Everyday faith: Prayer

Prayer (I)

BY GEORGE HERBERT

Prayer: the church’s banquet, angel’s age,

God’s breath in man returning to his birth,

The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,

The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth,

Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,

Reversèd thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,

Exalted manna, gladness of the best,

Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,

The milky way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,

The land of spices; something understood.

Which of the images for prayer particularly grab you?  What comparison do they invite to your own experience of prayer?

Introduction

To be invited to speak to others about prayer is a privilege, but is also pitilessly humbling.

It is a privilege, because this is a topic that draws us rapidly onto ground that is sacred.  One cannot speak meaningfully about prayer as merely a set of techniques, or of public rituals.  We knock, rather, at the inner sanctum of your heart, and mine.  The hidden chamber where hide the deepest longings of our hearts.  The place where God’s healing touch is at work, which is to say, the place where we can be most raw and vulnerable.  Of this privilege, I have been strongly aware as I have prepared; and I would invite each of us to bear it in mind this evening.  We must be gentle with ourselves, and with one another.

This topic is also, I say, pitiless to one who attempts to teach on it.  As St James writes, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”[1]  My own attempts to take prayer mainly serve to highlight my own instability and radical unseriousness.  From the point of view of achievement in the spiritual life, I have nothing to say to you; I can speak only as one who knows his own need of prayer, and of God’s help to pray.

With that preamble: I hope to cover two aspects of this topic this evening.  In the second half of my talk, I want to make a few suggestions about how we might pray.  However, the danger of too quickly moving to “how” – which necessarily opens out into a menu of options – is that the whole thing risks becoming consumerist and self-oriented.  So the first part of my talk will look at what we think is actually happening when we pray, and how a practice of prayer arises from our fundamental commitment to Christ.

As a way into this first topic, I want to ask you about your own experience of and practice of prayer.  We’ll do this by reading together George Herbert’s famous sonnet entitled “Prayer”.

[Read the poem]

The poem offers a great variety of images for prayer.  They are not joined together in any kind of argument – the poem consists of a single run of phrases, but it’s not really a sentence at all since it doesn’t contain a main verb, which means the various phrases are not firmly organised relative to one another.  This leaves us great freedom in how we might understand their relation to one another and, in a moment, I’m going to ask you to get together with your immediate neighbours to talk about which images particularly grab you, and what they express for you.

First, however, a few points of explanation.  Many of Herbert’s phrases need some thought simply because they are utterly original – but a few might be a bit obscure unless one gets the references:

  • In line one, “angel’s age” might be read as meaning “eternity” (since angels were classically thought to live in God’s timelessness);
  • In line 4, the “plummet”.  In modern English, this means a falling from a great height, and that meaning is not absent here.  However, Herbert’s immediate reference is to a piece of lead on the end of a string: used by builders to find the perpendicular and keep walls straight; or to sound the depth of a well, or any unknown depth.  (Upwards and downwards, height and depth, get mixed up several times in this poem.)
  • The reference to “a kind of tune” in line 8 is a bit obscure, but it might be making an analogy to the music of the spheres.  The ancients saw the earth as the centre of the cosmos.  Around us were a series of crystal spheres (each carrying a moon, or planet, or sun, or star).  The spheres were thought to rub together, producing a music that filled the whole world – a harmony that we are so used to, that we do not notice it.  There are of course other references to stars or the Milky Way.
  • “Heaven in ordinary”, line 11: “ordinary” in one sense means straightforward or commonplace.  But Herbert was closer to the uses that are preserved in church-speak: where “ordinary time” is ordered or regular time; and the ordinary of a diocese (its bishop) holds all in regularity.
  • Finally, the bird of paradise: according to ancient legend, this bird remains always in flight, never settling on land.  Although one might also, of course, read this as a denizen of heaven.

But enough of what I think the poem says.  I want to invite you now to discuss with your neighbours: which of the images for prayer particularly grab you; and what comparison they invite to your own experience of prayer.

Discussion in small groups (5 mins), then invite feedback and draw out the main themes (10 mins).

What happens when we pray?

Have you ever tried to explain to a non-believer why we pray – what effect we believe it has – what we hope or expect might happen as a result of our prayers?  It can be difficult. 

This is partly because of the mystery that always surrounds the character and activities of God.  Whilst our faith is based on revelation, that does not mean we understand everything, or that our faith is some kind of penny dispenser of answers to metaphysical questions.

But beyond the mystery, there is also a risk that, as we try to explain prayer, we actually dishonour God by casting doubt on His character.  Consider some logical dilemmas:

  • If God knows what is best for us, why does He just not do it?  Why would He need to be asked?  If God were both good and omnipotent, why would we ever need to pray at all?
  • Why does God answer some prayers and not others?  Is God more likely to respond if we pester than if we ask just once?  Or if we offer a sacrifice in exchange for a favour?  Does God, indeed, have favourites?
  • Furthermore, do not human freedom and dignity require us to work out our own answers, rather than to turn all the time to a parent to sort things out?  Does the possibility of divine intervention – operating apparently semi-randomly – not undermine the predictability or stability of the universe which is necessary for human freedom and moral responsibility?

