Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sermon for February 28th

Study

A couple of weeks ago in my sermon for the Sunday before Lent, I suggested that this season of Lent can be for us a significant moment, a moment that makes a difference for the future course of our lives. It can be a time for us to learn some new habits and take on some godly disciplines that will help to shape us as Christian disciples long past the end of Lent. I suggested six areas of our lives that we need to think about: prayer, study, action, worship, giving, and mission. Last week we talked about prayer, and this week I want to continue by thinking about the Christian discipline of study.

Today there is a real crisis of knowledge in the church. I’m quite sure that the majority of members of the Anglican church have never read the Bible all the way through and have only a very hazy idea of its contents; they’d be hard pressed to tell you whether David or Peter or Elijah are Old Testament or New Testament characters, and many can’t even explain the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Many Anglicans go off to diocesan synods and General Synod to discuss issues like homosexuality without having the slightest idea how to read the Bible in such a way as to wrestle with ethical issues. And when atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens come along and write books claiming to disprove the existence of God, many Christians respond in fear; they’re afraid that if they open these books and try to engage with their arguments, their faith will be destroyed.

I’m not going to begin to speculate as to the reasons for this crisis of knowledge, although I think it may be connected to an anti-intellectual streak in our culture, and it may also have a lot to do with sheer mental laziness. But I want to argue this morning that if we duck the discipline of study, we miss out on one of the primary ways in which God transforms us into the image of Christ. Listen to these words of St. Paul in Romans chapter twelve:

‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Romans 12:1-2).

Did you catch St. Paul’s emphasis on the mind there? He tells us to ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds’. How does that happen? Listen to what he says in Philippians chapter four:

‘Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things ‘ (Philippians 4:8).

There’s a note of intentionality in what St. Paul is saying here. I’m told that Buddhism teaches that the mind is like a monkey, constantly jumping around from tree to tree, but St. Paul is encouraging us to learn to bring it under control, to focus it, to concentrate it on the good and true and just and pure and excellent things that God wants us to be thinking about. In this area, as in so many other areas of life, the rule is: ‘Garbage in, garbage out’. If you let the mind dwell on garbage, don’t be surprised if the results are not good! But if you focus the mind on the truth and beauty of God, the result will be a lot better.

And this discipline of study is not just an intellectual head-game. Jesus says in John 8:32: ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’. Lies bind us and destroy our lives, but when we see the world as God sees it – and when we see ourselves as God sees us – we are set free to live as God intended. Jesus does not say that good feelings will set us free. He does not say that inspiring worship experiences will set us free. He says that the knowledge of the truth will set us free. All the more reason, then, for us to apply our minds to the truth by the Christian discipline of study.

Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, points out that there are four steps in the process of study.

The first step is repetition – that is, regularly channeling the mind in a given direction. Repetition is how we learn our addresses and phone numbers; repetition is how we learned the multiplication tables when we were children; repetition is how guitarists learn the chords of songs. Children who hear over and over again that they are bad and useless have those negative judgments burned into deep ruts in their brains, and it can take years of therapy to heal them. For good or for ill, there is huge power in repetition.

And so in study, we don’t just read something once. We read it again, and we read it again, and we ponder it and let it sink into our minds and our hearts. That’s the first step.

The second step is concentration. Today, real concentration in study is rare. When I watch students reading and working on their laptops in coffee shops, I see how many things they’ve got going at once. Their cell phones are on the table beside them, and they might get two or three texts in the course of an hour of study, which of course they answer immediately. As well as whatever it is they’re working on, their web browsers are open to Facebook and they are continually checking for status updates, and their iPod earphones are in their ears as well! All this stimulus makes real concentration very difficult. I know, because I experience it myself. I can be sitting at my desk working on a sermon, and things can be going really well. But then Erin tells me there’s a phone call for me, and for a few minutes I have to think about something else. When I come back to the sermon preparation, it takes me a few minutes to get back into the groove again – and then the phone rings again – and so on, and so on!

Concentration is essential to real transformational study. Concentration means shutting out distractions as much as possible – turning off Facebook, turning off the cell phone and the TV, and applying the mind to the one thing you are trying to focus on.

