In these uncertain times I have the impression that there is a lot more prayer about than usual. So what can I say about prayer?
Jesus gives little advice about prayer except that it should be free of hypocrisy, devoid of empty phrases, and preferably done in secret (Matthew 6:1-8; Mark 12:38,40). The public prayers and self-regarding rituals of the scribes and Pharisees are treated with scorn (Matthew 6:16-18). The prayer recommended by Jesus is simple and almost entirely petitionary in character (Matthew 6:9-13). His own prayer takes place before or after public ministry; he withdraws to pray, and almost always prays alone. In John’s Gospel (John 17:6-26) he prays – in addition to other things - that his disciples may be kept in the truth, protected from evil, and “may all be one……….so that the world may believe”.
Prayer, for Teilhard de Chardin, was “to lose oneself in the unfathomable” – he was talking of adoration.
For George Herbert it was the best kind of conversation he could find on earth. Through prayer he arrived into conversation with Christ.
Alexander Cruden in his Concordance, first published in 1737, told his readership that prayer could be seen as having eight “parts”: invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, dedication, thanksgiving, blessing.
So from the essentially simple prayers of Jesus, over two thousand years the church has gradually built what I might call an edifice of prayer. I wonder, if we compare the types of prayer that Jesus used with what we use in our congregations, what we would find…..
Back in the time of Jesus, the Jews had their daily lives punctuated by prayer, at home, during work, in the synagogue and on special occasions in the temple. Jesus went further. His wish was for his disciples to understand prayer as underpinning every minute and aspect of their daily lives.
What Jesus did was to encourage the disciples to believe that they would become closest to God in a quiet place, more often than not alone, and that they could use this prayerful experience when they subsequently came together in community to feel that human warmth of faith in an act of collective worship.
Now then, as well as Cruden’s eight “parts” of prayer, I want to suggest that there are two “kinds” of prayer: vocal and silent. They work for me, at least. You may have your own ways.
“Silent” is what I do at home every day (well, nearly every day – pobody’s nerfect!). I find a quiet time. I sit comfortably. I try to empty myself of the world. I wait on God. If that works (but it often doesn’t) I find myself in what a more prayerful person than I calls “the uncluttered business of being alone in the ultimate Presence”.
Armed with that experience – in normal times – I go to church on Sundays to join with you, my fellow believers, being vocal, reciting and singing prayers to Almighty God.