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2017 YEAR OF PRAYER - TEACHING PROGRAMME

(on one Sunday service each month in each Pastrow church)


March:  What is prayer?

April:  What's stopping us praying?

May:  What does Jesus teach us about prayer?

June:  What do we learn about prayer from the Epistles?

July:   A case study of an Old Testament prayer

September: Recap on March - July teaching

October:  Prayer disciplines

November: Prayer, the Pastrow mission and the 2018 Year of Discipleship

December: Praying into the themes of Advent


Pastrow Benefice Year of Prayer 2017

Year of Prayer 2017 Previous Month Teachings

Please click on the month to read the teachings.

March 2017

April 2017

May 2017

JUNE - WHAT DO WE LEARN ABOUT PRAYER FROM THE EPISTLES?


The early Christians were a praying community. Evidence of this is found in both the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles (or letters). The pioneers of Christianity were Jews of course and they would have been seen as a movement within Judaism. Therefore it is to be expected that their prayer life would have been a mixture of ancient and modern. They kept Jewish observances for prayer, together with a freer, more joyful prayer time inspired by the Holy Spirit.


So they continued with the traditional ways of worship and prayer, as well as finding new paths. A simple example of this is in Acts 10 when Peter, while staying in a house in the port of Joppa, went on to the roof top to pray at noon - a Jewish traditional time for prayer. It may be of encouragement to us that he wasn't concentrating too well! He could see the ship sails, he could smell food being prepared, he was hungry - and out of this God presents Peter with a vision which was to lead to the Gospel reaching the Gentiles. The early church had to discover that God has no favourites.


The prayers of a bishop have no 'added value' over those of the lowliest, humblest Christian soul. We know God looks upon the heart rather than anyone's status, but the church still finds it hard to put that truth into practice. St Paul had no such difficulty. Most of his letters begin with thanksgiving and prayers for those to whom he is writing, and he often requests their prayers for himself. A few examples: Romans 15.30-33; 1 Thessalonians 5.25. Then in Ephesians 6.14-20 when writing about resisting spiritual attack by putting on the whole armour of God, he ends by saying '.... be alert and always keep on praying .....' and also requesting their prayers that he might be bold in speaking about the gospel. He was thankful for the prayers for himself, even by those who were very new to the faith and sometimes rather mixed up.


In 1 Timothy 2.1-8 we have instructions on what sort of things we should include in our intercessions when we meet for worship. We are reminded that the church is in the world, not an exclusive sect apart from the world. Paul laid great stress on people's prayers and this should encourage us - our prayers matter.


Inspiring, but far from comfortable, are Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18. 'Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances'. A tall order indeed! Perhaps Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth century lay monk, can be of help from his writings on the 'Practice and Presence of God'. He believed he was as much in God's presence when working in the kitchen as when he was before the altar. Like Benedict. George Herbert put it, 'who sweeps a room as for thy laws makes that and the action fine.' We must also always remember that we are not alone in our praying, but part of a world-wide praying community. 'As o'er each continent and island the dawn leads on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.'


We may view the early church through rose-tinted spectacles, but James didn't. Chapter 4 of his letter has strong words about a self-centred attitude to prayer and life. His warnings are equally relevant today. Peter's words to wives and husbands may seem a little less relevant now, but he ends by writing 'Do this so that nothing may interfere with your prayers'. Once again we see the strong link between our relationship with God and with people.


In Chapter 1 of John's first letter he writes about pretences and our need to own up to sins so that we can know true forgiveness. In the next chapter he reminds us that Jesus pleads on our behalf. Hebrews 7.25 tells us that Jesus intercedes for us, and Paul in Romans 8 writes of the Holy Spirit always helping us in our prayers and witness.


