Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Millenials…
According to some sociologists the Baby Boomers were the most self-absorbed in human history. The following generation, Gen-X, needed to fend for itself. So as a generation they were marked by an independent nature. Those from an earlier generation might confuse this with selfishness, but Gen-X were just looking out for number 1. In other words they, too, were selfish. Gen-Y are also labelled more selfish and greedy than the boomers, new research suggests, with popular myths of them as a caring, community oriented, and politically savvy generation being totally wrong. This current generation is mostly focused on money, image, fame – ie, selfishness.
As a race, we are utterly self-preoccupied. We live in a world that screams ‘it’s all about me’.
How does this affect our prayers? We approach prayer with this attitude: what I pray is between me and God, and it’s none of your business. My needs are God’s top priorities in the universe.
Therefore what we pray about shows that we need something other than God to satisfy us.
1. Pray in a way which says, ‘Praying together is the norm’
According to the Bible prayer is a team game not an individual one. We approach prayer individually then on to the group. But in the Lord’s Prayer it starts with ‘Our Father’ – we pray as part of a global family, which is part of God’s family itself. There is no more ‘me’ there is only ‘us’.
But this is weird to us! Why is that? First, my prayer life has nothing to do with you. Second, isn’t the mark of a mature Christian someone who is praying on their own well? Third, praying with other people doesn’t score as much spiritual points than on your own for hours. Fourth, we never think we need other Christians, just that we need more discipline.
Instinctively we think that prayer is individual.
“It is sometimes said that good private prayer is the foundation of good corporate prayer, but it may be more biblical to say that corporate prayer is the foundation of private prayer. Out experience of God in Christ is corporate. Western individualism has made the individual alone with God the centre of spirituality. For the people of the Bible it is the relationship between God and his people that is central.” (Chester, The Message of Prayer, 153)
But this isn’t saying that praying on your own is wrong – Jesus says earlier in Matt 6 to pray on your own rather than as a show for others. The point: make sure you’re praying to God and not to impress other people – his estimation of us is the only one that counts. Jesus is saying: don’t show off in your prayers, and don’t go on and on in your prayers.
His emphasis: we’re in this together!
The monastic movement – we have it in our heads that locking ourselves away and trying really hard to be really spiritual on our knees is the way of the mighty prayer warrior.
There are things around the house that often go missing – remotes, hair brushes, etc. The thing that often goes missing in Church is praying together.
Think about songs that sing about corporate prayer. According to Gary’s research there has only been one song about corporate prayer.
Jesus, where’er thy people meet – William Cowper
Jesus, where’er thy people meet,
there they behold thy mercy seat;
where’er they seek thee thou art found,
and every place is hallowed ground.
For thou, within no walls confined,
dost dwell with those of humble mind;
such ever bring thee where they come,
and, going, take thee to their home.
Great Shepherd of thy chosen few,
thy former mercies here renew;
here, to our waiting hearts, proclaim
the sweetness of thy saving Name.
Here may we prove the power of prayer
to strengthen faith and sweeten care;
to teach our faint desires to rise,
and bring all heaven before our eyes.
Lord, we are few, but thou art near;
nor short thine arm, nor deaf thine ear;
O rend the heavens, come quickly down,
and make a thousand hearts thine own!
We need a return to prayer together as the church – we need to not only because God tells us to, and that it’s good for us, but also because it also helps spread the Gospel in God’s world. We need to help each other to do it because it will have a habit of disappearing.
2. Pray in a way which says, ‘I am not the centre of the universe’
The biggest obstacle in our lives is that we believe we are the centre of the universe.
Ask Gary about his most humiliating self-centred moment – failing his driving test
We’re all appallingly self-centred by nature. The Lord’s prayer is designed to get us beyond ourselves – beyond our inner brat. Our Father ‘in Heaven’ – a way of saying that the perfect eternal rule of God has broken into our world. We say ‘our father in heaven’ to blow our minds – that this God has allowed us to become part of his family!
Ezekiel 36:22-23 – not for your sake that I do all this, but for the sake of my holy name…
Ezekiel says this kind of thing over and over in his book – about God intervening in history unlike any other tim
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Mat 6:10 ESV)” – a big prayer for God’s Kingdom to come, for Jesus to return
“When a Christian rightly prays the Lord’s prayer at any time his prayer is more than adequate.” Martin Luther
This prayer should change the way we look at the world – a powerful antidote for looking at the world in our preoccupied selfish way
How do I know that I’m praying as though I’m the centre of the universe? Think of your prayers as a pie chart. How much of the pie chart is taken up by my agenda or God’s agenda? How much for ourselves, how much for other people? How much is devoted for immediate stuff, and how much for the longterm stuff of God’s plan?
Solution: to be changed by the Gospel. A useful exercise is to write down the words of the Lord’s prayer and say it every day for a month slowly. The Lord’s prayer is designed to shock us out of our selfishness.
3. Pray in a way which says, ‘God is the one I need’
Only God can satisfy us.
In John 17:1ff we have the longest prayer of Jesus. In it we find him praying for God the Father to be glorified in how people receive the Gospel and to glorify Himself through it. All the way through his prayer it is God centred and gospel-saturated. And as with Jesus our master, we are here to glorify God.
Knowing God and delighting in God is the only thing that matters – it’s what we are made for and it’s what is good for us.
In our self-preoccupied world this prayer of Jesus cuts across this instinct. How can we pray like this?
John Piper uses this acronym for his prayers: I O U S
I – incline – Ps 119:36
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
O – open – Ps 119:18
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
U – Unite – Ps 86:11
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
S – Satisfy – Ps 90:14
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
First acknowledgement – most of us get out of bed not rushing to prayer, but tired, ugly and needing coffee. Piper’s acronym for prayer recognises that we wake up selfish!
The end of the matter:
God makes it possible for me to pray in a fallen world through the Gospel.
God exposes the reasons we don’t pray and stirs up a new desire to pray through the Gospel.
God reshapes what we pray for, how and when we expect him to answer, through the Gospel.
God changes the way we pray for ourselves and the world through the Gospel.