Reading (Matthew 6:5-15)
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when 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.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
“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 lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
As well as gardening one of the things that I really enjoy doing is drawing and painting. Both of these interests I share with my mum. Although we both love to garden we do not garden in exactly the same way; her soil is light and free draining and her garden is south facing, so Mediterranean plants thrive in her rather poor soil. Whereas my soil is much heavier, it retains moisture much more than hers and the garden is north facing, so shade loving ferns thrive in mine. The same is true of our painting; mum is a water-colourist, her paintings use soft colours and they are gentle to look at, I usually prefer using acrylics and my paintings are much bolder and more ‘in your face’ than hers.
On a Thursday afternoon my mum and I attend an Art class. The class comprises a group of people, of which I am the youngest and my mum is one of the oldest, who have a shared interest in drawing and painting. We sit in a large open square behind tables. There is no instruction given in the class, each person simply brings something that they want to work on during the couple of hours that we are together. There is a great deal of variety in what is produced even given the restrictions of space and time. Quite a few of the group work on very intricate drawing and paintings using fine pencils or tiny brushes, others use pastels or inks. There is rather a lot of chatting that goes on from some of the group while others are quieter and want to simply focus on what they are doing. And of course there is a break for a cup of something to drink and a biscuit part way through the afternoon.
What people in the group seem to struggle with most is inspiration. We have complete freedom in what each of us might want to paint but it is always the question of what exactly to paint that causes the problem. Many people will turn to art books, others will use magasines that contain lovely images like birds or flowers, and others will ask members of the group if they can suggest anything. Sometimes people will bring along an image that they think someone else would like to paint knowing the type of thing that they enjoy. But even with all this at our disposal it is possible to hear someone say ‘I just don’t know what to paint, I’m in need of inspiration.’
In some ways our prayer life can be like my art group. We have complete freedom about what we pray about and how we pray and yet we find ourselves saying ‘I just don’t know what to pray, I’m in need of inspiration.’ Like the members of the art group we have resources that we can turn to. There are books of prayers that we can use, there are images that can inspire us be they in magazines, outside when we go walking or on the television when we watch the news. We can get help from other Christians and we can come together to pray.
I remember reading that if you want to get better at drawing then all you need to do is draw; it doesn’t matter what you draw, what is important that by drawing you will improve. I think the same thing is true of prayer, if we want to get better at praying then we need to pray; it doesn’t matter how we pray or what we use for our inspiration but just that we do.
Father God, help us to pray and help us to help each other to pray to you.