Prayer

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany 2009

Mark 1:29-39

Marian Free

In the name of God who longs for us to draw near to him. Amen.

Little boy kneels at the foot of his bed,

droops on the little hands little gold head.

Hush! hush! whisper who dares!

Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

God bless Mummy. I know that’s right,

wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?

With the cold so cold and the hot’s so hot.

Oh, God bless daddy, I quite forgot.

If I open my fingers a little bit more,

I can see Nanny’s dressing gown on the door.

It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.

Oh, God bless Nanny and make her good.

Mine has a hood and I lie in bed

and pull the hood right over my head,

and I shut my eyes and curl up small,

and nobody knows that I’m there at all.

Oh! Thank you God for a lovely day.

And what was the other I had to say?

I said “Bless Daddy”, so what can it be.

Oh! Now I remember it. God bless me.

Little boy kneels at the foot of his bed,

droops on the little hands little gold head.

Hush! hush! whisper who dares!

Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

In my childhood, I was taught to say my prayers before I went to sleep each night. From memory, those prayers were as simple and limited as those of Christopher Robin – prayers for family and prayers for oneself. Like Christopher Robin I was not always entirely serious. M sister and I competed to think of different things for which to give thanks, striving to outdo each other with the most outrageous. Later, at school, my year 6 religious education teacher taught me how to pray using my hands as a reminder. The only thing that I can remember now is that my little finger represented me because it was the smallest and I was the least important person to pray for. In my late teens and early twenties I was privileged to hear the stories of older members of my congregation whom I respected. Two in particular inspired and challenged me by sharing that they would get up at four or five o’clock in the morning in order to pray. This meant that they would have no distractions and so that their prayers would not be forgotten.

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

Prayer is an important part of Jesus’ ministry. In fact Jesus’ ministry both begins and ends with prayer – from the 40 days in the desert to the cry from the cross, Jesus indicates a desire to develop a relationship with God, to seek God’s will and to ask for God’s help to live in accord with that will. On more than one occasion Jesus withdraws by himself to pray, after his first day of “work” and after the death of John the Baptist. Not that these attempts to pray alone are always successful. Despite the fact that Jesus gets up while it is “still very dark”, his friends are able to hunt him down and disturb him. On other occasion when he takes a boat to the other side of the lake, he arrives to discover that the crowds he was trying to escape had reached there before him. Only after he feeds the 5000 is Jesus able to send the disciples off in the boat and have some time to himself.

Prayer makes the difference in one instance of healing and Jesus teaches his disciples to pray. On the night before he dies he takes his friends with him to the Garden where he prays that he won’t have to endure the suffering ahead before he once again submits to God’s will.

Prayer seems to have a number of functions in Jesus’ life and ministry. It enables him to test his vocation and his strength of character. It restores his energy and his spirit. It frees him to share with God his deepest fears and supports his ministry of healing. Apart from the Lord’s prayer and Jesus’ anguish in the garden we don’t know the nature of Jesus’ prayer or its content. What we do know is that Jesus’ ministry was enhanced and supported by his relationship with God, a relationship which was sustained by prayer.

Unfortunately for me, the form of prayer which my RE teacher taught was particularly unhelpful and restrictive and while I aspire to early rising to pray, I have yet to achieve it. However, over the years, I have learned that not only are there a variety of ways in which to pray, but that each of us needs to find a way to pray that suits us. That does not mean that we will pray in one way throughout our life, or even at one time in our lives. Like Jesus, we may find that there are times when we simply want to stop and be with God, other times when we will want to pour out our hearts in anguish at our own situation or that of others. There will be times when we want to pay particular attention to how God wants to direct our lives, and other times when we will want to ask for God’s intervention in someone’s life or in a particular situation in the world. There will be times when we use words and times when we do not, times when we seek quiet and times when being engaged in the bustle around us becomes a form of prayer.

Prayer covers a variety of ways of communing with God and it is essential to find the ways which work for us, that we develop our own relationship with God rather than relying on tools that work for someone else. Some of us are very good at intercessory prayers – prayers for others. They will regularly pray for those whom they love and those who they know need God’s intervention in their lives. Some of us are better at meditative or reflective prayer – the kind of prayer that waits on God. Some of us make up our own prayers and some use the words which others have written. Some use the discipline of morning or evening prayer and a great many of us retain our childhood habit of saying our prayers last thing at night. For some art and music transport them to the presence of God and for others it is relationships with those whom they love that draws them closest to God.

There is simply no limit to the ways in which we communicate with and deepen our relationship with God and there is no one way that is right for all of us all the time. If however, we are to develop and grow in our faith, if we are going to share in God’s compassion for the world and be party with God to the healing of those in need, if we are going to come to a deeper understanding of ourselves and of the presence of God in our lives, then we need to nurture that relationship through prayer.

Our prayers are not a talisman against harm, nor a magical spell to get what we want. Prayer is not a means to manipulate God or bend God’s will to ours. Rather prayer is a way to share our lives with the one who loves us best, to align our lives with God’s will and to share with God in restoring and redeeming the world. Through prayer we are able to develop an authentic relationship with God, to unite ourselves to the source of our being and find strength for our journey. As we pray, we allow the fruits of the spirit to grow in us and so become signs of the presence of God in the world.

It is not an optional extra. Prayer is the source of the divine in us, the means to communicate with God and the tool which will help us to grown into the people we are called to be. It doesn’t matter how we pray, when we pray or where we pray. What matters is that we do pray.

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