I have to say that some Bible stories seem to deepen these difficulties, rather than resolving them.  The story of Abraham bargaining with God for the lives of the people of Sodom[2] has always seemed to me to present God as arbitrary, vain and irrational.

Perhaps the place to start grappling with these difficulties is a recognition that prayer is an almost universal human phenomenon.  But, at the same time, it is not a single phenomenon – it includes a number of different cases, which we must distinguish.

In most societies and cultures, people pray.  Even in the UK’s highly secular culture, surveys have shown that around half of the population overall pray[3], and a fifth of people who have no religious affiliation pray.  In fact, I actually wonder whether the Christian character of the organisations carrying out this research has led them to underestimate the proportion, by using an overly narrow definition of the word “pray”, as referring only to petitions addressed to God.  If you broaden that, the true proportion is probably even larger.  It is an interesting exercise to stop people in the street and ask them if they pray – it is one we were asked to do when I was at theological college – and I found a good proportion of those who say “yes” go on to explain that they are not praying so much to God as to parents or ancestors, angels or others who they believe are in heaven.  I can confirm this from pastoral experience; people often light a candle and speak to the dead person directly.  Some Christians would be happy to say that they pray to the saints – myself, I am happier to express this as that I ask the saints to pray for me, but perhaps it comes to the same thing.  Then, of course, many religious traditions include praying to personifications of nature, or of ethical ideas, which may not have anything much to do with a Christian understanding of God.  What are we to make of all this?

Let us begin from one of Herbert’s descriptions of prayer is, “God’s breath in man returning to his birth.”  On one level, we can understand this as a reference to how humanity was created.  We were shaped from dust, but then God’s breath entered into the mud-pie and so we became ensouled.  Because the reference is to our common creation, then the reference is universal: in each human being there is a spark of divinity – the image of God, no less.  And, because of this kindling fire inside each human heart, it is a natural tendency of human beings to seek the divine, to reach out beyond the visible and immediate so as to discern the meaning and transcendence of our existence.  As St Paul writes: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”[4]  And so, we pray.

As they engage this entirely natural and universal activity, humans are trying to figure things out by reading the clues in creation.  I am not at all trying to say that this is nothing to do with God.  On the contrary, natural revelation is a work of the Holy Trinity.  We can only read the clues that point towards God because creation is orderly and meaningful, and that is only the case because creation arises from the shaping work of the seminal Word who is God’s Son.  We can deduce something of God from our humanity only because we are created in the divine image, and that is only the case because the Son of God assumes our humanity and carries it into the godhead.  And then, the Spirit of God is immanent in creation, defeating chaos and maintaining balance.  Both Son and Spirit proceed from the Father, who is the ultimate destination of our longing, the reference-point of all spirituality.  In short, natural revelation is only possible because of the work of the Trinitarian God.  Nevertheless, natural revelation is different from special revelation.  In other words, this business of humanity drawing conclusions on the basis of our own observations is not exactly the same as God giving us a revelation.  The universal habit of prayer rests, if you like, on a pre-Christian spirituality, which operates through humans trying to figure things out for themselves. 

This is the case for those who pray, but do not pray through Christ.  Who pray, that is, without knowledge of Christ, and without Christ acting Himself as intercessor at the throne of grace.  I do not wish to be dismissive of non-Christian spirituality, and I have stressed that there is a good deal of the work of God in enabling such prayers.  But, ultimately, they consist of attempts to discern the face of God from the divine image in humanity; and such attempts are doomed to at least partial failure, because that image is marred and obscured by sin.  When it comes to prayer, human appeals to an unknown God, but about whose character we make assumptions based on our observations of the world… well, such prayer is bound to be an uncertain affair.  Moreover, this pre-Christian understanding of human spirituality is exactly what leads us into the dilemmas and paradoxes I mentioned earlier.

These logical problems chiefly arise from conceiving of the human subject as quite separate from God.  People who are conjecturing about the character of God, based on their observation of the universe, can hardly fail but to conceive of God as separate from themselves.  But this has unfortunate consequences:

  • Humans are seen as separate from God, so that the good or ill of human beings is judged relative to the results of God’s work, rather than seeing us as wrapped up in the process by which God works;
  • Humans are seen as separate from God, so that our freedom is seen as infringed upon by God’s activity, rather than being enhanced because we are seen as collaborators with God;
  • Humans are seen as separate from God, so that we are seen as having an independent stand-point from which to judge the fairness of God’s actions, rather than as being implicated and involved in that activity.

