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It isn’t too often that I get particularly challenged by a question about our faith, but a couple of weeks ago one of those questions occurred. “So Deacon Ian. Do you really believe that prayer really works?” Now, this might seem a relatively simple question that deserves either a Yes or No answer. I could even say, “If I don’t, then why do I pray and advocate prayer?”
But, as is the way with these things, it can’t just be as simple an answer of Yes or No. When I take the time to consider prayer, and more especially my own prayer, it shouldn’t take me long to realise that there are effectively many different variations and types of prayer. If I just take a school Mass as an example we will ask the youngsters to read prayers, which will include both prayers of intercession (bidding prayers) and separately after Communion, prayers of thanks. We may include in the bidding prayers, petitions for the school, the sick, our community, the church and the whole world. These might also ask for the intercession of our patron saints and Mary our mother.
But also built into our Mass will be the opening prayer (collect), the prayer over the gifts and the prayer after Communion. This is without even mentioning the Eucharistic prayer and the Our Father. And then, we need to also consider the readings from scripture, the Gloria and the Creed.
As I have previously discussed, prayer is part of the whole unique relationship that we have with God the Father. It is different for each one of us and we each should feel comfortable in that relationship. Prayer might be described as one of the tools that we use to maintain that relationship. Just as in our other relationships, we use various methods of communication, talking, face to face contact, emails, written letters, phone calls, etc… then the way in which we communicate with God is what suits us.
We have to remember though, that the communication is a two way process, and that may be the hidden part of the initial question of “does prayer really work?”
I remember reading that many people’s perception of prayer is coloured by their childhood experience. How many of us can recite, without really thinking too hard, the words of the common prayers we had to learn when we were at school? Over time there is a danger that they become just words and the meaning of those words is lost in the rhythm of saying them. But more significantly these prayers are all about talking.
It is also interesting to note that there are numerous well documented accounts of how many people only turn to prayer when things get desperate. Often this is when the situation is out of our control, and we want God to ‘sort it out’ for us. But this is on our terms, and we then use the outcomes to judge whether or not God has answered my prayers.
It takes time and practice to become comfortable with other types of prayer. Some find just sitting in silence in the presence of the Lord to be threatening. Others feel an uncomfortableness in engaging with the scriptures. Asking God to speak to me and guide me feels awkward and out of my control. Saying I will let go and be guided, is quite different from actually doing it.
The key to this question however, I think lies right in the middle of the prayer that Jesus himself taught us.
Who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
THY WILL BE DONE
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
If we truly mean this prayer as we say it, no matter how much against the outcome we wish for, then our prayers are certainly answered.
We believe and trust that God loves us and cares for us. His will is right for us, but at times we just can’t see and accept it. That is when our relationship is tested, it is also the time when prayer can be most powerful, private, personal and intense.
As we might spend a bit of time reflecting, let us ask God for the patience and ability to mean the words when we say – thy will be done.
Deacon Ian Black