The third step is understanding. We can’t rush this. With some things that we study, the first time we read them or think about them, we can’t make anything of them. At this point many people give up and think that study isn’t for them. But this is not the way of Christian discipleship. Disciples persevere: we come back to the text, we read it again, we go for a walk and keep thinking about it, we pray for light and understanding. Perhaps we talk about it with other Christians and ask them what they make of it. And slowly, gradually, the light comes on. Or maybe not slowly or gradually: sometimes we have ‘Aha!’ moments when comprehension dawns suddenly and we wonder how we never saw it. At other times it’s a more gradual growth in our understanding of what we’re studying.

So we have three steps: Repetition, Concentration, and Understanding. The fourth step is Reflection. It’s not enough to understand what we’ve studied; now we go on to ponder the significance of it. How does this truth make a difference to the world? How do I apply it to my life? How is God calling me to put it into practice?

It should be obvious by now that the Christian discipline of study requires humility. If we think we already know everything, we won’t see the point of study. In the secular world, I’m amazed at the number of people who make bold pronouncements about political ideas without ever taking the time to actually read about the issues. And in the Church, people will often cite strong opinions on controversial subjects, but a moment’s conversation will show you that they’ve never made an effort to understand the point of view of the people they disagree with. True Christian study calls for a humble approach to the truth: “God, I have much to learn, and the chances are that there are a lot of things I’m wrong about, so would you please guide me into the truth by your Holy Spirit?”

What should we study? The first object of our study is, of course, the Bible. Psalm 119 says, ‘How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word… I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you’ (Psalm 119:9, 11), and in 2 Timothy St. Paul says:

‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16)

There’s an important difference between the study of the Bible and the devotional reading of the Bible. In study, what we’re looking for is understanding and interpretation: what does this text mean? And so, for instance, if we read in the Old Testament that God forbids his ancient people to charge interest on loans to their fellow-Israelites, we want to understand exactly what that meant: what was the main purpose of loans in those days, and how was it similar or different from our economic system today? Once we’ve answered that question, we can go on to devotional reading, in which we are looking for application: how does this text apply to me? As a Christian, am I supposed to charge interest on loans or not?

Study, you see is objective: we’re looking for understanding of the truth, whether it applies to me personally or not. Devotional reading is subjective: we’re looking to apply what we read to our lives. Most people want to rush straight to devotional reading, but if you do that without really understanding the text in its original setting, sometimes you can come up with some pretty weird applications!

What are some of the ways we can study the Bible? The possibilities are endless, but let me make a couple of suggestions.

Firstly, I think one of our great needs today is simply the reading of large chunks of scripture, so we get the big flow of the story. Today, for instance, we come to church and hear a few verses from Genesis 15, but do you know how that passage fits into the big story of Genesis? The same applies to our epistle and our gospel reading. Is this the way you read Dickens, or John Grisham, or Harry Potter – a paragraph in isolation, with no reference to context? Of course not!

So take a major book of the Bible – say, Genesis, or Matthew’s Gospel, or Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Read it all the way through, maybe in one sitting for one of the shorter ones, maybe in four or five sittings for the longer ones. Notice the structure and flow of the book. Note down any thoughts and impressions that you get. Jot down the things that jump out at you, or any nagging questions and issues in the text, or any passages you want to return to, to think about in more detail.

Another approach is to take a smaller book – say, one of Paul’s shorter letters, and read it all the way through once a day for a month. This is a superb way of really imprinting the message of that book on your mind! Again, keep notes of things that come to you day by day as you read – questions, issues and so on.

Of course, after reading a book quickly all the way through, you can then go on to read it slowly, taking a daily passage in order, and asking these three questions: what does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean to me?

What about other books? The Bible is our primary study text as disciples of Jesus, and our study of the Bible will definitely transform our thinking and our living. But it’s not the only text. We aren’t the first people in the world to follow Jesus; many wise Christians have gone before us, and their writings can help us as we struggle to understand the issues and to live as faithful followers of Jesus.

Are we struggling with the issue of pain – if there is a good God, why do bad things happen? C.S. Lewis wrote a fine book about the philosophical problem of evil called The Problem of Pain, and Philip Yancey has written a very practical book about how to live with suffering called Where is God When It Hurts? Do we struggle with how to pray in a meaningful way? We can find help in Bill Hybels’ book Too Busy Not to Pray, or Bishop John Pritchard’s book How to Pray. Do we wonder about the arguments raised by atheists like Richard Dawkins? The intellectual case for Christianity has been made by many fine writers, including Tim Keller in The Reason for God and C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Are we interested in learning how Christians before us have grown in their faith? We can read St. Augustine’s Confessions, or The Rule of St. Benedict, or Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.

