In some ways when we think about and engage in prayer we gather the threads of what we’ve spoken about over previous weeks. For in the wisdom writing of our faith we read about God as a loving creator, divinely present in the Palestinian man Jesus, and yet we believe that God’s Spirit is somehow present in the midst of all creation… and particularly in the midst of each human life. In prayer we engage with that Spirit of God… in words and thoughts; in music and dance; in movement and stillness; in breathing and silence.
What is prayer?
I think prayer can be helpfully thought of as humanity seeking communion with God. Quite often people think of prayer as communication with God and as in human communication this finds expression in both talking (words), and listening (silence). Usually we are better at talking than listening, and if our talking is a long list of things that we want for ourselves we may sometimes come close to thinking of God as a giant Santa in the sky… ‘Please help me… get well again! …win the Lotto! …finish my assignment! …get this job! etc’.
Praying, ‘Thank You!’ - I think it is quite easy to pray ‘help me’ when things seem to be going wrong, but it is harder to pray ‘thank you’ when things are going well. Yet learning to pray ‘thank you’ is a very important focus for it can develop within us a sense of gratitude and wonder and this can diminish an over emphasis on our own ‘needs’… making it more likely that we recognise the needs of others. We can say ‘thank you’ …for our lives, for each breath and heartbeat, for people to share love with, for health, for places to call home, for money in the bank, for meaningful work, for a beautiful song, for rain… what are ten things that you could say ‘thank you’ for at this time? I think praying ‘thank you’ can also develop into words of praise to God which say ‘I love you’ and ‘You are awesome!’
Praying, ‘Sorry’ - In the midst of human living we inevitably fall short of our ideals sometimes: we hurt people in the things we say and do, and sometimes in the things we don’t say or do. It is no accident then that our church services usually have a time to say ‘sorry’ in the words of a confession …and then have an assurance of God’s forgiveness in the words of an absolution. Just ask any couple and you’ll find that learning to say ‘sorry’ is really important in human relationships, and we can take that insight into our relationship with God. If we’re honest we could probably recognise when we’ve broken one or several of the Old Testament Ten Commandments, or the New Testament mandate to love God, love neighbour, and love ourselves. When have you forgiven someone, or been forgiven, and what difference did that make? In many PNG languages there is no word for sorry because the belief is that you cannot just SAY ‘sorry’… in those cultures you have to DO ‘sorry’ for it to have meaning. There is much helpful for us to think about in the way our culture uses the word ‘sorry’ rather than encouraging it in action.
Praying for, ‘Blessing’ – over the years I have found it helpful to simply pray for God’s blessing on the lives of people and on situations of brokenness. We can pray for blessing (wholeness) in the life of someone who is well, someone who is sick, communities like Woorabinda, and people in need that we hear about on the news… like the peoples of South and North Korea at this time of possible war. Try praying ‘blessing’ for one week on the lives of people you know, and on some situations of brokenness in our world that particularly move you.
Praying for, ‘personal need’ – of course we can ask God for help in the things that are going on in our own lives – but if we start with thanks then this area of prayer will become shorter and more focused!
Inevitably we are probably most comfortable with words and less comfortable with silence and yet silence is a really important part of prayer. If we want to receive guidance or gain insight then quiet time in which we can be open and reflect on things is important. Good posture and deep slow breathing are helpful ways to start for as we breathe deeply and slowly our heart rate slows down, and our minds have the opportunity to slow down… and there is simply space in which to be.
Contemplative prayer involves a lot of that quiet space and has sometimes been likened to ‘tuning in to the frequency of God’… and by another writer, ‘breathing in time with the universe!’
Patterns of Prayer
On Sunday night we took time to look up each of these pieces of writing in the Bible because they each have some good insights into prayer:
1Kings 19:8-13 – The prophet Elijah was running away from Ahab and Jezebel and was led by the Spirit of God to a cave on a high mountain. There was an earthquake, wind and fire but Elijah did not hear God in any of this but instead heard God giving him guidance in the silence that came after.
Matthew 4:1-21 – After being baptized Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and is led into the wilderness for a time of temptation and reflection. After this time out Jesus begins his ministry.
Luke 6:12; Luke 9:28-29; Mark 14:32-36 – Jesus prays before choosing his disciples, in the midst of ministry he is praying with friends and they see him in a new light; in the hours before he is put on trial and crucified Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemene
Matthew 6:7-15 – the very well known Lord’s Prayer. We asked ourselves on Sunday night: what do we mean when we pray, ‘Your Kingdom come…?’
Over two thousand years there have been many prayers written and some of these can help shape our own spirituality and give us words to offer God when we find ourselves unable to offer our own. One prayer I have found particularly helpful is known as the ‘Prayer of St Francis’ and I encourage you to say this prayerfully at least once each day this week.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The homework this week is simply for each person preparing for Confirmation to write a prayer using their own words. Each prayer will be read by the writer as part of the closing prayer session next Sunday night. God’s blessing on your week – wherever this finds you!