Lord, teach us to pray, this seemingly simple request from the disciples to Jesus reveals to us just how difficult we find prayer. Prayer would not have been alien to them, they would have attended the synagogue, they would have been taught to pray, but still they ask, their observations of Jesus prayer practices stirred a need within them and they wanted to learn. Jesus gives them what we now call the Lord’s prayer as a pattern, I am pretty sure he did not mean that we should simply repeat it by rote, and I am pretty sure that, that kind of thinking is what leaves many of us struggling. How do we pray, when do we pray?
Last week I re-watched one of my favourite films “Shadowlands” in which Anthony Hopkins plays C.S.Lewis, it is taken from the book by Brian Sibley of the same title, through it the story of C.S.Lewis and Joy Davidman is told. Lewis and Davidman have a unique love story, and a part of it centres upon her terminal cancer diagnosis, when asked by a fellow Oxford Don why he prays Lewis responds that it simply flows out of him, and adds after some questioning that prayer does not change God it changes him. This picture of deep relational dependence is perhaps what Jesus disciples were asking about, watching Jesus withdraw to pray day after day may well have intrigued them. Returning to the film/ book, Lewis used the term shadowlands in his Narnia books, to suggest that what we currently see is a shadow of the reality of the Kingdom of God that is so much more, which brings to mind images of the transfiguration and the description of Moses ascending the mountain and having to veil his face after being in God’s presence, as the radiance terrified those looking at him!
Yesterday I asked for specific prayer for a desire without giving details and I am grateful to those who responded and are praying for me. I also spoke to a friend who had, had prayer foisted upon him unsolicited by someone who had had a “word from the Lord”. We must be careful when we pray, offer and ask for prayer. I am grateful for wise friends who did not demand details from me but were happy to offer to pray anyway. Like my friend however, I have had prayer foisted upon me, when my son was in intensive care there were those who felt this showed my lack of faith, I have met the same when I have openly talked about suffering from depression, the line real Christians should never be depressed, and the assumption that there must be underlying sin hindering me is depressing in itself. I remember at that time listening to the Taizé Chant Within our Darkest night over and over again, it became the prayer that flowed out of me, a confession of faith in a time of darkness.
The difference between my request and my friends experience is perhaps key here, to ask for prayer is an expression of need, and maybe a prayer in itself, to have someone pray for you without it being requested is tantamount to abuse. Another conversation with another friend this morning also got me thinking, asking what prayer is, and feeling that we don’t really know but somehow need to enter into the mystery of it seem to go hand in hand. When we pray together in prayer groups and in churches and other gatherings maybe we need to be mindful of this. There are so many books written on how to pray, so many models given, some of which seem to me to border on magic spells that we need to get right before God will answer, and of course that doesn’t seem to be the experience of Lewis, Moses or even Jesus (think of Gethsemane).
I have made a request, I may or may not have my prayer answered in the way that I want it, but I do believe that God will somehow work through it, and in that I am already being changed, so I will continue to pray.