Don’t be intimidated by all the books you haven’t read! Simply ask yourself, ‘What interests me? What are my main questions as a Christian?’ And then find out what has been written on those questions by Christian writers, and get busy reading. I’ve left a basic reading list at the back of the church, if you’re wondering where to get started; if you don’t see a book on that list that deals with the question you’re interested in, by all means ask, and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. And remember the old saw: How do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite!

Let me close with a few basic steps we can all take:

First, read the Bible. But unless you’re a Shakespeare scholar, don’t try to read it in the old King James Version; get a decent modern translation, like the New Revised Standard Version or the Today’s New International Version. Having got it, sit down and start to read it, and don’t give up if you start finding it difficult. Good things come to those who persevere!

Second, study a book. As I said, ask yourself what interests you, or what your major questions are about Christianity, and then find a book that addresses those issues and start to read it. Remember the four steps: repetition, concentration, understanding, application. Use those four steps to turn your reading into study.

Third, join a study group or course. Lots of people who have difficulty studying by themselves find that a group can make all the difference. We have three small group Bible studies in this congregation, and those who come to them find them very helpful in deepening their understanding of the scriptures. Or you can join a course like ‘Christian Basics’ or ‘Growing and Living as a Christian’, or one of the other courses we run here from time to time.

Fourth, don’t be discouraged by all the stuff you haven’t studied, and don’t be surprised if you find study difficult at first. Persevere, and eventually your study will start to get easier and you’ll start to notice the fruit of your study in your daily life and thought.

And this leads to the last step. Remember that we’re not just interested in information but in transformation. Let’s end where we began, with these words of St. Paul:

‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Romans 12:1-2).

‘Be transformed by the renewing of your minds’. That is the goal of our studies. God has given us the tools. Now it’s up to us to use them.

March 1 - March 7, 2010

C A L E N D A R

Monday, March 1st

Tim’s day off

Office Closed

Wednesday, March 3rd

2:00 pm Congregational Care Committee Meeting

Thursday, March 4th

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani Café

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys’s house

7:30 pm Christian Basics #4

Friday, March 5th

7:30 pm - 9:30 pm Christian Basics weekend

Saturday March 6th

10 am – 5 pm Christian Basics weekend

Sunday, March 7th Lent 3

9:00 am Eucharist

9:45 am Combined Coffee

10:30 am Eucharist with Sunday School

4:00 pm Youth Confirmation Class #5


March 11th is the beginning of the “Growing and Living as a Christian” course. This course is a follow up to Christian basics. The six sessions will be held at the church on six successive Thursday evenings from 7.30 – 9.30 p.m. starting March 11th, with a one-week break for Maundy Thursday.

The titles of the sessions include:

· Talking to God in Prayer

· Listening to God in the Bible

· Participating in the Family of God

· Learning a New Way of Living

· Money and possessions in the Life of a Christian

· Making a Difference in the World

The next Seniors Lunch will be March 11 , 11:30 a.m. at St. Margaret’s Church. There is a Sign-up Sheet available on the table in the foyer. Everyone is welcome.

Irish Stew Potluck Supper: Dig out your Green formal wear and join us for a fun evening on March 19th. Sign up sheet is in the Foyer.

World Vision Sponsor Children: If you are interested in taking an active role in writing to our sponsor children Nipa and Partel please let the church office know by phone or e-mail at stmag@telus.net. We would like to start communicating with the children soon. Information on Nipa and Partel is posted on the bulletin board down stairs.

Friday, February 26, 2010

March Roster 2010

March 2010


March 7 – Lent 3 - Eucharist – Combined Coffee

Greeter/Sidespeople: G. & K. Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/ T. Laffin

Reader: G. Hughes

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill Luke 13:1-9

Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/D. MacNeill

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Altar Guild (Purple): 9:00 M. Lobreau/10:30 K. Hughes

Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/E. Gerber

Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin

Sunday School: M. Cromarty

Kitchen: - 9:45 am B. & M. Woytkiw


March 14 – Lent 4 - Eucharist

Greeter/Sidespeople: B. & L. Popp

Counter: B. Popp/B. Rice

Reader: S. Watson

Readings: Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Lay Reader: E. Gerber Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/G. Hughes

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Altar Guild (Purple): 9:00 M. Woytkiw/10:30 P. Major

