From a sermon preached at Hall Gate URC at a joint service with Doncaster Chinese Christian Church.
I can’t speak Cantonese. I can’t speak Mandarin either. I can’t understand the Chinese letters. And the only things I know about China are that it has a red flag and the Olympics were held there in 2008.
Where could I go if I wanted to learn more about China’s languages and culture? I could start with reading books about China. I could then meet with a Chinese person who could tell me more and start teaching me the languages. Eventually, I could go to China and see the country for myself.
The last thing I would do would be to go to someone who doesn’t speak Cantonese and ask them to teach me. This would be a very silly thing to do. A teacher needs to know his subject to be able to teach it. A pupil would make a serious mistake if they went to a teacher who didn’t know the subject they wanted to learn.
And so it is with prayer. We have so many resources which can help us with prayer. There have been thousands of books written. And many of them are very good. But our starting place for learning about prayer should not be a book but the teaching of the best teacher on prayer there has ever been. We must listen to the words of Jesus as he taught his disciples how to pray.
Jesus tells us three things in the introduction to the Lord’s prayer that will help us in our own prayer life this year.
It is to be humble, simple and childlike.
First, it is to be humble.
Jesus tells us about hypocrites. These people stand in the synagogues and on street corners and pray aloud so everyone can see them.
You can imagine them: “OH GOD! YOU ARE SO WONDERFUL. THANK YOU FOR BLESSING ME!”
These people want to be seen as being really holy. They want you to know that they are best friends with God. Even today there are some who make a big fuss of their religion. They delight in boasting about their prayer life and perhaps they look down upon those who don’t seem to be as holy.
Jesus says that we are to be different. Our prayer life is to be humble. It is to be between God and ourselves. It is not to be a competition with other Christians as to who is the best at praying. No, our prayer life must not be paraded before people but should be a quiet enterprise.
Second, it is to be simple
How many times have you been at a meal where the food has been served and is piping hot. The host begins to pray, giving thanks for the food. He begins well but then he keeps praying. And about everything but the food. And the food is getting cold. On and on he goes. Heaping up words, upon words, upon words.
Jesus says that we are to be different. Our prayers are to be simple. There should not be one wasted word. Again, this is because our prayer should be between God and ourselves. You can’t impress God with your wisdom. Our words will not surprise him. He is God and he knows all that you need before you ask. So cut out the extras and keep your prayers simple.
Third, it is to be childlike
The command to be humble and simple in our prayers is given by Jesus because of something that is very important. In the examples he gave about bad praying it was all about how people approached God. In Christian prayer, it is important to remember how God approaches us.
It is like a father to his children.
When Jesus starts his prayer with “Our Father” he is saying something amazing. When a Christian prays he doesn’t pray like one who is fearful. He does not come cowering in fear. He comes in prayer to one who has declared himself to be a Father.
This should be the attitude we take in our prayers. Our God is our father. This is a great truth because it reminds us that in Christ we can come to God in humble, simple confidence.
If you struggle with prayer, be assured you’re not alone. But before you go running off looking for a special technique that will make things easier for you remember what Jesus has taught you.
Come to God like a child. Be humble in prayers. And keep them simple.