I was listening to two of John Stott's sermons on mp3 today: "When God's People Pray" and "The Word of Life". I was told that he is an excellent preacher and he certainly is.
In "When God's People Pray", I have never heard very much of a good sermon on prayer until now. He brought out 4 points from Ephesians 2:18, "For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." Prayer is first and foremost, access to the Father. That I feel is an excellent and more than that, a biblical definition of prayer; one I will be using from now on: access to the Father.
The four points are:
1. Access is to the Father
Prayers are directed to the Father, and thus they should be like a prayer of a child, simple. Stott says that our prayers sometimes can be too sophisticated, not simple enough. (How true! I tend to pray simple prayers in private but try to make them more sophisticated when in public. I see know how foolish that can be.)
2. Access is through the Son
Prayer should be performed in humility because it can only be done through the Son's sin bearing death. Let us not take that privilege for granted. Our utterances in prayer should be humble, not haughty or proud. (This reminds me of what I term as our "language of prayer". The next time we pray or hear a pray in church, try to take notice of the language we use, and conclude if it is a prayer that is humble and God-honouring or is it a prayer that begins every sentence with what sounds like a command: Lord, do this and Lord do that, even if it is a pleading prayer for the church or for others.)
3. Access is by the Spirit
Prayer is performed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is with intimacy, it is when the Spirit bear witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. He assures us of the lovingkindness of the Holy Father and the saving grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ. He takes our wayward undisciplined minds and focusses them upon God. He helps us to pray and lead us into the very presence of God.
4. Access is with all the people of God
When Paul says in Eph 2:18 that "we both have our access", he meant both Jews and Gentiles, in that we all have access to the Father as one community of prayer. When we pray, we must be reminded that we are praying as one universal body of Christ. When one prays, the prayer is among the many prayers of the people of God. So look not only on our own needs.
About "The Word of Life" sermon, what is interesting is that he brings out lessons we can learn from Doubting Thomas. What he says about our modern world is quite true - in that we look up on Thomas and commend him for doubting and for seeking for empirical proof in order to belief, because that is usually what we would seek for today. But Jesus rebuked him for that. The lesson to learn is this: it is more blessed to have not seen and yet believed. The words of the eyewitnesses of Christ, who are credible and reliable, are as good as empirical evidences.
Stott also has a way with words. He commented about Thomas being absent the first time when the disciples gathered when Jesus came amongst them. He talked about the "calculated risk taken by irregular churchgoers" and the "spiritual risk of spasmodic church attendance" as opposed to "spiritual blessings of disciplined regularity". Isn't that brilliant!