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Praying with Words
(A Contemplative Meditation)

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Praying with Words
A Reflective Meditation 

Read : Matthew 6:5-15 

Make sure you are sitting comfortably. Be aware of the chair supporting you. Be aware of the ground beneath your feet. Relax and let the tension drain away. Put aside your worries. Be aware of the stillness and peace here. Listen to the silence. Feel yourself breathing in and out. . . . . . 

In your mind you open your eyes and look around you. From your grassy hillside seat, you can see the sun just above the horizon. Sunset colours are smeared across the sky. A recently lit fire, shoots bright sparks, high into the darkening sky. The smell of wood smoke lingers in the air. You are sitting near the fire, with perhaps a dozen others. Some are talking quietly. Someone is asleep and snoring. One or two are looking round, as though waiting for someone.  

In the distance you can just make out the familiar outline of Jerusalem, see the square houses clustered around the huge temple. Even from here you imagine you can feel the power and permanence of it.  

A figure appears out of the growing darkness, and joins you by the fire. Someone asks where he has been. Several say together - "praying again". There are smiles and quiet laughter. Jesus just smiles. He often goes off at this time of day. Sometimes he is gone all night. He spends so much time praying. Always seems so calm and at peace, that you've all thought about praying more. You tried it for a while. But at the end of a long day, it's so much easier just to sleep.  

Someone else asks whose turn it is to tell a story tonight. But on the evenings that Jesus is with you, everyone wants to hear one of his stories. By the firelight, you can see everyone looking expectantly at him. 

For a moment, he pretends reluctance, then nods his agreement. Silence now, except for the crackling of the fire, as everyone gets more comfortable, and waits for him to begin.  

His story is about two men you all saw earlier in the temple. A Pharisee - one of the powerful religious elite, a man to be envied and feared, and a tax collector - despised for collaborating with the Roman army of occupation.  

As he tells his story, Jesus mimes the actions of the two men. The Pharisee - striding confidently into the temple. Looking around for the best place to stand. Deciding to stand in a bright sunbeam from a high window. Carefully arranging his robes. Smoothing his beard. Loudly clearing his throat. Flinging his hands into the air, arms spreading wide. Throwing his head back. A satisfied smile on his face, as he prays . . .  

'God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad, that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.' 

Then the tax-collector - stopping barely inside the temple. Looking around, hoping not to be noticed. Trying to become invisible in the shadows of a dark corner. Shoulders hunched. Head bowed low. Almost doubled over, as if in pain. Pounding his chest, as he prays . . . 

'God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.' 

After a moment, Jesus says "When the two men went home, it was the tax collector who was pleasing to God, not the Pharisee." Some of the group are clearly shocked by this, and Jesus elaborates. "If you put yourself above others, you will be humbled. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured by God." 

There is a pause, then Jesus continues  

"When you pray, don't be like those show-offs who love to stand up, and pray in the meeting places, and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward.  

When you pray, try to find a quiet, secluded place, so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can. When you let the focus shift from you to God, then you will begin to sense his presence and his grace.  

When you pray, don't talk on and on as people do who don't know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers, or perhaps that he is persuaded by their length. Don't be like them. Your Father knows exactly what you need, even before you ask him!  

So try to pray like this:  

'Our Father in heaven, help us to honour your name. Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven. Give us our food for today. Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. Keep us from being tempted, and protect us from evil. The kingdom, the power, and the glory, are yours forever. Amen.'  

Remember that if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don't forgive, neither will your Father.  

But a prayer isn't something to be learnt by rote and then hurried through. Pray slowly. Take time to think about what you are saying, what you really mean." 

He pauses, and looks around at the group, "Don't make it hard, the most important thing is to be honest with yourself, and with God. He longs to spend time with you. Eagerly waits for you to spend time with him."  

He is silent for a while. Gazing into the fire, he seems lost in thought. Then looking up, he continues  

"Spending time with God in prayer shouldn't be chore. It's something to look forward to, to delight in. You can to talk to him about anything, about everything. He would rather you shouted at him, than ignored him. Pour out your pain and frustration to him - he can take it. No need to put on a good show before God - he knows who you are and how you are feeling. No need to try and hide anything. Prayer should be a conversation between you and God though, so you also need to take time to be quiet, and listen for his word to you."  

He pauses again, before looking at you and smiling. He knows you always have questions for him. Sometimes they're about his stories, but not always. Whatever you say, he always listens. Always has time for you. Never seems to be in any rush. Even when you struggle to find the right words, somehow he always understands what you mean. . . 

What do you want to say to Jesus today ?  

What do you need to bring to God in prayer ?  

Talk to him now. . . . 

prayer words

Ruth Gillett, Reflective Worship


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