Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Daniel 9: 3 – 10, 15- 19
Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, ‘Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, 5we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. 6We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
7 ‘Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. 9To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, 10and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
15‘And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and made your name renowned even to this day—we have sinned, we have done wickedly. 16O Lord, in view of all your righteous acts, let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain; because of our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors, Jerusalem and your people have become a disgrace among all our neighbours. 17Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplication, and for your own sake, Lord,* let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary. 18Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies. 19O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!’
Ephesians 6: 10 – 20
The Whole Armour of God
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our* struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these,* take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Matthew 6: 5 – 18
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.*
Our first reading is one in which we see Daniel in exile in Babylon crying out to God in repentance on behalf of Judah:
19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!’
Daniel understands the culpability of his people and that it is only God who can help. He realises that the entire universe, let alone the Jewish people, are in the hands of the God who created them. And he realises that turning to God and asking for forgiveness is essential.
But Daniel realises something else – something that turns his prayer into something more than a self-centred request. He realises that it is for God’s good that His people are blessed.
For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!
Our need to pray that God restores us as a group is just as real. We too need rescue from an exile caused by sinfulness: sinfulness, that is, understood as a spirit of independence from God, and restoration understood as the blessing of God upon the church.
Not the church on the corner, just ticking along nicely as a decorative appendage to our suburb, but the church which is described as the Body of Christ on earth, a church “against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.” (Matthew 16: 8) A church that is vibrant with God’s tangible presence.
And when we are revived, it is for God’s good that we are because the Kingdom of God is then strong. The goodness (the blessing) of God is manifest through the activities of Christ’s Body (his hands and feet) – you and me – his people who make up the local church.
And it all starts with repentance. “Repent” is amongst the first words that come out of Jesus’ mouth in Mark’s Gospel. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1: 15) A repentant heart is the first characteristic of a builder of the Kingdom of God – for that is what we are as Christians – and the church is God’s chosen instrument to build the Kingdom.
So praying to God in repentance brings us as individuals closer to God and enables God’s blessing to revive the church which in turn establishes God’s loving rule on earth.
The prayer of repentance is something we should be as familiar with as Andrew Murray is with his tennis racket. It is the prime tool of the builder of the Kingdom of God.
In our second reading Paul makes it quite clear to the Church in Ephesus that there is more to life than what their eyes can see. There is a hostile spiritual world out there, quite happy to remain invisible as it works away at opposing God’s purposes on earth.
And Paul tells us to put on spiritual armour and most especially to pray. Prayer is the prime weapon of the soldier of the Kingdom of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
To always persevere in supplication for all the saints means to constantly keep praying for your fellow Christians. And we can only do so effectively if we are clothed in spiritual armour. That Ephesians passage is well worth reading again at home. Ephesians 6: 10 – 20 it is.
We are both builders and soldiers and it is naive to think otherwise. When the exiles finally did return to Jerusalem and Nehemiah took on the task of rebuilding the city walls we read 18And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. (Nehemiah 4: 18)
These first two readings illustrate three things Dr Phil says again and again:
- you need to acknowledge that you have a problem
- you need to decide to do something about it, and
- you need to be aware of the dangers you face
The difference with us is that we’re not always clear sighted about our poor spiritual condition and that, mostly, it is we ourselves who have to do something about it. Nobody is going to conduct an intervention, kidnap us and hustle us off to a rehabilitation ranch.
That doesn’t mean our problems are any less dangerous of course. As someone said, The problem is not Islamic terrorism. It’s an indifferent church that is the real problem. In the West, it’s been so long since we knew the meaning of genuinely following Christ that we are now blind to what that even looks like. Our faith is, by and large, lukewarm. It is prayer that will revive and protect us.
That gets us onto the Gospel reading.
I’d like to close with a thought I think I first picked up from John Piper about the first two lines of the Lord’s Prayer.
Remember Jesus was responding to a request from his followers as to how they should pray. In Matthew 6:9. Jesus said, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’”
The first thing that Jesus tells us to ask God to do—mark this! The first thing. The head of the list. Above all others. Most central. Most supreme. Most overarching. Most all-encompassing—the first thing he tells us to ask God to do is petition God to cause his name to be hallowed. The first, and all-pervasive, all-influencing, all-controlling concern in prayer is to plead with God that God would make his name supremely valuable in the minds and hearts of people.
The phrase “hallowed be your name” is a plea that God would do something about his name. It is a plea that God would cause it to be hallowed in our hearts and in the hearts of all people. And what does hallowed mean? It means literally sanctified. But what does that mean when it refers to the infinitely holy name of God? It means that we are praying that his name be set apart in people’s hearts and minds and lives as the infinitely great and beautiful and valuable reality that it is.
The first and overarching thing that we are told by Jesus to ask God to do is that God would display his greatness. That God would make much of God. That God would overcome blindness to seeing God. That God would overcome indifference to God. That God would remove obstacles to knowing and admiring and loving and trusting and treasuring and obeying God.
This is at the heart of what it means in that much misunderstood phrase ‘to be born again’. Before we are spiritually awakened, human beings are central in our mind and in our affections. God is not. The passion of God for the supremacy of God makes no sense and is positively offensive to us.
But when we are spiritually awakened (what Jesus called ‘born again’), and our mental framework is renewed after the image of Christ; then when we hear Jesus tell us that the first thing we should pray for—is that God would make his name supreme in our hearts and in the affections of the world; our hearts leap to respond.
We love these first few words of the Lord’s Prayer because they fill us with a sense that we have a profound and wonderful calling. The calling to pray, and in our praying to move the mighty hand of God to act for the glory of his great name.
Now that at first might sound strange – calling upon God to promote Himself – but it is at the very core of any process of growing personal spiritual awakening.
It is more than simply wishing or hoping or expressing support for God’s name to be hugely honoured. It is calling upon God to ensure that it is, because that is what we passionately desire.
You see prayer is of little use if it does not change us. Jesus knew this. It’s why he spent so much time in prayer. When we call upon God to cause his name to be honoured we are nailing our colours firmly to the mast, declaring unequivocally what we stand for, what it is we most desire.
- Prayer of repentance is important as a means of acknowledging to God that we need his help
- Prayer for one another is important as a means of protecting us spiritually, and
- Praying that God’s name would be supremely honoured is central to our spiritual awakening – and it is that that we are after!
God bless you.