Saturday, 9 May 2009

Unlocking prayer

“Why pray?” is a huge question and one which can’t be answered in a simple blog. However a common and honest response would be “because I need something.” If we read the teachings of Jesus this seems to be the general direction of what he is saying and encouraging in the gospels. For example in Luke: “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Luke chapter 11 verse 9), and similarly in John chapter 15 verse 7: “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.” Such teachings , read in isolation from their surrounding contexts, were responsible for galvanizing my early attempts at prayer after my conversion to Christ in August 1981. And, if my rather selective memory serves me right, there were lots of answers to prayer along the way. But as I read more of Jesus’ teachings and look at them not as a cache full of promises but as a means of deepening my understanding of God and growing into relationship with Him, I see things differently. The aim of prayer is not a means of getting things from God – although He graciously answers so many ill-intentioned and misdirected prayers nonetheless – but rather a means of getting to know Him better, of somehow climbing into His mind and seeing things – me, the world, God etc- from a wholly new perspective. I think it was Richard Foster (again) who said: “The key to prayer is to get hold of God not the answer.”

This comes across as we start to read the surrounding passages containing Jesus’ above promises. So in the Luke passage Jesus talks about the need to pray to God as our Father (verses 2 and 13), and in John about prayers being made in the context of a relationship with Jesus whose closeness is that of a vine with a branch.

Asking God for things, for help etc. therefore takes on a different dimension. God has a face, so to speak, and is a real person (the most real of persons) rather than a slot machine or an anonymous servant. Moreover in relating to Him as such we find that it no longer becomes just a case of asking Him for something we need, but wondering if He has a take on what we are requesting. This is why Jesus interposes the notion of God’s will being done, and His Kingdom coming as in the Lord’s prayer. Both are meant as necessary reminders that there is a bigger picture and our praying is a means of involving us in it’s painting.

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