Materials for Worship on 24th July

Nerys writes: Our Bible passages today have the potential to give us misleading and damaging ideas of what God is like and what prayer is all about, but read thoughtfully with regard to their context, they can be an assurance and encouragement for us.

It’s easy to see how the story in Genesis 18.20-32 is often read as though it’s about Abraham bargaining with God for the lives of the people of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We picture a concerned Abraham pleading with a hard-hearted and vindictive God bent on destruction. If we read the verses immediately before this passage, however, we find that we have been misled. There we have God debating whether to share his plan for humanity with Abraham, the one he has chosen to be the ancestor of a people who will live God’s way. kindly and generously and fairly. So what we have in the conversation that follows is a lesson given by God to Abraham. God doesn’t tell Abraham his intention, but allows him to discover it and at the same time to discover what God is really like. We can imagine the twinkle in God’s eye as he dares Abraham to test him further and further, wanting Abraham to realise that the justice and mercy he is asking for is what God already wants.

We find the same kind of learning of God’s nature in today’s Gospel passage, Luke 11.1-13. After having taught his disciples the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells a funny story about an irritating friend who turns up in the middle of the night, waking up the whole house with his knocking and shameless demands for help. We assume that the grumpy householder who ultimately responds because of his neighbour’s annoying persistence is meant to be understood as God who needs to be pestered with prayer. If we read the parable more carefully, however, we find that the point Jesus is making is, in fact, the opposite of this. If even the grumpiest of neighbours will respond to a request for help from a friend, how much more would God who loves us like a father, give us what we need. ‘Ask God and you will receive’, Jesus assures his disciples. If even the worst human parents know to give good things to their own children, how much more will our heavenly Father give to those who ask?

Jesus is encouraging his disciples to bombard God with their requests, not because this is necessary to make sure that God will listen, but because God delights in being involved in every part of our lives. By pestering God with our prayers, as Abraham did and as the desperate friend did to the sleepy householder, we will learn more about God and give God an opportunity to teach us how to pray.

Our readings today invite us to reflect on the story of our own prayer life and where it has taken us.

I wonder who first taught you to pray?
What kinds of encouragement have you received to pray at different times in our life?
How has the way you pray changed over the years?
Can you think of any occasions when prayer has led you to make an unexpected decision or taken you in a new direction?
Can you think of prayers which have been answered in a way that has surprised you?
Are you struggling with unanswered prayer in any areas of your life?
What are the main themes of your prayers at the moment?

There are times for all of us when we find it difficult to pray. Sometimes it helps to do as the disciples did and ask Jesus afresh to teach us how to go about it. His response to them was to offer a prayer which enabled them to speak directly to God as their loving Father and to bring to him every aspect of their lives and every desire of their hearts. The more of ourselves we open up to God, the richer our relationship will become and the more we will learn to trust in God’s guidance.

You may wish to use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for your time of prayer today:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
(give praise and thanks to God)
your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
(pray for a situation that needs God’s reign)
Give us today our daily bread.
(pray for a person or group of people in need)
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
(pray for situations of conflict)
Do not bring us to the time of trial but deliver us from evil.
(pray for God’s justice)
For the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, are yours, now and forever, Amen.

You are welcome to contact me or any member of the Ministry Team if you wish to speak with someone about prayer or about your relationship with God or if you want someone to pray with or for you.