It’s Prayer Week at The Belfrey and I’ve been thinking more about Mr Men.
Mr Strong featured as the title picture of my previous blog. I really like those Mr Men Books. They all have simple story-lines, some humour that cleverly works for both children and adults, and of course they are wonderful illustrated. Roger Hargreaves who wrote them became a wealthy man and his estate continues to thrive with the Mr Men books still selling this year at a rate of one every two and a half seconds!
Mr Men books are so popular that the British Library in London has recognised their importance. So their ‘Evolving English’ programme, which involves a key English text being recorded and placed in a time capsule now includes one of the Mr Men as the text which has shaped this generation. The Mr Man they’ve chosen is, I have to admit, one of my favourites. It’s the Mr Man book I most liked to read to my children when they were younger. It is Mr Tickle.
If you’ve never read Mr Tickle I would thoroughly recommend it to you. It’s a great children’s book. However the text that Mr Tickle has replaced in the British Library is… The Lord’s Prayer. Mmm… That’s interesting. Challenging. You see, much as I love Mr Tickle, the decline in the importance of the Lord’s Prayer says something significant about what is shaping our nation and our children.
For generations the people of the UK (and many other nations) have prayed and been shaped by the Lord’s Prayer. It’s been a source of inspiration, hope and comfort to the people of this country. But a generation is now growing up knowing little about Jesus – about prayer – about the Lord’s Prayer. And we need to be praying and working to see that changed.
In Luke chapter 11 we read that Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray. I often ask Jesus that: ‘Teach me and help me Lord to pray, and to grow in prayer.’ And Jesus replies by teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. ‘This is how you should pray’ he says:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.
Many pray the Lord’s Prayer in one go. As a short, simple prayer. And it can be prayed like that. But Jesus probably taught it more as a means to prayer, so that each section should spur us to pray more. To go further. To go deeper. Maybe you have prayed the Lord’s Prayer like that. To do that we need to see the structure within it. A simple structure that I have found helpful is to see it in 5 sections:
I have heard quite a few sermons over the years telling us to pray into the Lord’s Prayer section by section – and I recommend it. It is simple and helpful. Preachers who do this normally encourage us to pray something like this:
‘Heavenly Father. You are my Father. I worship you. I praise you. You are a holy, awesome God. I desire for your Kingdom to come in my life today – both in me and through me. In the same way that your will is done in heaven, let it be done here on earth, and use me in that, I pray. And Lord, I ask you to provide daily bread today. Daily provision. Food, clothes, shelter. The basics of life for today. And please forgive me for all the wrong in my life. Help me not to bear grudges and to forgive anyone who wrongs me. And keep temptation and the evil away from me. And Lord God, I recognise that the Kingdom of God to which I am called is your kingdom, not mine. So help me not to manipulate you and your power for my purposes. And may all the glory for all you do go to you, and may I be quick to praise you, as I am doing now. And may that happen today and forever. Amen.’
You can use the Lord’s Prayer to pray along those lines for yourself. And maybe you do that. If so, great.
However… there’s another way of praying the Lord’s Prayer, which is probably more what Jesus had in mind. You see, when Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer he taught it as a corporate prayer. If you have another look you’ll see that Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray to God as ‘my Father’ but as ‘our Father.’ And he doesn’t say ‘Give me today my daily bread’. Instead its ‘our Father’ and ‘Give us today our daily bread’.
So how might it be to pray this prayer corporately – say, for a church like St Michael le Belfrey? Well, you might pray something like this:
‘Lord God, you are our Father. You are the One who unites us. You are the Father of these people to whom I belong: the people of St Michael le Belfrey. You are what unites us – you and your salvation. Your forgiveness. Your grace. Your love. You are so amazing. So perfect. So holy. Together with my brothers and sisters we adore you and praise you, O holy God.’
‘Through the life of The Belfrey today, may your kingdom come. In all our living, working, praying – let the kingdom of God come through us, as it is in heaven. Lord, may your throne be established right here in York and in the North and may we see the things that you desire taking place in and around us, we pray.’
‘God, please provide for us: financially and practically. All we need. And provide for us today. Enough for today. We will plan for the future, but trust you for this day. And then we will come back tomorrow and ask you for provision tomorrow too – and the next day, and the next day. We trust you, Lord God for your daily provision.’
‘Despite all the good things going on in and around us, Lord we are sorry for our many corporate sins. So we are sorry when we are selfish, apathetic and unfaithful. We want to forgive and be kind to those who criticise us, or speak badly of us. And help us not to be tempted to go down the wrong road, or to build an empire, but simply to serve you and others.’
‘And now we thank you, great God for all your resources. All that you give and all that you do. When things go well, may we be quick to praise you. For you are good. And Lord, help us not to forget that the kingdom of God is yours, not ours. And so all the power and glory comes from and should end up with you, and so we praise you now and will keep on doing so for ever and ever. Amen.’
Get the idea? I suspect that kind of corporate praying is much more what Jesus had in mind when he taught his followers to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
So as you read this, let me ask you if you are praying the Lord’s Prayer corporately like this? If not, have a go. Pray it for your church. Pray it for your family. For your workplace. For your street. How about praying it for the North? That’s one thing I got the Staff Team to do on Tuesday morning, and it was good, and not hard to do.
Finally, do you know about the 12noon Lord’s Prayer initiative? Many followers of Jesus, especially in London are setting their phones or watches to beep at 12noon, to remind them to pause daily and say The Lord’s Prayer. Encouraged by the ’24/7 Prayer’ people and the ‘Global Day of Prayer’ leaders many, especially Christians in the workplace, have found this simple act of praying the Lord’s Prayer daily at 12noon has transformed their work-lives. It’s reminded them that God is present right there in the middle of their day. That he’s concerned for their lives and their work. And that the Lord wants his kingdom to come and his will be done in their place of work, and not just in church meetings. I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer daily at 12noon in this way for the last few months. Why not join me? And as you do so, don’t just pray it personally, but think corporately. Think bigger than yourself.
God’s desire is not just for you to be transformed, but York, the North and this nation. Prayer – and praying the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus taught us – is central to seeing that happen. So ‘Let us Pray’.