Monday, 31 March 2014

The Prayer Principle

The blog title is from a book by the Right Reverend Michael Baughen a retired Church of England Bishop. He was one time Rector of All Souls, Langham Place in London, John Stott's former church. I felt prompted to buy this book for several reasons:

First, the church of which I am Vicar is dying. I should not be too surprised at this as the denomination to which I belong is also dying. But prior to my appointment I had had a real and clear sense of calling here, more than any other parish I have served in, and I felt that God had big plans for St. James. I still believe this but the lack of progress is rather worrying. In fact we seem to have gone backwards not forwards. Why? It could be I am trying to do things in my own strengths? It could mean that as with any new life there has to be some dying first? I need answers and the only one who can give them is God.
Second, I am spending more regular time with God than I have ever done before, but with less satisfaction or sense of fulfilment. I regularly read and reflect on the scriptures and intercess for others as often as I can. And yet something is missing, lacking. Could it be in the quality rather than the quantity of praying?
Third, God seems to be setting before me, more and more, some kind of trail leading me to enquire and learn about prayer, and especially the need to listen more. Through books or reviews I have read, talks I have heard and conversations I have had the subject of prayer keeps creeping up on me and preoccupying my thoughts. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and pray. Sometimes in the car I will switch of the radio and pray. There is hunger for prayer which, at the moment, is not being satisfied by my praying!
Fourth, I have a growing sense that I do not know how to pray. This may seem astonishing as I am nearly 58 years old, I have been a Christian for 33 years and I have been ordained for nearly 26 of those years. I have read widely and deeply about all kinds of prayer - contemplative, intercessory, the Jesus Prayer etc - and my bookshelves have over 100 volumes on the subject. Goodness knows how often I have preached or taught about it.  And yet I feel like I have barely prayed in all the time I have followed Christ. I feel disqualified rather than qualified to speak about ut.

So here, again, another book on prayer. But, as so often happens, reading what is probably my 101st book on the subject I noticed something different in what Michael writes which has convinced me I was right to buy it. It occurs in Chapter 13 and comes in the context of the writer talking about spiritual warfare. In this chapter he talks about what he calls the "five marks of real prayer". It is the word 'real' that caught my attention in the light of the above questions I have been asking. What does it say? Real prayer should be:

1. Accurate. "Vague waffling prayer is a waste of breath and time." Prayer needs to be on target, relying on the Holy Spirit when we are unclear how to pray for an individual situation (see Romans 8:26).
2. Fervent. See James 5:16-17. The word 'fervent' here is not meant to be seen as an emotional term. The Greek means "with prayer, he prayed" meaning that Elijah "meant business with God - his prayer was real and from the heart."  Prayers are not meant to be a recital or " a routine rather than looking to the Lord."
3. Expectant. See James 1:6. We must expect God to answer based on the belief that he is always "able to do more than we ask or think." Tentative prayer is therefore ruled out and bold prayer ruled in. Baughen writes "when we come to special evangelistic services (or events) in our churches it is not much use praying without expectation, (we must) "learn to pray 'on target' for spiritual blindness to be removed, for power in testimony and the ministry of the Word and for the Holy Spirit to be moving amongst us. We must expect God to bring His results..."
4. Earnest. See Acts 12:5. The original word actually has the "sense of laying hands on someone and thus identifying with them." Baughen continues: "When a person in special need is with us in a prayer gathering some of us may lay hands on their head, as a representative identification of the group and an outward sign of our inward 'earnestness' in prayer for them. In the same way, in our personal intercessions, it is good to try and identify with the person for whom we are praying - with what they are feeling and facing."
5 Persevering. Ephesians 6:18. "we never fully understand how our prayers are effective in the spiritual battle - nor how our prayers are involved in God's will and action. But it is clear from Scripture that they are, and this is why we must press on in persevering prayer..."

So you can see that it is not praying that is important in and of itself, it is HOW we pray that really counts in the long run. This is what I believe God is calling me, personally to, and what God is calling us, the Church to as well.

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