Sunday, September 21, 2008

Prayer: What should we ask?

It is so simple. It comes so naturally. Most people turn to it when everything goes wrong!

God, help me … God help so and so …

I guess that’s the simplest form of prayer.

And most people have found themselves saying that prayer.

What should we ask for in prayer?

At the Holiday Club with the children a month ago we had a simple way of thinking of prayer. A recipe book invites you to put a teaspoon full of something into the cooking pot. And the teaspoon is abbreviated to TSP.

So thank you … sorry … please.

But when we say please what is it we are asking?

Philip Yancey was one of the speakers at Greenbelt this year – he spoke about prayer. Becky and I have been reading his book on prayer. In it he captures the wonderful mystery there is in prayer.

The act of prayer brings together Creator and creature, eternity and time, in all the fathomless mystery implied by that convergence., I can view prayer as a way of asking a timeless God to intervene more directly in our time-bound life on earth.

We hear of people who are sick … our response is to want to pray for them. There’s something so valuable about that. If you want to share a concern for prayer then a phone call to Ruth or an email will set off our prayer chain – people praying.

The value of lists – in Highbury News – we pray for people in need – we pray for all who belong to the church family. It is good to uphold people in prayer.

It becomes part of a network of support … and it in some strange way releases an energy from beyond ourselves, from God.

That’s one way of viewing prayer.

But Philip Yancey has another way of viewing prayer … and that too is helpful.

We touched on it in our discussions on prayer at our evening on Prayer last Tuesday and it was a fascinating moment in our discussion.

This is what Philip Yancey suggests as another view of prayer …

I can also view prayer from the other side, as a way of entering into the rhythms of eternity and aligning myself with God’s ‘view from above’, a way to harmonise my own desires with God’s and then to help effect while on earth what God has willed for all eternity.

This is another way round of viewing prayer.

Prayer involves spending time with and entering into communication with God, the one who is eternal, outside of time. It’s about lining myself up in a certain kind of way – aligning myself with God and the rhythms of eternity.

When I read that a silly picture came into my mind. Did you see that report not so long ago about cattle grazing in fields. Someone has made a study of satellite photographs of cattle grazing in fields in a number of different European countries. Something seemed to emerge. That cattle tend all to face in the same direction – and the researcher noticed that there was a general alignment with the magnetic lines of the earth’s energy.

It’s a bit like that in prayer. We align ourselves with God’s energy – and we do that along with other people too.

That means we have an alignment in our priorities, the things that are important to us.

We seek to live our lives in the way God wants them to be energised – with love for God, love for one another and love for God’s creation – a love that finds expression in care for each other and for God’s world.

To be part of a praying community on the one hand is to seek to bring God’s energy from beyond time into our world and its needs.

But on the other hand it is to align ourselves with the way God’s energy goes in his world – for love and for justice.

Jesus’ disciples wanted to be part of a praying community and they wanted to learn how to pray.

Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer – you could think of it as an alignment prayer. To pray that prayer and to learn it to teach it to our children involves lining ourselves up with the family of Christian people in the family prayer, it also involves lining ourselves up with God and what God wants of us his people

Together we are people who look to God as Father, who honour his name, who seek the carrying out of his will for love and for justice and for people on earth as it is in heaven, we are a people of forgiveness ready to forgive as we are forgiven, a people living in a world that’s far from perfect and yet protected from all that is evil, we are people of power, people of the kingdom, people of glory – what a wonderful way of aligning ourselves.

And as people of prayer we are to ask – but ask for the good – not for any old thing. And again this is all about where we align ourselves.

Ask and it will be given you, search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. Though be prepared: what you are given may not be what you want it may be what you need; what you find may not be the exact thing you are searching for, and you may be surprised what’s behind the door when it’s opened up for you!

What do we ask? The passage builds up to a climax – about a father giving what is good for his children … and so too with God – what he gives is of the Holy Spirit – that unseen energy and power from God that we line ourselves up with as we share in our prayers.

It was Richard’s mother who gave us two prayers – one is from the Psalms – a prayer of thanksgiving. And the other is a simple prayer – maybe that’s the kind of prayer we can make our own as we share together in prayer, and echo that prayer – especially today as we share in this baptism of Maycie.

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