Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray, he said: “in order that the love you have for me may be in them”. So how do we learn to pray? I don’t mean ‘how do we make up words that sound good when strung in a religious line.’ How did Jesus pray? Let’s start there.
From Mark 1: Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him,and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
From John 17 Jesus Prays for His Disciples
Jn 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Here is how I see this true story, from the Bible. I hope you can hear it OK.
When Jesus got out of bed, some people would say it was still dark. But that’s because they were asleep. On the path, Jesus saw the stars spinning their bright way west, the moon stood by, and there was the hint of a sunrise, like a silver blush on the cheek of the horizon. Jesus could also see that the Kingdom of God was dawning upon the world.
He steered himself along the network of paths that led past the baker, past the gambling den, through the market square, around the synagogue, diagonally across the park and out of the village. His whole life had steered him towards these days. Yesterday, he had seen God heal people, under his hand, lots of them. It had never happened before. He had been teaching about God and people were getting it, thrilled to know at last, lives transformed. So many people were being touched. No one knew where it would lead. This stony track should lead me to the top of that hill.
It was surprisingly hard to climb. Over these first weeks, aA number of disciples had joined him at their very great cost and at enormous risk. And some of the religious people and government people just wanted arguments. Always arguments – why do people not welcome the Father’s Son and God’s word and God’s tender power?
The birds were out as he walked around the hilltop. They were singing the praises of Him who cares for them, chattering, spacking, cluck and dive and whistle, playing chasey, preening for the girl-birds to see, strutting for the boy-birds to see, singing praises. Into this choir, Jesus walked and waited, to pray with his heavenly father, who in his language he called ‘abba’ which means ‘dad’. Jesus and God were very close, as close as whispering. The bushes stood breathless.
As he prayed in the silence, there was a lot going on. It was love being shared, back and forth across the darkling world, such love pouring from the Abba to his child and such praise and love given straight back by him. If you had ears to hear, the stars sang praises. The wind hummed along. The trees clapped their hands. The hills hymned. The lake below played the bass. If you have ears, you can hear. The whole planet and all the stars were awash with love, like winter waves rushing up the beach at high tide. Love tossed in the winds of the Spirit. All in the space of utter silence.
Back at the village, someone was like a grey shadow moving around the darkened house. This room that room courtyard backyard, and he shook his head, and put his hands on his hips. He moved quickly. He was excited about all the healings yesterday, and what might he see today. There had been so many people! What a great success! Still he couldn’t find what he was searching for, and went outside, and with a glance at the sky, walked around the corners and across the park, still searching.
No one else was about. No one else had yet got up and said ‘what time is it’ and gone to work or gone to make a cup of tea. In the quiet of his place, Jesus knew what time it was – it was the beginning. He had begun to win the whole world for the Reign of God. ‘Dad, show me the next step, the right time. What are the right words to use today when teaching, and when arguing? Give those men and women with me some courage and stickability? I don’t even know if they want it, but I so want it for them. Don’t please let them retreat into their own ghetto, that would be so sad, a grief, a tragedy. Dad, like you do for me, when they enter the hard places and dark spaces of a broken world, may they keep the vision, may they be kept safe from the evil one.’
Out of the dark bushes behind Jesus came a huffing and puffing. He heard someone pause, then walk a bit more, pause and wander about a bit more. Jesus recognised the voice muttering. The sun was almost here now. The eastern hilltops were on fire with the bright light of promise. Farmers were just moving into their fields, mothers were getting breakfast for school children.
Simon Peter suddenly loomed up and nearly fell on him. ‘Oh! here you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Have you eaten yet? We are all starving. Aren’t you cold sitting here? We’ve lit the fire. I’ve brought three text messages for you, there are four suspicious officials at the gate and five people in the courtyard who need healing, sad cases some of them. Shall I tell them to wait? There will be a big crowd very soon, I reckon, we are on a roll! You praying? How long do you want?’ and he started back down the way he came.
‘We’re not going that way!’ Jesus called out. ‘We’re going this way, to the other villages. People are waiting there too, they just don’t know it yet.’
Simon wanted to argue. ‘As far as I can see, we are having a great impact for God right here. There is a great need. Maybe revival has broken out.’
‘As far as you can see, did you say?’ asked Jesus, and continued down in the other direction.
Peter had been asleep. Peter just didn’t get it yet, about prayer. Do you get it?
SO what do we make of that story? The biblical version or the re-imagined version?
HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE PRAYING JESUS
Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray. “in order that the love you have for me may be in them” I don’t mean how do we make up words that sound good when strung in a religious line. I mean, as in the story, how do we take our place in the universe awash with God’s love? How does God help us to take our stand in the right way with right words at the right time? Prayer is powerful for those who learn its discipline. But just as ‘everyone can care’, everyone can pray. The way to learn to pray is to begin praying. ‘Master teach us to pray’ they asked. They knew they had to learn to pray if they wanted the love of God in them. Start. Talk to God exactly, unguardedly, what you feel, in your own unedited words.
