Introductory thoughts on prayer –
Christianity is not primarily about doing certain things or upholding a set of values, although these are deeply important. It is first and foremost about relationship and thus the concept of prayer is central.
We do not have to be a certain type of person, be in a church building or use particular words, to pray. Heading into a crisis, many people ask something or someone ‘out there’ for help. In the middle of a wonderful experience, many people want to express thanks to something or someone bigger than the immediate. When regretting a wrong action or word, many people want to say sorry and hope there is a possibility of forgiveness. Many simply like to chat. Prayer is as natural and as important as a child speaking to an adult who cares.
Some people listen to music, go for walks, write or draw as they pray. Some simply speak or think what is on their heart. Many value praying with others. Some enjoy being still, quietening the words, internal and external, and learning to listen. Giving space to hearing the quiet voice of God. We do not know how babies pray, but we trust that somehow their communication with God is as profound as that of the most venerable bishop.
For those who find patterns helpful:
‘T.S.P.’ stands for ‘Thanks. Sorry. Please’. Some people even carry a TeaSPoon to remind them! A simple pattern, which covers most things…
The Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
This is an ancient and much-used prayer. We can repeat it several times emphasising different words as appropriate.
The Lord’s Prayer
“Teach us to pray” Jesus’ disciples asked, and he gave them the pattern now known as The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.
We note that the first word is ‘Our’, not ‘My’. Whenever we pray we are united with the vast host of people around the world and through history who pray to God. We never pray alone even if physically we appear to do so. We are not on a sailing on our own. The second word reminds us of the perfect paternal love of God (for those who have difficult memories or images of fatherhood, we can think in terms of “a thousand times better than the best parent we can imagine”) but that he exists outside of our limited world. This is no tribal god of a wood or a sea; this is the one God who is in heaven.
We are reminded that we are praying to a holy God, different from the created world. His name is hallowed; his love and purposes are pure and just. Perhaps implied is the thought that God can be honoured through our daily business, through right actions and attitude. In the same way that a head teacher is honoured by good behaviour of pupils, so God’s name is honoured through our lifestyle.
We pray for the kingdom, the acceptance of God’s authority, to continue to grow; we pray for evil and confusion to be pushed back step by step from apparent positions of strength. We look for, and are excited by, green shoots of love and faith, wherever we see them. The kingdom grows as our obedience grows. As part of this, may God’s will be done in our lives.
It is daily bread we need, not a monthly stock of caviar. Enough resources: emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual, to face the challenges and opportunities of today. We are never promised a pain-free voyage. There will be storms and rocky places, but we can ask for enough to see us through the journey we are called to travel today. Tomorrow there will be other worries and different weather. The landscape may change. We will need to pray similar words again.
We are to be forgiven and forgiving people. If we do not think we need forgiving, we put ourselves outside the healer’s reach. If we do not want to forgive others we are closing our minds to the forgiveness we ourselves need, and showing that we value the relationship and the person less than we value the sin or the grudge.
There is some discussion as to what Jesus meant by “Lead us not into temptation” (or “to the time of trial”). To take one slightly simplistic approach, it is wise for an alcoholic to pray that the off-licence will be shut, for the besotted man to pray that the girl won’t be at the party. It is wise to pray that the difficulties we face will not throw us off course. There will be dangers on the way, not always immediately recognisable for what they truly are; we need to pray to be kept safe as we travel through them.
We finish the prayer by acknowledging that the power and glory is God’s, not ours. He can see us safely through; it is his strength that counts.
“Prayer is never wasted” an old friend once said. We do not understand what is going on when we pray but we can be assured that God wants us to pray; the relationship matters. If there are moments when we do not feel like it, moments when we realise we have not prayed for days or years and feel guilty or nervous about knocking on that door again, moments when we pretend we are too busy, then it is good to bring to mind that God wants us to pray. This all about love. He likes our company.
Some of the above material is taken from “At the Harbourside”, published by Highland Books