A quote………‘You know the value of prayer: it is precious beyond all price. Never, never neglect it’.
What is prayer?
With that quote from Thomas Buxton we are reminded of the importance of prayer. What though is prayer? Prayer is simply reaching out to God in love and faith and receiving what he longs to give us. But what is God like first of all? People picture him in all kinds of ways. Some perhaps see him as rather a remote figure. Lord of heaven and earth certainly, but disconnected from our everyday struggles. Others maybe see him as a stern father figure; very concerned to chastise our mistakes and whom we need to placate. Jesus though cuts through all of that and brings us to the heart of the matter. ‘When you have seen me you have seen the Father’, he said. In other words we see God revealed in Jesus Christ, and the God we see is one of unconditional love who wants us to know and receive that love. When we do that then we are most truly alive. St Augustine in fact said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. So, when we pray we are connecting with God who showers us with his love and gives us himself. Our job in prayer is to believe and to respond in the fullest way we can to God’s love, and this little leaflet makes some suggestions about how we might do that. We cannot attain God on our own, so we direct our prayers to God through Jesus who said, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’. We end our prayers with ‘Amen’ which means let it be so. Let God’s love rule in our hearts.
So, how should I pray?
You might like to use prayers written by others or you might prefer to use your own words. If you do, then talk honestly and openly to God. Be yourself. Tell him what is going on in your life. Don’t feel you have to use lots of words (in fact it’s better not to) or be a theological expert or know your Bible inside out. God knows and loves you and prayer is not about passing an exam or proving anything. We might feel we need to progress and worry that our prayer isn’t ‘working’ somehow. Prayer then becomes focussed too much on ourselves and our ego, when actually true prayer is about setting self aside (or losing our life as Jesus put it) and wanting God instead. So, make that time for God. You might find yourself wanting to sit in silence in God’s presence. A bishop once came across a working man praying by himself in church and asked him what he was doing. ‘I look at Him and He looks at me’ was the reply.
What should I pray for?
Pray from out of a sense of thankfulness for your life and from the love that God wants you to have for others. Ask that your faith would develop and mature and that God would help you to grow in the ‘fruit of the Holy Spirit’ (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). Ask for forgiveness and tell God that you love him. Ask too that God would strengthen you to deal with what each day brings. Name what is on your heart or what troubles you: situations in your life and the lives of those you love. Pray for your local community, for world events. Ask for God’s blessing and healing presence, and that his kingdom of love, forgiveness and justice would come.
Special times for prayer
Jesus said we should go into our room and lock the door, so in other words its helpful to set aside a quiet time (or times) each day when you can pray and be open to receiving and responding to God’s love. Jesus himself would often go alone into the hills to pray and you yourself might find the necessary quiet while out walking. Others will be able to find a quiet place at work. Yet others will find it easier to have a quiet time in their own house. Calm and still yourself before you begin; pay attention to your breathing. There are various ways you can use your quiet time:
- Read a passage of Scripture using Bible study notes which will help you to reflect on what you’ve read. Then move on to a time of prayer which will emerge from your particular reflections on the passage. When reading a passage of Scripture you might want to use the technique of ‘lectio divina’. Read very slowly and deliberately until a word of phrase claims your attention. ‘Chew it over’, reflect on it. Again, this will help to lead you into prayer. Or you might want to imagine yourself as one of the people in the story. This can be a powerful way to both learn something about the passage but also lead into prayer.
- Say the daily office. This is a structured series of prayers, psalms and readings for both the morning and the evening, and is available online. Just search for Church England Daily Prayer. Other online daily services are available. Search for Sacred Space or Northumbria Community or Pray-as-you-go.
We can use art, crafts, music in our quiet times. John Pritchard’s book ‘How to pray: a practical handbook’ is very helpful. All these ways of praying (and many others) are to assist us to be there for God and open to his transforming love.
When should I pray?
Remember that God is not just to be encountered in church on Sundays but in the rest of the week too, so pray every day. The specific times will vary from person to person, but prayers at the beginning and the end of each day are helpful. In the morning ask for God’s strength for each part of what you expect your day to be like. See each day as a gift and rejoice. In the evening give thanks and ask for forgiveness if that is necessary. Prayer during the day might take the form of short ‘arrow’ prayers lifting a specific concern to God or giving thanks for something. Take even just a moment to step within yourself to feel God’s good presence.
Persistence in prayer
Simply making the time for prayer can be difficult for many people in the busyness of life. However, keep going. Jesus taught that we should be persistent in prayer; St Paul said we should pray ‘without ceasing’. We might feel we are doing nothing when we pray but carry on. Prayer is of immense benefit. It ‘unites the soul to God’ as Mother Julian said and it changes us. We most truly love when we are praying in God’s presence, and that love spills out (gradually, over the years) into what we do and say to transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ.
Praying with others
This can be very encouraging; it might be in a formal church prayer meeting or with a small group of friends (a prayer triplet perhaps). Begin with some words of Scripture; then discuss what needs to be prayed about before bringing those concerns to God. Some people will want to pray out loud, others might wish to pray silently. Prayers are also said in church services where the whole church family is involved.
The goal of prayer
Our particular times of prayer (and different ways of praying) help us to hear God’s voice which is always with us, but which we often don’t notice against the backdrop of our day to day lives with their worries and concerns. The ultimate goal though is for all life to become a prayer; for all life to be pervaded by the presence of God’s ‘light and tenderness’. When that happens then life is opened up as something of outstanding wonder and beauty and limitless potential. It really is!
(c) St John’s Publications 2016
TO HELP YOU TO PRAY
Use the following suggestions to help you in your prayer times……
Let the peace of this place surround you
as you sit or kneel quietly. Let the hurry
and worry of your life fall away from
you. You are God’s child. He loves you
and cares for you. He is here with you
now – and always. Speak to Him slowly
and thoughtfully – give yourself time
for Him to bring things to mind.
Lord, thank you……
for your presence here, for the
opportunity to pray,
for the promise of peace,
for the beauty of the world,
the kindness of people….
for all those whom I love….
and those who love me….
for your love towards me (and
for the Cross of Christ and the
power of the Spirit.
Help me to show my gratitude in
deeds as well as words.
Lord, I am sorry……
for the times when I have been
hasty or unkind (especially to…)
thought or acted selfishly, failed to
forgive or ask forgiveness,
forgotten in your presence,
taken your love for granted.
I thank you for your promise to
forgive all those who turn back to
you in penitence.
Lord I am troubled.…..
I am anxious and distressed for
Help me to trust your love,
for you carry our sorrows.
Teach me to act and speak
in the way that you want.
Give me the wisdom to know
when not to interfere.
Calm my fears,
for all things are in your hands
Lord, I pray for……
my family….and friends,
my neighbours at home, at work,
the ones I like….and dislike….
for those who are ill….
for those who are troubled
or who mourn,
for the oppressed,
for those involved in disaster or war.
Bless them, Father,
in their various troubles
and show me how I may help.
O heavenly Father, your will for me
(and for all people) is my eternal
happiness now and for ever. I thank you
for the blessings you have given me and
ask for the strength to walk in the way
where you lead me. Help me to
remember the love of Jesus shown on
the Cross and to accept the new life,
love and freedom which He offers to me.