So what do we learn about prayer from the Epistles? Some really practical advice about praying on our own, with others and for others; we are part of a worldwide praying community; the essential role of the Holy Spirit in our prayers; the need to pray for strength to resist attacks of the devil; and, most importantly, the example of all the Epistle writers, ordinary humble men, in the way they prayed for those they wrote to. We should for ever be encouraged by the witness and teaching of those 'prayer warriors'. Their letters are the word of God; they are written to us and for us, each one of us. Let us learn from them and also follow their authors' examples. Praise the Lord!


John Smith

Andrew Baines


JULY – JEREMIAH, AN OLD TESTAMENT PRAYER WARRIOR


Most committees have one, but they are also found elsewhere. It's the person who asks the awkward question just when we think a decision is about to be made. It could be a question no one had thought about, or no one had raised because we were not sure of the answer or, worse still, were worried about the implications. We have to accept that some people rather enjoy being awkward! Although Jeremiah was not that person, he certainly knew how to ask uncomfortable questions. Far from enjoying this role, at times he complained to God that he had been given the job of a prophet. He did not relish being a member of the awkward squad!


Jeremiah was born in about 650 BC in the village of Anothoth, a few miles from Jerusalem. His father, Hilkiah, was a priest at the shrine there. Of all the prophets none was so critical of the outward observances and ceremonies of worship, particularly in the temple at Jerusalem. In Chapter 7 of the book Jeremiah we can read just how great was the gulf between the temple worship and the conduct of those who participated. Verse 11 'Do you think my temple is a hiding place for robbers?' was, of course, quoted by Jesus in what we call 'the cleansing of the temple'. He was highly critical of those in authority who acted unjustly and also of false prophets who were happy to say what people wanted to hear, rather than proclaiming the truth. Such a stance did not make him popular, but there was also a degree of respect for him because many recognised that he was a prophet called by God..


His calling came when he was very young (Jer 4.4-9). Josiah had become king and 'did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord.' So Jeremiah had a message of hope, but also stark warnings of an impending attack by the Scythian army. It seems that for the while Jeremiah was silent, but after Josiah had been killed in 607 his prophecies were in full flow. Jerusalem was falling apart under weak leadership. Some thought that the prophet was in league with the enemy (the Babylonians). He was badly treated and suffered a great deal. There was one young man who stood by him, Baruch, who wrote down the history and prophecies of his master – and we can read them today. With the final fall of the city in 586, Jeremiah was taken to Egypt, where he died a year or two later.


So what can we learn from Jeremiah, way back in the Old Testament, in our Year of Prayer? Well, here was a man who was honest to God about his thoughts and failings, honest with himself about himself, and honest in his dealings with others. His was a lonely ministry, but instead of being wrapped up in his own sufferings, he felt deeply for the sufferings of his people. Rather than being dependent on formal worship, his was a very personal religion. He was not ashamed of feeling depressed; 'Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me' (Jer 15.10) was one of a number of such thoughts recorded. At times he thought of keeping quiet, but this gave him spiritual heartburn (Jer 20.9). People had to face the consequences for their actions, but God is good; he knows those who are just and 'the just shall live by his faith' (Jer 2.4). Jerusalem will be rebuilt and in time all nations shall seek peace and worship God.


It has been said of Jeremiah that no one was more convinced and sure of God whilst being so unsure of himself. We may say that prayer is talking with God; Jeremiah could do this quite freely in a way unknown before. Talking with – rather than to – God means listening to God, learning from God, and thereby having a worthwhile message to share with others. Jeremiah's very personal and honest relationship with God, his talking and his walking with God all helped to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus, a Deliverer more wonderful than Jeremiah could ever have anticipated.


Once again we are reminded of the link between our worship, our prayer and our life. How dependent we are on God's grace if we are to be honest disciples of Jesus; not like those who Robert Burns described in a poem:

'Their sighan, cantan, grace-proud faces; their three-mile prayers and half-mile graces'

Perhaps Joseph Scriven effectively summed up Jeremiah's spiritual honesty, unfailing faith and wonderful example to us when he wrote the well-known line in a hymn:

'Jesus knows our ev'ry weakness – take it to the Lord in prayer'.


John Smith

Andrew Baines