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Thought of the week - 24 July

"'So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him."

At first sight that promise of Jesus sounds absolutely wonderful. Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. And, says Jesus, experience only confirms this. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks always has the door opened to him.

But whose experience confirms this promise? Certainly not mine, and probably not yours also. There are times when we have asked things of God and have not received what we asked for, or have received no answer at all. Or so it has seemed to us. Then there are those who have searched and searched for answers to their questions and problems and have found none. And there are certainly times when it has seemed to us that we have stood knocking on the door and it has remained resolutely shut. What is wrong with us that our own experience does not confirm the promise of Jesus that we shall be given when we ask; shall find what we search for and have the closed door opened for us.

Why is the teaching of Jesus on prayer so difficult to understand and so hard to take in. Is it that we lack faith that our deepest prayers are not answered. Is it that we don't pray long and hard enough? Is it that we pray in the wrong way or for the wrong things? Is it that our prayers are indeed answered but that we don't always recognize the answer at the time? Or is it perhaps a combination of all three?

Certainly it is the case that God will not answer our prayers with evil. At times we might ask, "What have I done to deserve this?" But the answer must always be "Nothing. You have done nothing to deserve this. Your innocent actions have not brought down upon you a punishment or a judgement from above. You have done nothing to deserve the evil that has come upon you. And it is certainly not the case that God has inflicted this evil upon you. How could that be so. God does not bring down evil on his children. If earthly fathers know how to give their children what is good. how much more will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. We can pray in absolute confidence that whatever answer is given to our prayer will be for our good and benefit. God is the Good giver.

But what ought we to pray? That was a question the disciples also asked: "Lord, teach us to pray." The answer is a model of simplicity. It is also the model for all Christian prayer. "He said to them, "Say this when you pray:

"Father, may your name be held holy,

your kingdom come;

give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us

And do not put us to the test.

The first thing to notice about the Lord's Prayer, the model of all Christian prayer, is that we pray in simple trust, for we pray to our Father, who always gives to us what is good. The next thing to notice is that the prayer is not centred on our selves and our need - "Please God, can I have...", "Please God will you..." "Please God, why?" - but on God himself. We are to pray that the name of God be held holy. In our prayer we are to centre on the holiness of God. And because our prayer is the way we ought to live, we pray that our lives might be holy, reflecting the holiness of God. There can be no prayer that doesn't honour God and his holy name. "Father, may your name be held holy."

The same is true of the next petition, which is indeed at the heart of all Christian prayer. "Your kingdom come." All our prayer, all our action, indeed our very selves must be directed towards this one goal - the coming of God's kingdom. Your kingdom come. And as the longer version of St. Matthew's gospel puts it - your will be done. This is to pray the same thing, for where God's will is done, there his kingdom, his reign is. This is the goal to which all our prayer is directed - the coming of God's kingdom. For in God's kingdom we know that all our prayers will be answered; all that we ask for we shall receive; all that we seek we shall find; and there will be no door that we cannot enter. But we must begin here and now conforming ourselves to the holiness of God, seeking to do his will that his kingdom might come even here on earth as it is in heaven. Your kingdom come.

All our prayer is to be directed to the coming of God's heavenly kingdom. That is a very bold and daring prayer. In effect what we are praying for is the end of the world as we know it. We are praying for a new beginning for a new heaven and a new earth where God reigns supreme and where our will is in joyful conformity to his.

But in the meantime we have to live in this world, the world as we know it with all its sin and wickedness. Therefore we are encouraged, indeed required to pray for our needs. "Give us each day our daily bread." That is a simple petition. It is also a prayer for simplicity. It is a recognition that we don't need much to live in God's kingdom. It is enough that we are provided with today's needs, our bread for today. The children of Israel in the wilderness were provided with enough bread for each day, on a daily basis. This is our prayer here -that we may have sufficient for this day. Sadly, whilst we in the West have far more than this day's bread, there are those in the world who don't even have that. Give us today our daily bread. Jesus is reminding us that in our prayer we need not worry about tomorrow's needs - sufficient to the day is the evil thereof. Indeed our prayer is that there will be no tomorrow for we look for the coming of God's kingdom and rule. That is why we need only our bread for today. Prayer that is directed towards the amassing of wealth and goods and concerns can never be Christian prayer. Give us each day our daily bread.

The kingdom we pray for is God's kingdom, and God's kingdom is a kingdom of forgiveness, a place where our sins are forgiven. That forgiveness begins even here on earth and so we can in confidence ask God to forgive us our sins, for we know what it is to forgive the sins of others. Or do we? In St. Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer our forgiveness is conditional on our forgiving other. St. Luke's version is more tender, "and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us." Well, perhaps we do for the most part. Furthermore, it is because we know ourselves to be forgiven that we can with confidence prayer to be delivered from the time of test, the time of trial. And do not put us to the test

And so we have a very simple prayer, which is to be the model of all Christian prayer, and indeed of all Christian living, for our life must be the acting out of our prayer. Prayer that is mere words is no prayer at. Our lives must be fashioned by our prayer.

And so we come in simple trust to our heavenly Father, seeking to glorify and hallow his name in our prayer and in our life. In simple trust we pray for the coming of his kingdom, that our will might be in joyful conformity with his. We seek from our Father our daily needs, recognizing that there are others of his children who are deprived of their daily bread largely because of the greed and wickedness and selfishness of others. Finally we know that we can stand in simple trust before our heavenly Father because our sins are forgiven, and can, therefore, pray "do not put us to the test", that is, that we may not stand trial before the heavenly assize.

So, when you pray say this:

Father, may your name be held holy,

your kingdom come;

give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we forgive each one who is in debt to us.

And do not put us to the test.

And "now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen."


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