We live in the 'Age of Connectivity' where we are all linked with each other through email, Facebook, Instagram and a dozen other programs running on this mysterious web that envelops the world. It's a point of etiquette now to give any guests the Wi-Fi password. We have become a networked species, increasingly connected to others.
Yet if this connectivity with each other – let's call it a lateral connectivity – is important, let's not forget that there is another dimension of making a connection that is infinitely more important. This is connecting with God, something that we could call vertical connectivity. That connection to God is prayer and it is one of the most important things we can do.
There are many important things in the lives of Christians: fasting and forgiveness, communion and charity, sabbaths and sacrifices, preaching and prayer to name just a few. Yet the only practice for which Jesus gives full and detailed instructions is prayer (Matthew 6:5–13). 'This,' Jesus tells his followers, 'is how you should pray' and in what he gives – what we call the Lord's Prayer – we receive a complete template for prayer.
In reality, I think that deep down most of us acknowledge the importance of prayer. If you asked a hundred Christian leaders what was the single greatest problem in the church today I'm sure the overwhelming answer would be 'prayer' or, more specifically, the lack of it. We have tried running our churches on business strategies, on technological innovations, on 'better ways of being church'. We have spent too much time sitting and talking and too little on our knees praying.
There can be little doubt that prayer no longer has the priority that it once had. Prayer has been squeezed out by general busyness and by an infinite number of other priorities. Indeed, possibly one of the worst offenders is our ability to connect to everyone except God. The first thing that generations of Christians did when they woke up in the morning was commit themselves to God. Now, I'm afraid, it's far more common to switch on our phone and check our emails and our social media. Connecting with the world over trivia has replaced connecting with God over the vital, and we are all losers.
A moment's thought about the possibility of talking to an all-powerful God who cares for us should remind us how important prayer is. In prayer we connect with the One who made us, who loves us and who, in Jesus, has saved us; the One who knows the past, present and the future and who holds all things in his hands.
Let me encourage you to pray by reminding you of what prayer is about.
First, prayer is about loyalty. We all worship something – careers, pleasure, money, things, even ourselves. Ultimately, of course, all these will fail us. When we pray to the God of the Bible, however, we are saying to him, 'I worship and serve you and you alone: I am yours and you are mine.' In American schools it is normal for students to make a daily pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States and all it stands for. When we pray to him, we are making a pledge of allegiance to God.
Second, prayer is about living. In prayer we recognise that God is the one in whom, to use words that St Paul quoted, 'we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). Prayer reminds us that we can no more do without God than a fish can do without water. To truly pray is to commit every aspect of our life to God. Prayer is the great limiting factor for the Christian life. Whatever talents we have been given and whatever opportunities we have, we can and will do nothing more than our prayer life allows.
Prayer is about learning. In prayer we come to understand something of who God is, in all his glory, grace and majesty. Prayer reminds us of who he is, but it also reminds us of who we are. If we pray daily to God we will see both him and ourselves in true perspective.
Ultimately, prayer is about loving. Jesus said the greatest commandment is: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' (Matthew 22:36–37). In prayer, we learn to know God and so to love him. Prayer is also at the heart of the second great commandment: 'Love your neighbour as yourself' (Mathew 22:38). The first step to loving our neighbours is to pray for them.
So then, given the importance of prayer, how are we to pray best? Jesus – the great teacher – has answered that question in the Lord's Prayer. Here the great practitioner of prayer offers a masterclass in praying. We would be foolish not to give it our attention.
It's because of the importance of the Lord's Prayer that I am reissuing a study guide I wrote on it some years ago and am offering it as a Lent study. My hope is that in it, you will be encouraged to think through the words of Jesus and to pray better. It's an easy thing to say about something that 'there is nothing more important than this', but in the case of prayer it can be truly said. There is indeed nothing more important than praying, and there is no better way to learn how to do it than to study the Lord's Prayer. Let's be those who connect where it counts.
Why not consider studying the Lord's Prayer personally or in your home group during the season of Lent? Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, February 26th, and ends on Thursday, April 9th. Lasting for 40 days (not including Sundays) it represents the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness.
I pray we will encounter our heavenly Father in a deeper way this Lent.
Rev Canon J John is an evangelist and the director of the Philo Trust. Find him online at www.canonjjohn.com