Not all of you will welcome this idea. You are either enjoying your prayers or you are bored or worse. If you are enjoying your prayers at present, you are here hungry for more. But some of us are fearful of what a sermon on prayer may ask of us. Not more effort. Not more strain. Not more work at dry repetition. You may be simply lazy. More likely is that you may have outgrown the ways of praying that you know about. Jesus has moved off in another direction and wants you to follow closely somewhere new. This calls for experiments, maybe for picking up something you once dropped. This calls for addressing your prejudices and bad habits, maybe moving some foundations. ‘Master, teach us to pray.’
There are two main ways that I have seen Christians learn to pray in Jesus name.
One is by repeating the Lord’s prayer.
And you can think on each phrase and what it means to you today. It will take you higher and further into the passions and the spirit of Jesus. Just a couple of examples:
OUR FATHER: Reflect: How is God my dad? Jesus took a high risk in telling us to say this – a lot of dad’s are derelict in their duties of loving intimacy, some of us are just humanly fallible. God gets tainted with that brush in almost every one of us. IT calls us dads to raise our game. OR Reflect together: Men and women need to approach this quite differently. What will happen when we spend our day saying to someone quite different. -‘dad.., father…’ Carry a box of tissues.
In HEAVEN: Reflect: What am I looking forward to about the new heaven and the new earth that is coming?
OR you can sing e.g. SONG: I’ll be there
And so on. Repeat the Lord’s prayer and dive down into it.
Secondly, in providing a framework for prayer, we often teach this four part acronym: ACTS .
J: ‘All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.’
So we can learn to praise, or worship, not always in song, sometimes words, sometimes posture, sometimes dance…
J: ‘Not my will but thine be done’ is as close to repentance as Jesus needed to go.
So we can turn over our thoughts and actions, our plans and our priorities and match them with the glory of God. It is only ever specific and two sided: things to turn from and things to turn towards.
J: ‘I thank you father that you have revealed…’
‘Give thanks in all circumstances’ says the Apostle, and there are always things to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is the threshold of all spirituality, an awareness and practise of the gift of life and hope.
‘Father, I want..’
God will give us the desires of our hearts, the Psalmist says, when our hearts are tied to his.
All these four take practise, and there are many ways to take them forwards. Most church services include them all, which is why we often focus our learning about prayer this way. You and I can practise these each week, each day, each church service.
Today however, thirdly, I want to take you further – into BICS. Pronounce that ‘Biccies’ since churches are really fantastic at morning teas!
J:‘Jesus took children into his arms and blessed them’
I love to do this. Baruch/Makarioi. It means a lot more than ‘happiness’. It is your love-imparted, a gift-given, like resuscitation with your air, like a blood transfusion, like a welcome smile . Try sitting in the bus or at the traffic lights and blessing everyone you can see. IT is a subversive. Prayer-walk your street, blessing everyone in the house as you pass by.
I:Intercession- prayers for others
J:‘I do not pray for them only but also…’
Many churches have a small group of their ‘praying ladies’. I wish there were more men, with the courage to take on the hardest ministry of them all. There are several levels of Intercession, from the routine we can all share through to standing in the gap almost as a prophetic act. In between these ends of a spectrum, some of us are called to pray for others a lot, so much so that going to work or other duties are a distraction. Does this sound like any of you? A church only grows from the fuel of the intercessors. Can I request respectfully that is this is you, that you get yourself off every other roster and duty you are in and get back to work? Don’t wait for God to allow a major debility to fall on you to make you do this.
C:Contemplation and meditation – bracketed together for this exercise.
J:‘Behold the wildflowers how they grow…’
Many of us are better at this form of prayer than we realise. It is easy in nature to contemplate exquisite beauty and to connect this with the creator as designer or originator, but also as the presence of the Spirit in all things. There are also practises by which we can learn to sustain a godly attention upon the sacraments, upon a verse of scripture or upon just one word ( a mantra). IT is not extensive, like intercession but intensive, focussed smaller and smaller to a point.
The methods of taming the soul and brain are shared across many religions, but notice this carefully, the object of attention and the relationship entered into can be quite different, and the consequences that are sought and found can be even more different.
In contemplation/meditation , we focus onto being. For instance:
Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be. OR
Be still and know that I am God. Know that I am God. I am God. God.
J:‘Jesus went out to a solitary place and there he prayed’
The desert spirituality of Jesus’ Jewish ancestors is here being referred to. God showed up in the desert sometimes on fire and sometimes in the utter silence. Silence scares a lot of us. When the external distractions cease, silence throws at us the internal noise of our loneliness, our lack of integration, our resentments and our unrequited sins. IT is both a place of peace and a place of inner battle. IN our thousandfold distraction with industrial media and city living, we have great need to notice that silence is even possible and that it will repay the perils of a journey into it. If Jesus walked that turf, lived that story, how much more do you and I need to learn to do it?
AND THERE’S MORE – a HLLL of a lot more – How and when to pray for Healing, how to Listen for God’s guidance, how to Lament like 50% of the Psalms when things are not working out, how to express Love of God in familiar and intimate ways that sometimes Adoration does not come down to.
But for now, the praying Jesus invites us into his space and teaches us to pray in many ways. Today my main focus has been BICS – so have some BICS with your cup of tea and see where they take you. Take up to learn one way at a time and marinate yourself in it. Learn its disciplines. Receive its joy. Like Jesus.
Jn 17:26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Master, teach us how to pray?
Do you want an answer to that question? Do you really want to go there?
Do you really want God’s love to come to you and motivate within you?