Inspired by Luke 18:9-14
When I first started ministry twenty years ago and went to different churches preaching, I would start by asking this question. How many wheels has a car got? "Four," would be the reply. Then someone else would shout "five" because there is the steering wheel. Finally, someone would shout "six," because there is a spare wheel in the boot. I then used wheels five and six as an analogy to how we use prayer. Do we use it to help steer our lives, seeking God's direction and guidance, or do we use prayer as a spare wheel, only to be used in an emergency?
Thinking about prayer, not only in conjunction with today’s reading of Luke 18:9-14, but because prayer is abundant in the Bible, I wrote down some thoughts about the subject. I offer them in no particular order of importance.
PUSH, seen on many doors, can be an acronym for Pray Until Something Happens. This, of course, corresponds to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians 5:17, where we are encouraged to pray without ceasing.
Prayer builds up our relationship with God. We come as we are, and our prayers are always good enough.
Prayer enables us to find peace, calms the body and removes us from the stresses and strains of a situation as we articulate our feelings and offer them to God.
Prayer helps us think.
Prayer enables us to listen to God's guidance, so there must always be an element of silence.
Prayer offers us perspective and a bigger picture, allowing us to remove ourselves from the myopic to God's universal vision of the world. By praying, we keep perspective as we acknowledge that we are not the centre of the universe.
Prayer helps us be observant because we take an interest in the world. We pray for our brothers and sisters worldwide.
Prayer enables us to focus on God.
Prayer helps us see ourselves as we are and means removing our mask, which we put on to help us in daily life. We need to come genuinely to a God who knows us well.
Prayer enables us to be compassionate and to see whatever issues we have through God's eyes.
Prayer needs action. So we pray and create the energy to keep going, for persistence in prayer is vital. We also have to think about what actions are needed to help those prayers come true.
Prayer enables us to receive God's grace, align our thoughts with God's and seek the justice which God wants for all of his creation.
Prayer allows us to hand everything over to God, and we have to have an attitude of expectation that our prayers have been answered. Whilst it is a cliche, it is true that sometimes the answers to prayer are "yes", sometimes "no", sometimes "maybe", or sometimes all in God's time, not ours. But it is also a cliche that you need be careful what you pray for. Sometimes it is not good for us, and that is why the prayer is denied.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”
Are we the answer to someone's prayer?
From prayer comes imagination, and from imagination, we start dreaming. We dream of what life could be like, and through imagination, create situations that could resolve our issues. From dreaming and imagination, you build a bridge to reality.
Prayer is a process. It is a process of cleansing and understanding. It needs acceptance of the situation and then looking for opportunities to do God's work. Through prayer, we can perhaps see what God wants us to do to help others as well as ourselves. The motives of our prayers are clear to God, and God cannot be fooled. So we need to examine our motives for why we wish something to occur.
So, prayer is about relationships. It is about understanding that God is love. It is about seeking a direction in life. It is providing us with strength and energy and renewed commitment. It is about aligning our wishings with God's. It is about believing in miracles and trusting in God.
Prayer helps us imitate Jesus, his values and the obedience that Jesus had to God, which, of course, was an extension of Jewish values, such as looking after the poor, the widows, and the marginalised.
One thing that stops our prayer life and the development of our spirituality is pride. In the Luke reading, we see a pharisee, a good, holy man, who went over and above what was needed, but there was no space for his to grow. He could not see the need. Self-importance filled his life, whereas the despised tax collector, not even able to look up, came to the temple in humility, recognising he was a sinner and requesting mercy.
So our prayer life has to direct all our life and has to give us room to grow, so that we can be more like Jesus in all that we do.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon