. We must learn to trust him to lead us into a life honouring to him. This he will help us do when we ask for his help.
The Lord's Prayer is found in the gospel of Matthew 6:9-13. The disciples asked Jesus if he would teach them to pray and so he gave them the prayer we call the Lord's Prayer. The prayer is a list of those things we can ask and expect to receive. They are requests the Bible says are "according to the will of God". In his kindness he has promised to give certain things to us when we ask. The Lord's Prayer is a short list of those things.
The prayer is in a form we call liturgy. The Anglican church is a liturgical church. That is, we have set prayers, confessions, thanksgivings, praise..... which we repeat week by week. The idea is that as we learn the set prayers etc. we are freed to give our own personal meaning to each sentence. The only problem is that we can fall into the habit of what is called "vain repetition". We can end up rattling the Lord's Prayer off without even thinking about what we have said. Don't worry when you do this, for we all do it at some time or other. Just try not to.
The Catechism gives a short explanation of those things we should pray for. It roughly follows the outline of the Lord's Prayer.
"I ask God to help me and all people to worship, serve and obey him as we ought to do. And I ask him to supply our daily needs, both physical and spiritual. I ask him to forgive us our sins and to defend us in all dangers. I pray for strength in times of trial and temptation. And in all this, I trust him to answer my prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ; and so I say 'Amen', 'let it be'."
The elements of the Lord's Prayer are as follows:
i] The opening address. What a wonderfully personal way to address our God.
ii] May his Name be honoured. A person's name defines them and so God's name expresses everything about him. Our request is that his person be honoured - in our individual lives, our church, society..... through eternity. The Bible promises us that it will. By the way, his name is actually YHWH (Yahweh, or Jehovah in English) but he wants us to call him Father.
iii] May his kingdom come. The kingdom of God is the rule God over the people of God. We are a new community or society, gathered together under Jesus. Nothing has or ever will stop this community of believers. Every day people become Jesus' friend, and every day is a day closer when Jesus will return to gather us into his eternal community - heaven.
iv] May his will be done. May all his friends learn to work for the coming Kingdom of God. May I be strengthened to serve my Lord in my day-to-day life. The Holy Spirit will help me do just that.
v] May we have the resources to serve our Lord. May our faith and love be strengthened. This is most likely not a request for food. God has never promised to keep believers well-fed, clothed, housed, etc.
vi] May we be forgiven. When we fail to serve our Lord the way we should (and we can be sure we will), may he forgive us when we ask. Given that we can sometimes forgive others, imagine how much more God can forgive us.
vii] May we stand firm in the time of testing, protected from the powers of darkness. As the Bible says, the "Devil is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour." Of course, it means spiritually "devour", unlike some horror movies. The powers of darkness try to move us away from Jesus and our eternal salvation. They try to shake our trust in Jesus, but we can ask Jesus to hold us tight. Isn't that a great thought? Just a note on the powers of darkness, "evil", the Devil. His power is seen in deception. He is a liar, a con-artist.
viii] The ending of the prayer is known as the "Gloria"; it is a fine note of praise and trust in God.
"And so I say, 'Amen', let it be."
You will notice that the Catechism explains what the word "Amen" means. It is a phrase always used at the end of a prayer and it simply means "So be it, I agree".
In its narrowest sense, prayer consists of a set of requests to God. There are two forms of requests, one we call "intercession", which is asking for others, and "supplication" which is asking for ourselves. We do need to understand that when someone says they are going to pray to God they usually include a number of things which would technically come under the title "personal worship" rather than personal prayer. A personal worship time may include confession, praise, thanksgiving, requests (prayer) and meditation on God's word (listening as well as speaking).
Some of the prayers in the Bible which received wonderful answers were very simple indeed, eg. Matthew 14:30, and 15:25. So, keep them simple.
On the practical side, we need to develop regular prayer times. Make prayer a habit. There is nothing we can't take to God in prayer.
In the list of what to ask God for, the Catechism says "I ask him to supply our daily needs, both physical and spiritual." The problem with such a request is that experience tells us it is not always answered. We could argue that it is answered either yes, no or not yet, but that is a bit of a side step.
Jesus Christ said: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer," Matthew 21:22. Yet, many of our prayers are not answered. Some of those prayers may have been very important. Why doesn't God answer all our prayers?
Although Jesus promised to stand with us through life and to always be with us, he never promised to make things easier for his friends. In fact, he said it would be harder. Although he wants us to tell him our deepest worries and troubles, he never did promise to fix all of them up. Jesus only promised to do certain things for us. Therefore, it is best we learn to ask for things which are according to God's will. The Bible is, of course, the source book of God's will. So, we need to search out his promises if we want to know the prayers that will be answered "yes".
Even when we pray according to God's will, the answer is not always what we expect. God sometimes answers our prayers by giving us a deeper and richer experience. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Note how Paul asked for the removal of a particular problem, but God answered by giving him grace (help) to bear it. When we qualify our prayers and make them in accordance with God's will, our prayers are answered, even though the answer is not exactly as we may wish.
God is never too late and never too early, but in some way he always answers the prayer that is based on Bible truth. Remember, the act of praying is of far greater value than the answer, for it brings us in touch with our Father in Heaven, and so gives peace to heart and mind. Although the "prayer of faith" should properly be "according to the will of God", there is nothing wrong with telling him all our problems and needs. Remember, he is our heavenly Father.
Revise the Apostles' Creed, The Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer.
Revise the "I ask God to help me and all people to...... " and use it as a prayer during the week.
Lord, teach me to pray. Amen.