Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Before you start

Jesus' teaching on prayer in Matthew's Gospel, is set alongside teaching on discretion in charitable giving and the practice of fasting. He insists that personal prayer, like generosity and abstinence, aren't meant to be a public demonstration of piety. Personal prayer is to be offered, hidden away from others, where it is safe to be utterly open and vulnerable as anyone can be, before God alone. Each of us needs those 'desert moments' in solitude, to face up to who we are, in God's presence.

The story of Jesus tested in the wilderness, shows how he relies on words from scripture recalled as he considers his calling, and what he is capable of doing with it. Although angels ministering to him are mentioned, God is not mentioned, neither is prayer. The evangelist presumes readers already know and understand from their recollection of the story of Elijah, a fugitive in the desert like Moses before him, encountering God in the silence and stillness of the 'empty quarter' 

'... but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire, a still small voice.' (1 Kg 19:11-13)

'Be still and know that I am God' (Ps 46:10) 

Jesus commends brevity and simplicity in reaching out to God with words and thoughts.  Neither the content of the words, nor the comforting sound they may make (if often repeated) is what opens the heart to God, but rather desire and longing.
The meaning of what must be said is derived from the encounter with silence.

'In your prayer, do not babble as pagans do .... your Father knows what you need before you ask.' (Matt 6:7) 

There is no need to argue with God or try to persuade him - even though forgetfully, we may often think that by our efforts we can. This is not intended to discourage the use of repetitive prayer, but to consider thoughtfully what we do and how we do it.

The purpose of personal prayer is to attune us with God's will and purpose, manifested, if any evidence is required, in every purposeful detail of the cycle of nature. And it will change who we are and what we are able to do with our lives.

       'For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
       and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
       making it bring forth and sprout,

       giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
      so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; 
      it shall not return to me empty,
      but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, 

      and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.'        (Isaiah 55:10-11)

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