Prayer Team: K. Hughes/M. Rys

Nursery Supervisor: E. McDougall

Sunday School: P. Rayment

Kitchen: M. Rys


March 21 – Lent 5 - Eucharist– Morning Worship

Greeter/Sidespeople: K. Denman & R. Todhunter

Counter: K. Denman/ B. Rice

Reader: B. Popp

Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill John 12:1-8

Altar Guild (Purple): 9:00 J. Mill/10:30 Worship

Nursery Supervisor: K. Hughes

Sunday School: B. Rice

Kitchen: B. Mirtle

March 28 – Palm Sunday

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/T. Cromarty

Counter: T. Willacy/T. Cromarty

Reader: S. Doyle

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11

Lay Reader: E. Gerber

Lay Administrants: A. Zinck/E. Gerber

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Altar Guild (Red): 9:00 M. Lobreau/D. Mitty

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/K. Hughes

Nursery Supervisor: G. Hughes

Sunday School: M. Aasen

Kitchen: K. Denman

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 22-28

C A L E N D A R

Monday, February 22nd

Tim’s day off

Office Closed

Wednesday, February 23rd

7:15 pm Vestry Meeting

Thursday, February 25th

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani Café

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys’s house

7:30 pm Christian Basics #3

Saturday February 27th

1:30 pm ICPM Sandwich making at the Church

Sunday, February 28th – Lent 2

9:00 am Eucharist

10:30 am Morning Worship with Sunday School

ICPM Lunch served by St. Margaret’s

I TE M S T O N O T E

2 St. Margaret’s 2010 2

Sharing the Gospel . Going for Growth!

March 5th from 7:30 – 9:30 and March 6th from 10:00 – 5:00 Christian Basics Weekend This is an introduction to basic Christianity designed for inquirers into the Christian faith, for new Christians wanting to learn more about their faith, for long-time believers wanting a refresher course in the basics, and for baptismal candidates and those bringing children for baptism. This course is required for all baptismal candidates, and adult confirmation candidates. For more information, contact Tim at stmrector@gmail.com or 780-437-7231.

March 11th is the beginning of the “Growing and Living as a Christian” course. This course is a follow up to Christian basics. The six sessions will be held at the church on six successive Thursday evenings from 7.30 – 9.30 p.m. starting March 4th, with a one-week break for Maundy Thursday.

The titles of the sessions include:

· Talking to God in Prayer

· Listening to God in the Bible

· Participating in the Family of God

· Learning a New Way of Living

· Money in the Life of a Christian

· Making a Difference in the World

Volunteers Needed!

St. Margaret’s along with St. Luke’s is providing and serving lunch at the Bissel Centre on Sunday Feb. 28. Normally we serve about 350 people. As in the past a sign up sheet is at the back of the table for those wishing to help out by providing food.

If you prefer to make a donation please enclose it in your Sunday offering and mark it for ICPM. We will be purchasing all the sandwich ingredients as well as extra sweets, fruit and vegetables as required.

On Sat. February 27th we will be making sandwiches in the church basement at 1:30 pm

On Sunday the 28th we will prepare and serve lunch. For those able to volunteer their time please contact Maggie Woytkiw. Volunteers are asked to arrive at the Bissel centre (10530 96 street which is on the west side of the street, and there is parking in the rear) between 9 and 9:30 pm and should finish around1:30 pm.

Volunteers providing food can deliver the food to the church Tuesday-Thursday between 9am and 12pm or on Saturday at 1:30 pm. If anyone has any extra plastic grocery bags could you please leave them in the church kitchen area, as we require approximately 100. They will be used to send out extra sandwiches for the homeless.

Sermon for February 21st

Lent Series on Christian Disciplines #1: Prayer

Last week in my sermon I suggested that this season of Lent can be for us a significant moment, a moment that makes a difference for the future course of our lives. It doesn’t just have to be about little things like giving up sugar in our coffee, or about dressing up the church in purple and not saying ‘Alleluia’ until Easter. It can be a time for us to learn some new habits and take on some godly disciplines that will help to shape us as Christian disciples long past the end of Lent. Last week I suggested six areas of our lives that we need to think about: prayer, study, action, worship, giving, and mission. This week I want to zero in on the habit of daily prayer. How might we begin to be more intentional about building prayer into our daily lives?

