I’m only an amateur, all I hope to do is to stimulate discussion and sharing.
Tom Wright—The Lord and his Prayer p4
Prayer is of course a mystery. Many Christians, including many clergy, have come to accept that they don’t find prayer easy, that they don’t really understand what it does or can do. Many have become in a puzzled sort of way, vaguely reconciled to this perplexity, as though it makes them in some way second class citizens. Some lay folk, if you ask them about their own prayer, will tend to say’Oh, I leave that to the clergy’. Some clergy will say’Oh, I leave the serious stuff to the monks and nuns’. Some in the monastic communities will say ‘well, we can’t all be mystics, can we?
Prayer is trying to raise our hearts and minds to God.
As Father Michael exhorted us once on the retreat at Ditchingham we must put our minds into our hearts and stand before the Lord, our God.
But why pray at all? Because Jesus did.
Luke tells us that Jesus was praying at his Baptism when the Heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. Luke 3:21
On the morning after a great day of healing in Capernaum, he was up before dawn praying to the Father. And then went on a tour of Galillee Luke 4:40-42
He prayed for a night before choosing his disciples Luke 6 :12-13 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray and He spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came he called his disciples and chose 12 of them, whom he also named Apostles.
It was while he was praying that the Transfiguration occurred. Luke 9:28-29
Luke 11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord teach us to pray as John taught his disciples ‘Our Father’
He prayed for his disciples before he left the Upper Room
He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane ‘not my will but thine be done’
He prayed before his arrest and even on the cross.
If we are to learn to pray it is clear that we must value prayer, have faith in it and be ready to practise it. Faith in prayer is really faith in the God to whom we pray, faith in what he has done in Christ and through Christ, not only in the moment of time in which He lived among us, but in his continuing presence with us now.
However we cannot simply get straight into a shopping list of what we want! And I offer to you 2 formulas (ad lib)
Preparation: praise and thanksgiving
Reparation: confession and repentance. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you. Mark 11: 24-25
Asking: intercession on behalf of oneself and others
Yearning: repeating, persistence, holding before God, being in his presence.
*The Friend at Midnight (Luke 11: 5-9), the story of Abraham asking God to spare the people of Sodom (Genesis 18: 22-33),and the persistent petitioner (Luke 18: 1-14) all emphasise the value of persistence.
Adoration: coming into his presence, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Confession: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us
Thanksgiving: count blessings and be grateful
Supplication: intercessions on behalf of the world, the Church and ourselves.
Use hymns: sing – anyone who sings prays twice!- or say
Praise my soul the King of Heaven (Adoration)
Look Father look on his anointed face- (vs 2 Hymn 273 EH) Confession;
Now thank we all our God Thanksgiving
And then for those our dearest and our best (vs 3 Hymn 273 EH) Supplication
Jesus taught that wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in his name he would grant their request but he also taught us to pray in his name, and to pray in Christ’s name is to pray as he would have done ‘Thy will be done’
We all know the story of the 4 men who dug through the roof to get a paralytic man to Jesus to be healed.
The role of the ‘companions’ is striking. As the story stands it seems that the faith was entirely theirs, and not the sick man’s at all. It is they that do the hard work of ‘digging through’ to Jesus for his sake. What they do for their friend is a perfect image of Christian intercession. It is the vocation of all Christians to carry others to God in their prayer and lay them before him. It is hard work which can often feel like trying to ‘dig through the ceiling’. The people we pray for may have no faith at all, or even the knowledge that they are being prayed for. But God, it seems, can use our act of will for others: our prayer may open a channel that lets his grace into the world to work for them in ways we ourselves may never see. (Jeffrey John The Meaning in the Miracles p 40)
When do we pray?
Knowing some prayers by heart
You don’t always need a structure of words. Someone wrote to a friend who was suffering from cancer ‘I shall spend 10 minutes just thinking about you and Jesus’. That is another brilliant definition of intercessory prayer. You don’t send in your list of requests, you don’t bombard God with your demands, you just hold the image, the sense of the a person or situation in the presence of God as if you want to let one seep into the other bringing these two realities together in your mind and heart.
For centuries, lighting a candle has been a symbol representing the offering up of a prayer to God. It is also a delightful way of teaching a child to pray.
Think of a person or a hope you have – big or little. As you light the candle share that hope with God. Just as the flame and smoke rise up from the candle imagine your prayer rising up to God.
I love the verse from Psalm 141 sometimes used in Evening Prayer ‘Let my Prayer rise before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice’
We must never forget that Prayer is a 2-way conversation with God and we must stop talking in order to listen and hear what God is saying to us.
Daniel, in the story of interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, knew how to listen and wait for God’s revelation. (Daniel Ch 2) For many of us this is the really difficult part of prayer; we rush in with our requests but rush out again without waiting for a reply.
Prayer is a corporate business too. Daniel doesn’t simply pray but encourages his friends to do so too. At times of trouble there is a huge benefit in knowing that others are praying too. Knowing that others are praying is itself a help and strength. (which is why we have an emergency Prayer Link )
Another way we can hear God’s message is thro’ what other people say to us, especially when we get the same message from more than one source.
Intercessions in Church
The intercessions in Church are part of the Liturgy of the Word and they should fit in with the Collect, Epistle and Gospel and hopefully sermon for the particular Sunday so the first thing is to say the second prayer on your sheets ‘Lord help us to pray’ and then read the readings.
There are books which will give you headings (Ted Burge and Raymond Chapman) that tie in completely with the readings (ad lib)
but otherwise take the broad outlines and pray for:
the Church of Christ
Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority
the local community
Those who suffer
The communion of Saints
Most Churches have an intercession book——-and the Diocese has a prayer calendar
Keep intercessions short and to the point or congregation won’t listen!
Use a well known response ——-
Keep language consistent Thou or you
Don’t be too vague (sad and lonely places!) or too particular
Churches vary -you don’t have to pray for the dead but we can all pray for those that mourn.
It is a time of rejoicing when we come together
It is a time of sadness when we leave.
But we leave, not alone, but carrying with us the gifts received from this group.
We carry with us the ever-strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit who will guide us and support us as we live out our beliefs.
This we know because of the faith Jesus has given us.
This we know because we are baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.