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A Seasonal Communion For The Approach Of Lent 2009

The word ‘Lent’ means ‘Spring’.  It is an association that encourages us to put a positive slant on the religious season of ‘Lent’.  Viewed from this angle, Lent is about coaxing into life and growing on that seed of Christlikeness that is in us all.  To this end, Christianity has traditionally recommended a cultivation regime made up of four main activities.  These are Prayer, Fasting, Study, and Alms-giving.  As a lead-in to Lent, therefore, our next three services will each focus on one aspect of this programme.  The service on Ash Wednesday night will focus on Study.  The service next Sunday will focus on Alms-giving.  This morning's service focuses on Prayer

Practising Prayer

Most people pray.  Some pray first thing in the morning.  Some pray last thing at night.  Some pray while they are engaged in repetitive tasks - praying while ironing seems to be particularly popular.  What follows is in no way meant to replace such prayer.  It is meant simply to complement it and to enlarge its scope.

As you came this morning you were given not only a service sheet and a hymnbook, but also a simple little Prayer book for Lent.  It consists of a weekly cycle of prayer in which each day has its own particular theme.  On Sunday and Monday it addresses the grander topics with prayers for the unity of the church and the peace of the world.  On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, it moves closer to home with prayers for our community, our families and friends, and for the sick and the bereaved.  On Friday the spotlight of prayer falls on ourselves, before, on Saturday we turn to prayer for the realisation of that goal for which all of us are working - the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The format for each day is very similar.  Each begins with the verse of a hymn, which sets the direction for the prayers that follow.  The prayers themselves are not just prayers for something.  They try each day to include not just "pleases", but also "Thank-yous" and "Sorries".  Each ends with the Lord's Prayer and a closing prayer, included among which are some of the great prayers of Christendom.  The only real variation in the pattern comes on Friday, when, in line with the tradition of the church, the focus is on self-examination and confession.

The one thing the booklet doesn't spell out is when and how it should be used.  "When" will be a matter for each individual to decide.  It depends where it can best be fitted into the timetable.  With regards to "how", the crucial thing is to give it time.  The material supplied for each day is deliberately kept short but this isn't so that it can be rushed through when there's a spare minute.  The introductory verse needs to be said slowly to let the mind settle in the direction for the day.  The prayers, as supplied, offer not so much a prayer as a series of headings for which the person praying supplies the details.  If, for example, the Monday thanksgiving is being used, take time out to recall moments when you have been struck by the beauty and diversity of the world and its occupants, and to remember acts of love and kindness that you have seen or experienced.  The closing prayer also needs to be taken slowly.  On that same Monday, for example, ponder on what you can actually do to "make your life a blessing to the world".

The little discipline of prayer such as is offered in this booklet is a kind of greenhouse in which all that is Christlike in us is encouraged to grow.  How it does so we will turn to next.

The Benefits of Practising Prayer.

The character of Jesus is marked by thankfulness by a dedication to serving the needs of others, and by a sharp awareness of the resistance to God's will to be found both in the world and in the heart of individual people.  A discipline of prayer, such as the one set out in the booklet, can help to enlarge all those characteristics in ourselves.

Purely personal prayers can tend to be a bit thin on gratitude.  They tend to be dominated by "pleases".  Unless there is some very special occasion for gratitude - birth of a child, survival of an accident or illness; undeserved safe passage through French exam - thanksgiving tends to get overlooked.  A simple discipline of prayer builds up the habit of gratitude for what God has done for us obliging us to remember how much we have to be grateful for in what God has done for us and in what others have done for us.

Personal prayers also tend, unsurprisingly, to be rather limited in the range of their  "pleases".  Unless there has been a particular horror or crisis in the world they tend to major on ourselves and the people we know.  A discipline of prayer can both instil the habit of caring and increase its range, reaching out beyond a concern for self, family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues to the wider world.

Looking at our own faults is never a popular pastime.  Either we know the faults all too well, or we would prefer not to go looking for them.  A discipline of prayer can help with both reluctances.  On the one hand it insists on setting beside the "sorries" our "thank-yous" for all that is good in us.  On the other hand it greatly encourages us to identify and tackle the things in ourselves that impede us from doing what we know God would want.  It is an exercise that develops in us the Christlike quality of humility.

A discipline of prayer can be of help in cultivating that which is Christlike in each of us - thankfulness, concern for others, and humility.  It also helps to develop what was more important to Jesus than anything else, a sense of communion with God.

The Goal of Prayer

Prayer at times can be hard and unrewarding.  It can feel as if we are talking to ourselves.  The testimony of those who have persisted in prayer, however, is that it can become more and more a two-way traffic.  Such sense of communion is the goal of prayer.  It is what we look forward to and pray for each time we come to receive the bread and the wine.

Bless, Lord, these simple prayer books for Lent.  Grant that by using them we may be renewed by Christ's Spirit, inspired by his love, and draw closer and closer to you.

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