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A Simple Man’s Guide to Prayer

These notes were written by Michael Taylor, a long time member of our Church until he retired to the coast. They provoked some interest and discussion amongst our members at the time, and continue to be a source of mental stimulation from time to time.

A Simple Man’s Guide to Prayer

Recently the stewards have been thinking about the prayer life at our church and, at the Christian Resources Exhibition, I looked at some books on prayer. There were too many for me to make a choice, so I bought books on other topics instead. Instead of a well researched article on prayer I can only offer my own simple thoughts.

Prayer is a vital part of our Christian lives as it is the way we communicate with God. Our modern world would collapse if communication systems failed; even personal relationships fail if we do not communicate with our friends and family. So it is with our relationship with God; if we do not communicate a relationship cannot exist. Jesus gave many examples of the need to pray and even how we should pray.

But still we struggle with prayer. Some Christians seem to think prayer is a wish list presented to God and it reminds me of the list I used write to Father Christmas – with the same lack of result!

At Stoneleigh we have progressed beyond wish lists and we know that Jesus said God knows our every need before we pray. So clearly prayer is for our benefit and is not simply a way to keep God informed. The act of prayer concentrates our minds on the issues that concern us, the actions we regret as well as the blessings for which we give thanks, and God uses it to help us follow His will.

This is not to say that prayer is simply an aid to  living a life centred on God. It is much more,  and the power of prayer should never be underestimated. God hears and responds to our prayers. One of my concerns is that sometimes we spend a lot more time talking to God than we do in listening for His response. Communication is a two way process and listening is vital. There is, of course, the risk that we may not like the response. When we pray for help for the poor, the hungry or the homeless, God may just ask us to help in some way.

How does God respond? Perhaps that is a question for another article. Perhaps you have a view on this question and would like to write about it for the Link.

 Michael Taylor – July 1997

A Simple Man’s Guide to Prayer – II

Last time I posed the question “How does God respond to prayer?”

Naively I hoped that some learned theologian would provide me with the answer, but there was no response and now I find myself with the difficult task of answering my own question.

All of us can quote examples of when God has responded to prayer. When the impossible has happened; the incurable have been cured; the unchangeable has been changed. There can be no doubting the power of prayer. But these examples are not the everyday response to our prayers and we are all too aware that sometimes our prayers seem unanswered.

Unfortunately we think that prayer means talking to God, but it also means listening for the reply. It helps if, after prayer, we let our thoughts simply centre on God to see if there is some thought or idea which might be guidance from God. It will not be a booming voice crying from the heavens but a small, still voice within. Often there will be nothing but a sense of comfort that we have shared a concern with God or a feeling of strength to help us overcome some difficulty.

Recently I was praying for people who suffer torture and imprisonment simply because they have spoken out against tyranny. Shortly after I received a phone call from Amnesty International asking for my help. As a member I support their work, but I was busy and declined to assist, and it was only as I put the phone down that I remembered my prayer. God had responded by asking something of me and in my haste I had not listened.

Too often we draw God’s attention to the needs of the poor, the church, or for peace in troubled areas, but we do not listen to the response which may call for some action by us. It is right that we pray for these issues and in many cases we cannot help resolve the problems, but occasionally God may be seeking some help from us.

Sometimes God will not answer our prayer, at least not in the way we want. When Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives just before His arrest he said “Father, if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done”  God did not remove the suffering but gave comfort and strength.

This time I will not pose any difficult question for you to answer – I have learned from my mistake! Next month the simple man will look at when and where to pray.

I must stress that these thoughts are my own. My objective is simply to promote some thought or discussion on prayer. I am not a local preacher and do not have any theological training, but ordinary Christians are allowed to have views! Sometimes we are too reluctant to share our experiences and an important learning opportunity is lost. Our more learned leaders will be happy to help where our thinking is woolly or headed down the wrong track.

Michael Taylor – September 1997

A Simple Man’s Guide to Prayer – III

Where and when should we pray?

Most Christians will say this is a very easy question to answer – anywhere at any time. Someone less familiar with church life may find the question more difficult. “On your knees in church”  might seem an outdated response, but many of us can recall being taught to pray before jumping into bed. “Hands together and eyes closed”  was a strict requirement, and I  believed a quick peep would result in God not hearing the prayer!

I am not suggesting that this childish simplicity exists with adults, but for some the last time they prayed was as a child. As Christians familiar with the concept of prayer we forget how alien it may be to the unchurched, who may still regard prayer as a ritual requiring privacy and imposing a further demand on their time.

A regular quiet time for prayer and meditation is essential for many Christians, but others with families and busy schedules simply cannot find the time for solitude. For some a regular quiet time becomes a routine which loses spontaneity and spirituality. We must each discover what works best for us. For me a walk in Nonsuch Park with my dog is a time for prayer as I feel the closeness of God, but when I was at work the walk to the station was a time for prayer.