When I was in college, one of our teachers mentioned a discussion amongst his fellow-clergy about finding time for prayer when the phone didn’t ring and other intrusions didn’t arise. He mentioned his own comment that “I’ve found the phone is pretty quiet at 6.00 a.m.!” I’ve always been a morning person myself, so I was probably receptive to this idea by nature. I’ve always been enormously attracted to the idea of starting off the day alone with God. And my Christian nurture took place in a tradition that really stressed this: you met God first thing in the morning and gave the day to him. As my Dad used to say, “You don’t tune up the orchestra after the concert is over!” In fact, for many years I saw this as an unbreakable rule, despite the fact that it isn’t laid down in the Bible as a rule at all! Regular prayer – yes; regular prayer at the crack of dawn – well, not necessarily! Although I do note at least one mention of Jesus doing this, in Mark 1:35: ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed’.

My suggestions about prayer today have of course been shaped by my own experience, and the experience of those who have gone before us. If you have a different way of praying, a way that works for you and helps you connect with God, then please don’t stop using it just to adopt mine! But on the other hand, if you’ve never been successful in building the habit of daily prayer into your life, here’s a way that has been helpful for many people over the years.

Let’s think first about preparing for our prayer time. There are two things you need to decide about – the right time, and the right place.

The right time will be a time of day when you’re at your best, a time that will be reasonably free of distraction for you, and a time at which you can clear at least fifteen minutes. For some people, that time will be first thing in the morning, right after they get up. For other people it will be better to go in early to work, shut their office door and spend time with God there. For some who stay at home as caregivers, the best time might be the time in the morning after everyone else has left the house and there’s relative calm after the storm. For others, taking time during the lunch hour might be a good option, especially if there’s a place handy where they can have privacy. For some, if will be the time immediately after they get home from work; for others, the night hawks among us, it will be last thing at night.

If you live with a family and have family responsibilities, you may need to discuss this with other people in your house. Others might need to cover duties such as childcare for you while you have your time of prayer. You can explain to them “I really want to develop a regular habit of prayer – can you help me out here? This is really important to me”.

Having found the right time, we then need to find the right place. Of course, you don’t absolutely have to pray in the same place every day, but our minds are helped by the association of one place with one activity. Can you find such a place for yourself – a place you will make into a holy place by regular prayer? A place where you can have privacy and a measure of quiet? Christians have prayed in some unlikely places over the years! English railway cars used to be divided into little compartments, and C.S. Lewis said he found them ideal for saying his prayers! People have prayed in bedrooms, in offices, and in family dens. People have taken their prayer times out for walks as a way of being alone; you can’t read your Bible when you’re doing it, but for some people the many advantages of a prayer walk outweigh this one disadvantage. Most of us can find a place, if we set our minds to it.

So – you’ve marked out fifteen minutes at some point of the day, and you’ve found a good place to pray. Now – what will you do with that time? Well, let’s begin by remembering that a good prayer time has two parts to it – listening and responding.

Listening comes first. As someone once said, ‘God gave us two ears and only one mouth, and maybe that was meant to teach us something!’ It’s important to remember this principle, not only in conversation with people, but also in prayer. Psalm 62:1 says ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation’. So I don’t come rushing into the presence of God with my agenda for today’s meeting! My role is first to listen, then to respond. And for me, listening involves two things.

First, it means starting with silence. During this opening silence, we focus on God’s presence, thinking of who God is and why we are here meeting with him. Some people find it helpful to have a visual focus during this time of silence – perhaps a lighted candle, or a cross. Some use some sort of controlled breathing technique to help them relax and focus on God. If any of that is helpful for you, by all means do it. Whatever you do, start your time of prayer by waiting on God in silence.

The second part of listening, for me, is listening to God in Scripture. Take a short passage of scripture, perhaps from the Gospels, which are the best place to start if you’re just getting going on this for the first time. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to understand what you read and to apply it to your life. Read the passage slowly and prayerfully, thinking about what you read. Perhaps read it through a couple of times. Then think about a few questions to help you get at the meaning of the passage. What’s the main theme of this passage? Is there a promise here for me to trust? Is there a good example for me to follow, or a bad one for me to avoid? Is there a command for me to put into practice? Is there a new way of looking at things for me to learn from? Do I identify with a character in this story, and if so, why? What is God saying to me? How should I respond to what God says? What would it mean for me to put God’s message into practice today? It might be helpful to have a notebook at hand so that we can jot down anything that particularly speaks to us in the passage of scripture for the day.

