“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Philippians 2:3-5

“Where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:20

Craig begins this period of prayer by encouraging us to pray as a community, remembering first the joys and sorrows of others:

At school, I often would make the same error in my approach to work: I would rush and make mistakes. Whether over-confident or just keen to finish, I can’t remember, but one of the lessons I had to learn was to slow down, read, reflect and only then move forwards with the task.

So it is with the Lord’s prayer. Yes, it’s a prayer Jesus gave his disciples to teach them how to pray. Yes, it reminds us that God is a loving father, it includes examples of right requests to place before him, and yes it places our lives in the wider context of God’s kingdom.

But before all that comes just a single word, easily missed: ‘Our’.

Our Father.

Prayer, we know, is an essential part of growing in faith and in our relationship with God. It’s the way we’re invited into his presence, both to be changed as we pray and to ask God to change those things outside of our control.

But prayer, for many of us, is a personal thing, something we most often do alone. It’s my task, my time with God, deepening my relationship with him, laying before him my worship and my requests. And if we don’t pray often enough, there’s another reason for me to feel guilty!

But there is a danger here that our prayer lives begin to mimic the world in which we live, one which values the freedom and authority of the individual more than that of any group, community or society to which we belong. As someone once put it, ‘There’s no I in team, but there is in win,’ and personal achievement is the way to win big. It’s all about me.

But this is never true of the Church, and mustn’t be true of our prayer lives. So Jesus begins his prayer lesson with that one challenging little word: Our.

When we pray, we do so as part of a community called into being by our Father, one that extends both around the world and back through time. When we worship, we join with all the saints, on earth and in heaven, together proclaiming ‘Holy, holy, holy…’ (Rev. 4:8). Yes, you can believe in God on your own, but you can’t be a Christian alone, and you were never meant to be.

Living, worshipping, praying in community, as a community, changes everything. Whether or not the words are said alone isn’t the point; it’s the realisation that putting our trust in Jesus makes us members of a family that matters. And the Lord’s Prayer is the family prayer.

That’s why God’s presence is often experienced in special ways when we pray and worship together (Matt. 18:20). That’s why poor relationships between Christians are seen in the Bible as barrier to God’s work being done (Matt. 5:23-24). That’s why the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ events are so inspiring – as we join with millions of Christians around the world, praying at the same time for the same things. Together we’re part of something!

So at the start of this week of prayer, I encourage you to spend time reflecting on the importance of your own communities – Christian and otherwise. Allow those communal relationships, concerns, joys and sorrows to guide your prayers and shape your hopes.

In doing so we truly follow Jesus’ example in serving his Father and putting the needs of others first.

Questions

Reflecting on the communities to which you belong, what are the things for which you are most grateful?

How might praying using ‘we’ or ‘our’ language change the substance of our prayers?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for calling us to be a part of your family, the Church. Help us to live our lives in honour of you and service of one another. Teach us to pray for, to think about, to choose and to love others before ourselves. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer for five friends

If you haven’t already done so, take some time to think of the five people you could commit to praying for daily. Then simply ask for God’s blessing on them and their journey of faith.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.