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.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What is Prayer? Why Pray?

What is prayer?

Why pray?

Reflecting on those two questions I stumbled across something this week that helped me towards finding an answer to something that for me has about it a sense of mystery and wonder.

On Monday evening I watched Sir Colin Davis conducting the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in the Beethoven Violin Concerto and Sibelius’s second symphony. at the Proms. During the interval, Sir Colin Davis spoke of the inspiration of playing with young players brought together specially for a summer season from all over Europe.

He reflected on that ‘something special’ that happens when conductor and orchestra come together and produce wonderful music.

Orchestral playing at its best involves ‘letting loose the energy contained in the dots on the page’.

As conductor and orchestra came together that evening an energy was released that all who were there and all who were listening or watching on TV could not help but notice.

Isn’t that the kind of thing that could be said of a community of people praying?

Thinking not so much of a score, as of the Bible, prayer involves letting loose the energy contained in the words on the page.

It was fascinating to hear Sir Colin Davis speak of the experience of conducting an orchestra.

Each knows their part, he suggested. And the professionalism of this young orchestra was plain to see, made up as it is of some of the finest young musicians in Europe.

But at the same time, no individual must stand out from the others. All must listen to each other and be aware of everyone else and there must be constant communication between players and the conductor.

As that happens something is going on between the players and between the players and the conductor that lets loose the energy that is contained in the dots on the page.

Let’s use that as a picture of a church community sharing in prayer.

Something very similar is going on.

It is important that each of that community ‘knows their part’. It is for each of us invidually to take seriously the call to Christian commitment and to live out our Christian life.

But no individual must stand out from all the rest as if they are more important than any of the others. Every single person in a church family is important and each one has their part to play. That’s a theme Paul constantly returns to, thinking of the parts of the body.

It is important that we all listen to each other and that we all are in constant communication with God. That’s what’s going on as we share together in prayer.

Prayer is not simply something that each of us does in isolation. Prayer is something we do as part of the church family, part of the community of the church. Not only is it something we do as part of the church family we belong to, but there is a very real sense that we do it as part of the whole church family.

Terry Waite is returning to the Cheltenham Literature Festival – he often speaks of that very real sense of being part of a praying community he had when he was held hostage, in isolation, and yet not isolated from the community of people praying for him and with him.

Prayer is that process of being in communication constantly with God … but not in isolation from others. It is something we share with all who share the task of praying.

And that is the mystery of prayer.

Something is going on between the pray-ers and between the pray-ers and God that lets loose the energy that is contained in the words on the page.

That something is prayer.

Its purpose is to let loose the energy that is contained in the words on the page.

How does that work out in practice?
Take the prayer of St Paul in Ephesians 3:14-19.

That’s simply a set of words on the page.

We can each of us read those words – we can make a study of them. But these words are something more than mere words of interest. They are words that contain within them an energy. They are words of prayer. We can pray these words ourselves. We can sense those from Paul onwards who have gone before us in the faith praying these words with us. We can come together in prayer with others in a church family and pray these words together. As we do that we find they nudge us towards the kind of God we believe in. The words contain within them promises that can make a difference in our lives. It is as if we are in communication with God himself through these ancient words.

Something is happening.

It is a mystery.

To be part of a community of people praying and praying with God is to let loose the energy contained in these words.

There is within these words an energy for our families. Verses 14-15

For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name.

As a family to be part of a praying community is to discover a very real strength and energy from beyond ourselves that can make a difference in our family life. That’s what’s important to us as a church family to offer support to families mainly by being the kind of place where families can find support for each other. And also to find that for family life there is a power from beyond ourselves that we can draw on to enrich and strengthen that family life.

There is an energy for each one of us. Verses 16-17a.

The prayer goes on, I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith.

Each of us needs a strength from beyond ourselves to enable and to empower and to energise us. How much we need deep within our inner selves a core strength – that’s released within us as we are part of a praying community.

Sometimes it seems elusive. This is where the other part of the communication process comes in. It’s not simply down to us., The prayer is that Christ makes his hjome in our hearts through faith. What a wonderful thought.

What is released in this praying community of Christian people is the energy of love. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love

The love that provides support to one another, the love that enables you to realize individually you are not alone, the love that enables you to realize as a family you don’t face this on your own, the love that binds people together is the love that is released in this praying community.

It is a love that goes deep down to the roots, a love that goes right to the foundations. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love. Yes, may you come to know his love — although it can never be fully known — and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.

Pray that prayer … and something happens!

Prayer is that something that lets loose the energy contained in the words on the page.

– An energy for our families – verses 14-15
– An energy for each of us – verses 16-17a
– An energy of love – verses 17b – 19

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light