Rabbi Lionel Blue tells the story of a time when his flight was delayed. His fellow passengers were furious and spent time haranguing airport officials or complaining to one another. One traveller, a nun, sat quietly and seemed unperturbed. Rabbi Blue asked her how she could remain so calm. She responded by saying that there was nothing she could do to rectify the delay which  she regarded as a gift of time from God; a time in which she could sit quietly and pray. We all have such times in our day as we wait for buses, trains or sit in traffic jams; little windows of time we could use for prayer.

Lack of time is not an excuse for anyone and, since prayer does not require a ritual – even closing of eyes – privacy is not essential. Quiet solitude may help some to feel the presence of God but even in a hurried world we can learn to communicate with God wherever we may be regardless of the time.

Michael Taylor – October 1997

A Simple Man’s Guide to Prayer IV

So far the response to this short series has been limited. A close friend, who feels able to tell me difficult truths, says it is because nobody reads the articles. This cannot be entirely correct because a non-Christian has found them “interesting”. So for the benefit of my only reader I will persevere.

Last month we considered when and where to pray and now I would like to think about the problem of prayer language.

There are many examples of  prayers expressed in poetry or prose that capture our thoughts, emotions and express our innermost feelings so effectively. In church, sometimes we hear prayers which have been written in an archaic language: certainly not the style of everyday modern speech. We rejoice in the richness and spirituality of these prayers, but for those unfamiliar with prayer it suggests a form or style which must be incorporated into their private prayer. They struggle to express themselves.

It is unnecessary; conversational language is fine. God is not interested in the style or grammatical construction of your prayers, but in your thoughts and emotions. Personal prayers do not need to be said aloud, but they must be from your heart and mind. A stumbling block for many Christians who are reluctant to lead prayers in church or house groups lies in their concern at using the right language and form.

If we are to allow God to play a major role in our lives, if He is to be at the centre of our lives, then frequent prayer will become necessary and natural. It will not be like constructing a carefully worded speech.

One prayer that should be said every day is the Lord’s Prayer, even if it is the only prayer. I find it helps to go through it slowly thinking about the words. It avoids a mechanical reciting of the words which for me is meaningless.

Since starting this series our new minister, Stan Brown, has arrived, and is following a theme based on prayer for the Wednesday evening services. In an effort not to be upstaged by The Link, The Methodist Recorder has also introduced a monthly series on prayer which promises to be a more riveting read.

Michael Taylor – November 1997

A Simple Man’s Guide to Prayer – V

In previous articles I said that the form, language or place of prayer were not important. Now I would suggest that the length of your prayer time is not critical. An hour of prayer in silence and solitude away from your normal surroundings can bring an enormous sense of inner peace and tranquillity, but for most of us this cannot be a common experience. A regular prayer time is recommended, but it is not always easy to pray for, say, twenty minutes each day at a set time.

As prayer is communicating with God it should not be restricted to a fixed daily schedule. So the length of prayer times will be varied and sometimes will be simply a few words. These short prayers are called arrow prayers. ‘Thank God’ is a prayer, if said sincerely and with God in mind.

Frequent prayer is to be encouraged, but care is required to avoid superficial prayer. Why should I pray for a fine day for my BBQ when my neighbour and farmers are praying for much needed rain for their plants and crops? Praying for a car parking slot when you are Christmas shopping in Kingston falls into this category, and I worry even more when someone tells me that God has answered their prayers when, unexpectedly, there is a free slot!

Some days so many petty and trivial thoughts seem to crowd our minds that we find it difficult to pray. We simply cannot connect with God. The more we worry about it, the more remote He seems. Sometimes we start our prayers and then realise that our thoughts have wandered in another direction, and it seems impossible to concentrate our minds on God. It may help to interrupt your schedule for the day and do something unplanned. Take a short walk, think about a loved one or count the things you have been blessed with in life. If this fails remember that God knows your thoughts, needs and desires, and is still with you.

Should difficulties with prayer persist, talk to someone you can trust and who will listen to your concerns. Sometimes we think prayer is so personal we are reluctant to discuss this type of problem with even our closest friends, or the minister. We are quick to seek help if we experience problems with our physical well being, but harbour spiritual pain or sickness to ourselves. Prayer is crucial to our spiritual development and any worries or concerns about it must be resolved .

This series has taken a very simple view of its subject. For many Christians prayer is second nature, and there is a lack of appreciation of the problems it poses for those seeking faith, or for new Christians. This can be especially true for men, and we need to encourage prayer sensitively. Read about prayer, see what Jesus says about it in the Gospels and speak to someone if you have prayer problems.

Remember, you can read about God and you can listen to sermons, but to know him you need to communicate with him. That is prayer, and as Mother Teresa said, “The fruit of prayer is faith.”

Michael Taylor – December 1997

All items are ©Michael Taylor and Stoneleigh Methodist Church, and may be reproduced only with permission.

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