Reader Writes - September 2019
Bear Grylls tells the story of a mishap with a parachute that very nearly cost him his life; plunging to earth at a fatal speed he cried out to God. There are not many atheists in situations like that he remarks. Well, as we know, God answered his frantic prayer and he survived, despite coming within a whisker, as the surgeon put it, of total paralysis. Less dramatically, but to make the point, it is recounted by an Army chaplain that on the tense voyage south to recapture the Falkland Islands, the mess was crammed full for services. On the way back, the worshippers giving thanks were rather few! But what is prayer all about? Of course people of faith cry out when life throws its worst at us, but there is much more and something far more enduring going on.
I find it helpful to think of prayer as the way in which we articulate our relationship with God. Many times in scripture we are told to come to God the Father in the way a child naturally turns to its parent. We long for comfort, guidance, security, love. Our Father in heaven loves to provide them. When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray he told them a parable of the grumpy neighbour who didn’t want to have to get up and find bread for the disorganised man next door. Yet he did, because he was a neighbour. As God’s children we have far more rights than a neighbour; Jesus said “Ask and it shall be given to you, Seek and you shall find!” Such forthright prayer is our right as children and God’s delight as our Father. Try him out; he’ll love it. And we might be surprised by the ways he answers our prayers. We don’t need to try a malfunctioning parachute to see spectacular answers to prayer.
But prayer as a way of life is far more than asking God to notice our needs and worries. It is much more following our Father and watching where he is leading, where he is already at work. Frederick Beuchner said ‘go where your best prayers take you, unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy’. That’s because God is out ahead and very active. While I am grumbling about the state of democracy etc (I’ll speak only for myself), God who is sovereign is already at work. He cares about justice and therefore about democracy; but he requires us, the Church, to be involved.
When God rescued the Israelites by bringing them miraculously across the Red Sea, Moses asked (insisted) that God go ahead of them and lead them where Yahweh willed. Our own plans might make sense according to God’s gift of reason and according to hard won experience, but the Lord of the universe may have something new for us and be willing us to follow. We’d better be listening! Cry out when life’s parachutes tear, but also listen to the still small voice saying “This is the way, walk in it” because our Lord has plans and he wants us to join him. In a fractious political landscape and in a community with plenty of challenges, that’s a pretty exciting proposition. Despite everything it turns out that the rusty hinge of history is the bended knee in prayer.