In a piece originally written to coincide with the international and ecumenical 'Thy Kingdom Come' prayer event The Diocesan Bishop of The Church of England in Lancashire, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Blackburn, tells us more and why we pray and also gives some helpful advice about how to pray …
A friend of mine was serving overseas with the army when the base where they were working came under sustained accurate fire from rockets and mortars. The soldiers all followed their training drills and immediately took cover by lying on the floor.
As the explosions erupted nearby one of the soldiers near my friend began to cry out ‘O God, I don’t want to die!’.
My friend’s reaction to this was to think that seems a very good prayer and quickly added: ‘Lord, count me in on that request too!’
I am happy to say that both survived the incident. But the story illustrates a very natural part of human nature when things go wrong – we pray.
It’s as if prayer is a very natural part of what it means for us to be human – hard wired into our make-up is desire to ask God for help.
These days many people find themselves so busy getting on with the ‘busyness’ of life that that they don’t make time to pray; but when their world is rocked by events they seem powerless to overcome the human instinct to pray still rises to the surface.
I once met a couple who had what could be regarded as the perfect life. She ran her own business which was beginning to take off and he was a professional sportsman and had just become both British and European Champion in his chosen sport.
They had a very lovely home and their life had just been enriched by the birth of their first child. Speaking with the couple as part of a baptism visit, they spoke about why they had started coming to church.
They spoke about the birth of their daughter as being a ‘miracle’ and they felt a sense of thankfulness at the gift of new life that had become part of their family.
They commented that, while they understood the biology that had brought about the pregnancy, they had a deep sense of thankfulness that this new life wasn’t just a matter of biology; but their daughter was a gift from God. So they had decided to express their thanks to Him.
That is a second motivation for us to pray: to give thanks; to rejoice in the rich blessings that we experience daily.
Again, an essential part of human nature is to say ‘Thank God’. But while sometimes these words might pass our lips almost without thought, behind them lies a sense of gratitude to God for His kindness, goodness, care and protection.
So, we have already established two reasons why people pray. But alongside turning to God in prayer for help and to express thanks, the deepest purpose of prayer is to build a relationship with God, which begins when we turn to Christ, submit to Christ, and come to Christ who is the way, the truth and the life; familiar words from the baptism and confirmation service.
For me prayer is foundational to my Christian Faith, rather like breathing I simply could not live without prayer. My life of prayer began when a strong sense of connection with Jesus took on new importance in my teens.
Having made a conscious decision at that point to follow Jesus Christ I found I wasn’t simply turning to God for help or occasionally thanking Him when things went well, but through prayer I was building a relationship with a God who knew me and loved me.
When I pray, alongside bringing to God the things that are important to me, I also take time to reflect on the nature and character of the person I am talking to. For me an important part of praying isn’t just talking but also listening and trying to discover God’s will and purpose for my life, and reading the Bible prayerfully as it is the chief means whereby we hear what God has to say to us.
We read in the Bible that Jesus’ disciples once asked him to teach them to pray and Jesus’ response was to give to his followers a prayer which we now know as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.
These words give us both a prayer to offer which covers our core human needs and gives us a pattern for prayer that can be helpful to follow.
One line from the Lord’s Prayer also gives the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ event its title, so as ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ begins this week I invite you to consider afresh the part that prayer plays in your own life. What we are asking for when we pray, ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, is for God’s rule in our lives, our communities and our world, to become more and more a reality – where his will is done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Perhaps you do occasionally ask God for help or you simply remember say ‘thank you’ when something has gone well in your life. If so, that is a great start.
I would like to challenge you to discover more about the wonders of prayer and the impact it can have on your life; connecting with the God who created you, loves you, offers you hope, has a plan and purpose for your life and who longs to be in relationship with you.
As I said earlier, praying is a very natural human activity, so find somewhere private and start talking to God.
You can talk out loud if that helps or if that feels unnatural or a bit odd then simply offer the thoughts and ideas that are in your mind to God. As you ‘chat’ with God do take a few moments to stop and listen to what he has to say to you from the Bible.
There are two important things about prayer:
1) Don’t worry about finding the right words; God cares much more about the fact we want to talk to Him than if we are using the right form of words
2) Take time to discover more about the person you are talking to – as a Christian I believe that we discover the nature and character of God by encountering his Son Jesus Christ, who in the Bible said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10 v10)
So, during ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ and beyond, I invite you discover the joy of prayer and through prayer discover the reality of God’s love for everyone.
Rt Rev Julian Henderson
Bishop of Blackburn
- This article - written to coincide with Thy Kingdom Come also featured on the Thy Kingdom Come official blog, in regional media including the Lancashire Post and in The Church of England Newspaper.
Ronnie Semley May 24, 2017