Be careful what you ask for

Somebody nice recently asked me to write something about prayer. I demurred, on the grounds that they had the wrong person in their sights. They misunderstood, and thought I’d said I’d do it. Which was awkward.

So I did it.

And here it is, for what it’s worth.

Whilst it’s flattering to be asked to write on prayer, I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified. In fact, I’m entirely sure I’m not qualified. Generally my prayer life is erratic and, at best, a bit odd. But, for better or worse, here we go (in heavily abridged form!).

I believe prayer is important. I believe it’s key. I know that it does me good (and I mean that absolutely, not just metaphorically – the difference is palpable). But I don’t understand it. Despite reading, studying, practicing and practising it, I don’t really have a handle on it. And I’m somewhat random at actually doing it. I struggle with the language of prayer. The way it’s spoken ofas conversation and dialogue when, for me, it’s often more of a monologue punctuated by silence, made worse by a wandering mind. I love words, and I love talking with people; my experience of prayer in no way mirrors any human conversation I’ve ever had. So when it comes to ‘hearing’ the ‘answer’ there’s the added complication of trying to discern whether whatever nudge, prompting or inclination is growing in me is from God, or just internal. Or both. Or neither.

And yet. I pray. From shopping-list to ‘arrow’ prayers; from spontaneous praise to angst, grumbles and rants; from lifting up friends to praying the best for those who really tick me off; from I don’t know what to I don’t know where. In sincere belief and profound doubt, in fits and starts, I pray. Kinda. Sometimes. A bit. Not enough.

Despite all of that, a few things do stand out. One is, prayer ‘works’ – not necessarily at the obvious level, but by way of growing, developing, maturing and changing the very me-ness of me. Slowly, admittedly, but it does. My life is not the life I’ve prayed for, but who I am today is the result of those prayers (to put a book into a somewhat obscure sentence).

More importantly, like worship, prayer isn’t so much an activity as a heart attitude, an underpinning to all of life. Just as ‘worship’ in church is a sub-set of Worship – what we do the rest of the time that honours God – so I’m beginning to grasp ‘prayer’ is (or should be) a constant flow throughout all aspects and every moment of life. Not because we’re constantly rattling off a list of requests, but because if we’re living for Christ and in Christ then it’s inescapable that we need to be in tune with Christ as we do it, all of it. The whole darn business of simply being is enfolded in our relationship with God from start to finish, and prayer in all its forms needs to be shot though it all – from simple awareness of God in the moment, to explicit vocalised prayer on a specific subject and all points in between. It’s both bigger, deeper, profounder, more complex, yet also simpler, lighter, and easier than I, at least, tend to grasp.

Which brings us back to where I came in: with me most definitely not qualified (by example) to be writing anything on the subject in the first place …

(Originally written on request for the church magazine. Mad fools.)