Our first Sunday at the camp was an eventful day. It began well with a quieter night, Saturday night the choir does not practice as long 😉 We woke once during the night to the sound of distant shots, but it sounded more like someone hunting than anything more serious!
At 8am Dr Simon asked me to preach at church (the main service is at 10:30, with earlier and evening services for younger people), it was the Global Day of Prayer for Burma. Imagine being asked as an ignorant foreigner, newly arrived to preach on such a day! I decided that all I could do was preach on prayer, and Jesus response to the request “Teach us to pray” (Luke 11) seemed a good start. But as I began I realized that before we can pray we need to remember to whom we address our prayers, and was led to Isaiah 40.
There a preacher is called to proclaim “Comfort!” to an exiled, depressed and discouraged people vv.1-2. They live in Babylon, remembering the defeat and destruction of Jerusalem, and watching the triumphant processions of the conquering forces.
Then the prophet hears a vision of another and greater procession vv.3-4 that of God, who will return to Jerusalem across a highway in the desert. The preacher is called again, by a voice that says “Cry out!”
The preacher resists (6b-8). Life is so short, return to Jerusalem may be generations away, what can I cry? Verses 9-11 repeat the promise, God will restore his people.
The prophet needed to be reminded of the God who called him. We need to be reminded of the God to whom we pray:
- Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
- and marked off the heavens with a span,
- enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
- and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
He is the maker and sustainer of all. Such a God cannot be controlled, or even advised, not even by prayer! Vv.13-14. Most certainly we cannot persuade him with a present. Vv. 15-17.
But we keep forgetting, we keep trying to tell God what to do, as if we knew better how our prayers should be answered! We keep trying to persuade God, or make bargains with him, as if he were the seller at a market stall, or as if he were a mere god! (Vv.18-20)
How silly! (Vv.21-24)
God really is not like the powers of this world, nor like the gods and spirits, to be advised, or persuaded, or bribed, or bargained with (vv.25-26).
So this was God’s message to his people long ago: vv.27-31.
If Isaiah 40 warns us how not to pray, how should we pray? Jesus tells us in Luke 11.
“Father“: God is not distant, or uncaring, but closer and more loving than a human mother or father.
“Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come“: not our honour, but yours – not what we want, but your rule!
“Give us day by day the bread we need“: ask for what you need here and now.
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive…” we all need forgiveness, but must first forgive others who have wronged us.
Then the prayer as we say it regularly ends:
- “Do not lead us into temptation,
- but rescue us from evil
- for the kingdom, power and glory are yours!“
and we must never forget!
We are creatures. Like the rocks, trees and birds, but creatures who are loved and can call God “Father” when we pray!
So even preaching from the Bible, I cannot tell you what to pray for on this Global Day of Prayer for Burma. But I can tell you how!
And I can ask readers of this blog – even if Sunday 9th March has passed where you are – please join your prayers with others who pray for Burma and for the Karen people, they need your prayer! (See “The Story in a Nutshell” or the Wikipedia article Karen, People for a more dispassionate account.)