In our Lent Evenings this year we have spent some time looking at the subject of Prayer and thinking about (and experiencing) different ways of praying. It’s rather paradoxical really that something that is so basic and central a part of the Christian life is something that so many of us really struggle with. We worry that we don’t pray enough, or that we don’t pray in the ‘right’ way. We’re not sure if God is ‘there’ when we pray or if our prayers are being answered. But we are sure that other people pray more than us or find it easier than we do.
Looking at it very simply, prayer is communication with God and arises directly from our relationship with God. On a human level if we care about someone, if we love them, then we want to spend time with them and we want to share our interests, our concerns, our joys and our trials with them. We stay in touch in various ways. We may have a brief word in the middle of a busy day, or we might settle down for a really long ‘heart to heart’. Sometimes we do most of the talking, at other times we do a lot of listening, and then there are times when it is just enough to be with each other and to enjoy the companionable silence.
I’m sure we recognise all these aspects of communication in our human relationships. And this variety of communication is true of our prayer too. In fact there are almost as many ways of praying as there are individuals because our own relationship with God is just that, ‘our own’, and how we pray will be unique too.
Having said that, we can learn a lot from the experience of other Christians, both those around us now, perhaps in our church family, and also those who’ve followed Christ in other times and places. In our Lent sessions we thought about the use of the Bible in prayer and some ways that various monastic traditions have prayed with scripture. For example the lovely practice of ‘holy reading’ (lectio divina) which comes from the Benedictine tradition. This uses a short passage from the Bible as a way into prayer, reading it repeatedly and mulling over it to give God space to speak to us through it. Or the Ignatian practice of taking a passage from the Gospels and engaging with it so that we imagine actually being there and then encountering Jesus and imagining what his word for us might be.
And what about ‘Praying for …’ – the ways in which we pray for particular people or situations. I know this is a kind of prayer that can raise all sorts of questions. How do I know what to pray for? Surely God knows what the other person needs, so why do I need to pray? What happens if I pray and the prayer isn’t answered?
Most importantly we mustn’t worry about getting it wrong; what matters is that our desire for the other person is God’s love and grace for them. Yes, God knows the situation much better than we ever could, and he doesn’t need us to explain it all or to suggest how he should best answer it. But I believe our prayers are important as they express something of our involvement and our sharing in God’s good purposes for the other person.
The image that helps me in thinking about what we’re doing as we pray for someone is to imagine that we are gently lifting them and holding them in the light of God’s love. You might even want to imagine a stream of water or a beam of sunlight that represents the love and goodness of God, and that your prayers are lifting the person so that they are bathed in the healing water or light. I don’t believe we need to explain anything to God, although it may help us to articulate our perception of the need. But words aren’t always necessary and sometimes they might even get in the way.
And when we have prayed for someone we can have confidence in leaving them in God’s care, and we can trust in God’s loving purpose for them knowing that God’s perspective is wider than ours and that our idea of what the outcome should be is not always the same as God’s.
It is always a privilege to be able to come to God in prayer, but it is something that every single one of us can do, whatever our age, background or state of health. Let’s encourage each other as we pray, continuing to learn together and to explore the riches that God offers to us,
Yours, in Christ,
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