Phil 1:1-11; Luke 11:1-13
16th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 20.09.15
I wonder what your experiences of praying together with others have been like?
We all have experience of it, as we have all prayed together as part of our service already this morning. But I wonder what other experiences you have had.
Down the years I’ve experienced many different ways of praying with others.
In Soweto, South Africa, music was such a strong part of the culture that prayer was often expressed through song. Our songs would be the prayers that expressed our grief or our anger or our joy.
In south-west London I experienced an impassioned, active praying as part of the 24/7 prayer movement, where churches would commit to praying without ceasing, 24 hours a day for a full week. Praying with others at 3am in the morning for our local community was an extraordinary experience.
In Kenya, I went to a church where everyone prayed out loud all at the same time; whilst on Iona in Scotland I prayed with a group in total silence all sat round a simple table and candle.
For three years of my life I met together almost weekly with a close friend to talk about our lives and pray together; at other times I have been to services where hundreds of people have come together to pray.
In each of those situations I could have prayed by myself, gone away and found somewhere else to pray. But there is something about praying with others that makes a profound difference.
Let me come back to that in a minute, but for those of you who weren’t here two weeks ago, a short re-cap of why we pray at all.
We pray because it is through prayer that we encounter God, it is in the words of the ancient church, “heart speaking to heart”. Not only that, we believe that prayer can change things, that coincidences happen more often when we pray. Our prayers are not always answered as we may want, but God hears our prayers, and amazingly by his grace, he not infrequently answers them. And prayer can change us. We change – we can become more compassionate, more motivated to act, more discerning in how to act, as a result of our own prayers.
And two weeks ago we also explored different ways of praying. We thought about the advice: “pray until you pray”, that the best way to learn how to pray or to start praying again after a long gap, is just to do it, to pray, and not worry whether our theology or our grammar is perfect, to talk to God like a child speaks to their father. We thought about noticing those times when we find prayer comes more naturally – when out for a walk, at the kitchen sink, at the end of the day – and look to make space for those opportunities to occur more often. We talked of keeping a list of people to pray for; of praying at the end of each day using three questions to help us reflect on what we can thank God for, what we need his forgiveness for, and what we need his help with. We thought about breath prayer – continually throughout the day praying a prayer short enough to say in one breath.
But why pray with others? If prayer is the most intimate form of communication with God, as we as children speak to God our Father, why would we share this conversation with others?
When we pray together, we experience Christ’s presence among us, and we have greater confidence in what we ask for. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:19-20). The word “Amen” isn’t just the full stop at the end of our prayers, it means “so be it!” We are all affirming, agreeing with, what has been prayed. We are saying, in effect, “I wholeheartedly agree with what has just been prayed.”
Jesus did not call us to a solitary faith, but to a communal faith, a faith lived out with others. Thus, when his disciples asked him how to pray, he replied: pray “Our Father…” not “My Father”. As we saw a fortnight ago, Father is best translated Dad, an intimate term of love and closeness, not a sense of a distant head-master type Father. But he is our Father, he is the father we share with our siblings, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Thus it is natural that as we come to God in prayer, sometimes those times will be one-on-one, by ourselves, alone, and other times they will be with our fellow family-members in Christ. And that has been the experience of the church from the earliest of times. In the book of Acts, we read that the first Christians devoted themselves to four communal activities: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. Indeed, when Peter and John were released from prison a few days later, we are told the whole church “raised their voices together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:24). 150 years later, a church leader called Justin, wrote: “On the first day of the week, we all assemble. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time allows. Then we all stand and pray.”
Praying together is at the heart of our life together. It helps to build our faith and encourage us to keep going. Our gospel reading encourages us to be persistent in our prayers – to keep asking, to keep seeking, to keep knocking. That is so much easier to do when we do it with others. For at a time when I may be feeling low in faith and hope, another person may help to carry the burden, to keep us believing and praying. And at a time when they may be low in faith, we may be the one used by God to encourage and help them keep asking, seeking, knocking. Praying together builds relationships too. Even if we pray together in silence, prayer creates bonds of love between us. We have shared together in a special and holy enterprise.
So, let’s get practical. How can we pray together in St Barbara’s?
Well, firstly, let us value the ways we already do. Our services are full of times of prayer together. One of the earliest phrases of our service is: “Let us pray”. The final word of our service is “Amen”, and in between we will say that word no fewer than 14 times. Amen – let it be as we have prayed.
One of the most important ways in which we pray in our services is through the prayers of intercession, when we come before God, asking on behalf of others. We ask of God “hear our prayer” – these are our prayers we all share in. We are looking for more people to join our team of those who lead our intercessions. Do let me know if you would like to help. If you are a little nervous about doing it, then we would be really happy to provide some support to you the first time you do it. Its an incredible act of service and a privilege to lead us as a community in prayer.
Another way is through the prayer chain. Although we don’t meet together, there is a sense of praying together as we all pray for the same things together.
Another important way of praying together is through the Healing Prayer Ministry. One Sunday a month there is the opportunity to receive prayer after our Sunday service. It would be great to offer this more regularly, but to do this we need more people. Have you ever considered being part of the team? We are greatly fortunate to have Harry as part of our church, and he has huge experience in this area, and would be very happy to provide training and support to any new people. Maybe that is something God may be nudging you to think about.
Then there is our once a month church prayer meeting on a Friday at 6.15pm, and also our weekly Wednesday morning communion service, which is also a good chance to pray with others.
But as a PCC we recognise that there is more that can be done. Over the next few weeks a team will be getting together to look at developing more ways that we can pray. Some of the things we already know we want to do are develop a prayer board or a prayer tree – a place where we and those using our building can write down prayers or requests for prayer, and where answers to prayer can also be marked. We also want to start a scheme where each person in the church takes responsibility for praying for three other people in the church, so that each one of us knows that others are praying for us. This could be anonymous, or it could grow into prayer triplets (where three people get together regularly to pray). If you would like to be part of helping these and other ideas come to fruition let me know.
Our desire is to be a church that prays for one another and prays with one another. Prayer makes a difference in our lives and in the lives of others, and when we pray together, we find the confidence and faith to pray even more. May God lead us on this exciting journey together.