By the way, one way of choosing passages for each day is to use a devotional booklet like New Daylight, which some of us here at St. Margaret’s use and find helpful. For each day of the week it gives a short scripture passage and then a little devotional reflection to help us understand and apply the text to our own lives.

So, we’ve taken a minute in silence, and a few minutes to read scripture and listen for what God wants to say to us in it. Now we move on to the second main part of our prayer time, responding.

The first part of our responding grows naturally out of our meditation on scripture. What has God said to us in that time? It’s natural for us to talk to him about it, tell him how we feel about it - sometimes even to argue with him about it - and to ask his guidance and help in putting it into practice.

What else might we want to say to God? There are no rules in the Bible about this; however, as I said, there are some examples of prayers people have prayed. Over the centuries, too, Christians have developed some wisdom about what constitutes a balanced prayer life, and the different elements we can include. For the past few years, I’ve often used a four-part scheme to help people grow in prayer. I got it from my friend Harold Percy, and he calls it ‘Everything I needed to know about prayer I learned in kindergarten’. He encourages people to build their prayer around these four words or phrases:

First, thank you. Philippians 4:6 says ‘…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’. It’s not hard for us to figure out things we can thank God for. We’re grateful for the daily necessities of life such as food, drink, clothing, and shelter; we thank God for the people we love and for the good experiences we have from day to day. We thank God for Jesus and his Gospel, and for the way he works in our lives. Cultivating the habit of thankfulness can transform us from complaining people into people who rejoice. Be sure to build thanksgiving into your daily prayer time.

The second word is sorry. 1 John 1:8-9 says ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’. We know that in a human relationship, if we’ve said or done something to hurt our friend, this is going to get in the way of our friendship until we apologise and ask forgiveness. It’s the same in our relationship with God. Personally, I find it helpful to be very specific here. I don’t just say “I’ve been selfish”, but “I was selfish when I did such and such, or didn’t do such and such”. It’s not that I’m giving God information he doesn’t know, of course! But I need to face the truth about myself without using generalizations of euphemisms. I need to bring this stuff to God, ask forgiveness, and then believe the promises of scripture telling me that I am indeed forgiven.

The first two words were ‘Thank you’ and ‘Sorry’. The third word is please. Back to Philippians 4:6 again where Paul says ‘…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’. We can make requests to God for ourselves or for other people. Some of my requests are regular; there are people I pray for every day, others I pray for every week or once a month, whether they have a particular need or not. Other requests are related to specific circumstances: people who are sick or have particular needs at the time. I myself find it helpful to use a list to remind me of the people and needs I want to pray for. Some people find that a distraction, but for me it’s a real help to my dodgy memory!

So our prayer time includes ‘Thank you’, ‘Sorry’, and ‘Please’. The last phrase is not on the official kindergarten curriculum, but every kid in kindergarten learns it anyway: “You’re awesome!” Expressing this to God – ‘Our God is an awesome God’ – is what we call ‘praise’. The writers of the psalms are very good at this; listen to these words from Psalm 104:1-3:

Bless the LORD, O my soul.

O LORD my God, you are very great.

You are clothed with honour and majesty,

wrapped in light as with a garment.

You stretch out the heavens like a tent,

you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,

you make the clouds your chariot,

you ride on the wings of the wind.

If you’re wondering how to express your words of praise to God, I would encourage you to make friends with the writers of the psalms; you’ll find their prayers in the middle of your Bible. Some of them are not appropriate for praise: they are laments, or hymns of penitence, or even prayers of anger against enemies! But there are some really good hymns of praise in there too! Alternatively, you might know the words of some songs or hymns we sing in worship that can help you express your praise to God.

So we have these four ‘words’ or phrases: ‘Thank you’, ‘Sorry’, ‘Please’ and ‘You’re awesome’. Together, they help us build a balanced time of prayer with God.

I’ve often heard it said that you learn to swim by swimming. In the same way, I’m quite sure that the only way to learn to pray is by praying. So let me conclude by encouraging you to start learning and not to put this off. Some of you here have been doing this for years, and this is old hat to you. But others of you have never quite found a way to build regular prayer into your lives. Well, now’s the time to try again. Find yourself a good time and a good place and make a start. It might not seem very profound to you, but if you start this week and do it every day during Lent, you can begin to build it into a daily habit, a habit that, in the long run, will transform your life. And the best day to start doing it is today.