Pastor Barry Robinson

Letters to the Camberwell Congregation from Pastor Barry Robinson

Lent 2009 - “The Lord"s Prayer”

Lent 2009 — The Lord's Prayer

Sermons

Download a PDF version of this letter.

Dear Church Family,

Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, in commenting on his prayer life wrote:

‘If I gave my children as much time as I give God, I could be prosecuted for child neglect and abuse. If I spent as little time with my wife as I spend with God, she'd have grounds for divorce for desertion’.

No wonder the Scottish preacher, Alexander Whyte once said:

‘If you want to humble a man ask him about his prayer life’.

Again and again, Christians recount how they struggle to say their prayers.

People with young families have found their prayer time routine disrupted by the demands of family life, while others have such busy work schedules they find just how easy it for prayer to get squeezed out.

We can often find it so easy to pick up a newspaper or turn on the telly, but to make time to pray….

A prayer survey conducted in 1998 entitled ‘On our Knees?’ produced some interesting statistics on the prayer life of Christians across a broad range of denominations. Here are some of their key findings:

  • Only 47% of respondents rated personal prayer as vital to their Christian life and faith;
  • Only 35% of respondents claim to spend an hour or more each week in private prayer;
  • On average, respondents claim to spend about 7 minutes a day in private prayer;
  • 75% of respondents would like to spend more time in prayer.

The survey asked respondents to rate the degree to which five possible obstacles to prayer caused them difficulty:

  • Wandering thoughts was found to be the biggest obstacle, with over 80% of respondents finding this at least “sometimes a problem”;
  • Two thirds of respondents found noise or other distractions to be a problem,
  • 54% found finding time a barrier;
  • 32% had problems knowing what to say; and
  • 23% had difficulties knowing what to pray for.

A major conclusion of the survey was that ‘there is a clear challenge to the church in every place to provide encouragement to pray, without generating feelings of guilt’.

This still holds true for the church a decade or so later

In many of the Christian churches up and down the country prayer is at a very low ebb.

For centuries the prayer meeting was a central part of church life, an indispensable part of the weekly programme. The church prayer meeting would have been considered the engine room of the church; the un-missable meeting for the church to demonstrate her dependence upon the Lord and to cry out to him to work among them.

Today, the church prayer meeting, if there is one at all, is for many, like a sun roof on a new car – an optional extra.

Now if you were to push most evangelicals they would say that prayer is important. But in practice, whether it be in our private devotions or our corporate prayer, there’s often a significant discrepancy between what we say we believe and how we act.

The sad reality is that many Christians pray little.

Don Carson in the preface to his book, ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’ wrote this:

‘I doubt if there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising nor depressing: it is not surprising, because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing, because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn.
What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church. It is surprising, because it is out of step with the Bible that portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing, because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, frivolous, and superficial. Scarcely less disturbing is the enthusiastic praying in some circles that overflows with emotional release but is utterly uncontrolled by any thoughtful reflection on the prayers of Scripture.
I wish I could say I always avoid these pitfalls. The truth is that I am a part of what I condemn. But if we are to make any headway in reforming our personal and corporate praying then we shall have to begin by listening afresh to Scripture and seeking God’s help in understanding how to apply Scripture to our lives, our homes, and our churches’

What Carson is saying is that generally there’s a lack of prayer, but even where there is prayer it is often theologically thin.

This inevitably raises some questions for us:

  • Do we delight in praying?
  • Do we wrestle with God and do business with him on our knees?
  • Do we intercede earnestly for others?
  • How much of our praying is really formulaic, liberally sprinkled with the clichés which remind us, rather uncomfortably, of the hypocrites that Jesus condemned?

It’s this difficulty with prayer that many Christians experience that is the backdrop behind a Lenten series of sermons that will be looking at the Lord’s Prayer, in the hope that by understanding this prayer, we would begin to reform our own prayer lives – for our good and for God’s glory.

But before we go any further, let me repeat the conclusion I quoted from the ‘On our Knees?’ survey:

‘There is a clear challenge to the church in every place to provide encouragement to pray, without generating feelings of guilt’.

No doubt, this talk of prayer and our failure in it will have left a number of us feeling guilty – certainly as I was preparing for this series that's how I began to feel.

But let me say from the outset – this is not to be a guilt trip. I guess most of us feel we ought to pray more. I certainly do. But guilt is not going to deal with the problem.

No doubt feeling guilty will spur us on for a few days, or weeks, or maybe even months. But guilt is never to be the motivation for the Christian life. We should be motivated by grace; overwhelmed by the amazing love of the Lord Jesus; thrilled to be forgiven and to be called a child of God.

And when it comes to prayer, we should be motivated by simply wanting to talk to God as a lover wants constantly to be in the presence of their beloved.

So no, this is not a guilt trip, but an attempt to go back to the prayer that Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray, so that we can learn to pray, be motivated to pray, and begin to pray in a more rounded and faithful way.

As this adapted Puritan prayer entitled ‘In Prayer’ says,

O Lord,

In prayer I launch far out into the eternal world, and on that broad ocean my soul triumphs over all evils on the shores of mortality. Time, with its amusements and cruel disappointments never appears so inconsiderate as then.

In prayer I see myself as nothing; I find my heart going after you with intensity, and long with vehement thirst to live for you. Blessed be the strong gales of the Spirit that speed me on my way to the New Jerusalem.

In prayer all things here below vanish, and nothing seems important but holiness of heart and the salvation of others.

In prayer all my worldly cares, fears, anxieties disappear, and are of as little significance as a puff of wind.

In prayer my soul inwardly exults with lively thoughts at what you are doing for your church, and I long that you should get yourself a great name from sinners returning to Zion.

In prayer I am lifted above the frowns and flatteries of life, and taste heavenly joys; entering into the eternal world I can give myself to you with all my heart, to be yours for ever.

In prayer I can place all my concerns in your hands, to be entirely at your disposal, having no will or interest of my own.

In prayer I can intercede for my friends, ministers, sinners, the church, Thy kingdom to come, with greatest freedom, ardent hopes, as a son to his father, as a lover to the beloved.

Help me to be all prayer and never to cease praying.

Amen

The best teaching on prayer comes not from the greatest theologian, nor the most eloquent preacher, but from Jesus himself. So let us turn to the Lord and ask for his help for each one of us in our own personal prayer lives and along with the disciples say, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ (Luke 11:1).

With love in Jesus’ name,

Barry Robinson
Pastor

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Lent 2009 – The Lords Prayer - Sermons

(Luke 11:1-4; Matt 6:5-13)

  1. Saturday 21st February
    Our Father in heaven’ – Reflective Questions
  2. Saturday 28th February
    Hallowed be your name’ – Reflective Questions
  3. Saturday 7th March
    Your Kingdom come’ – Reflective Questions
  4. Saturday 14th March
    Your will be done’ – Reflective Questions
  5. Saturday 21st March
    Give us this day our daily bread’ – Reflective Questions
  6. Saturday 28th March
    Forgive us our sins as we forgive others’ – Reflective Questions
  7. Saturday 4th April
    Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one’ – Reflective Questions

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