These logical problems actually lead some people to deny that intercessory prayer changes anything, other than the person who prays.  On such a model, praying for a person might lead us to become more aware of how we could help them; and it might possibly give us an infusion of courage or strength.  But what it would not do is lead to God intervening in the complex pattern of causality that leads to the outcomes we see in the world.

So seeing the relationship between God and human as being on an arm’s-length basis raises the question, whether prayer works at all.  There have been quite a lot of interesting – but, I suggest, ultimately futile – attempts to use scientific method to measure the impact of prayer[5].  They typically mean running double-blind, randomized controlled trials, so that a group of intercessors prays for the health of patients who are randomized to the intervention group. The patients do not know that they are being prayed for, and the persons who are praying do not come in contact with the patients for whom they pray. 

The results are, broadly, inconclusive: sometimes this kind of intercession seems to make things better, sometime worse, sometimes no different.  More to the point, researchers have realised that there can be no real control experiment: after all, maybe the patient or his family are praying too?  Maybe prayer cannot be so tightly focused after all.  This methodology can only test prayer if it is conceived as an impersonal force, like a ray-gun that “zaps” people.  Which is not, of course, what most religions would claim about prayer!

To make sense of Christian prayer, we need to understand that it is not at all the same process as what I described before.  Christians are not lobbing unguided missiles at a God about whose character they make a shaky surmise.

Rather, Christians claim that, over and above natural revelation, God has made a special revelation in and through the saving work of Christ.  This, again, is a work of the united Holy Trinity: it is the Father who sends the Son, the Son carries out the Father’s work; the Spirit empowers the Son’s ministry, and through the Spirit we are enabled to live Christ’s own life.

This latter is the crucial point, in terms of our understanding of prayer.  “We have been crucified with Christ, and we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.”[6]  His life in us is a work of the Holy Spirit.  Returning to Herbert, we can read “God’s breath in man returning to his birth” not as a reference to the Genesis creation story, but with a much more dynamic interpretation.  God’s breath is not just what originally (and mythically) created our humanity – but actually, and in real-time, it is the life of the Holy Spirit who prays within us. 

As Paul describes this: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”[7]

On this understanding, Christian prayer is a fundamentally different kind of activity to the prayer of non-Christians.  We are not throwing darts into darkness.  Rather, our prayer is an expression of our knowledge of God, which is itself arises from our relationship with God, which is in turn a result of the interpenetration of our being with God’s being.

Please forgive me if I restate that point, because it is totally central to what I have to say this evening: our prayer is an expression of our knowledge of God, which is itself arises from our relationship with God, which is in turn a result of the interpenetration of our being with God’s being.

So, our understanding of prayer must arise from our understanding of how we are changed in our very being – by becoming Christians, by having the Holy Spirit infuse us so that Christ lives in us and we live in Christ.  This is, on my understanding, a central theme of the New Testament; I might cite:

  • The institution of the Eucharist, with Christ telling us that we are eating his flesh[8];
  • John’s insistence that we must be born again by the Spirit[9], that we are in Christ as He is in the Father[10], that we are branches of the vine and can do nothing apart from the vine[11];
  • Paul’s images of the church as Christ’s body[12] or as the temple of the Holy Spirit[13].  As he says in Romans: “you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”[14]

The gift of the Holy Spirit is what enables us to dwell in Christ, and Him in us.  It is a gift of our baptism[15].  A Christian’s prayer is an exercise of their being incorporated in Christ, and of having Christ live in them.  And, of course, being incorporated into the life of Christ is also incorporation into the church, which is to say, into a group of people.  There is no such thing as an individualist Christian, it is a contradiction in terms.  And therefore, one never prays alone.  Every Christian prayer, whether sung with a thousand others in a cathedral service, or muttered in a dark room in the middle of the night, is prayed as a member of the church, indeed is prayed by the church.

I have tried, in this first part of my talk, to lay a foundation for the more practical stuff later on.  To recap:

  1. The prayer of a non-Christian is a letter posted, but with no address on the envelope.  For Christians, however, the work of God who is Holy Trinity (of the Father in sending Christ; of Christ in assuming our humanity, and in interceding for us in heaven; of the Holy Spirit in enabling Christ to live in us and us in Him) means our prayer is in fact the Holy Spirit praying within us.
  2. Therefore, prayer is not so much an activity, as a mode of being.  It is one of the modes by which our fundamental union with God expresses itself, unfolds and extends itself.  And therefore, we are affected by our own prayer, just as God is affected.  If God’s activity in the world is affected by our prayer, so is our own action in the world.
  3. We never pray alone.  Because we are not in Christ like microbes in a pond, floating free and randomly, but as organs of an articulated and differentiated body.  Our prayer is an expression of our role in the body.  As St Paul explains, the organs are differentiated in form and function, and we should therefore expect that people will pray in different ways.

Coffee break

Before we broke, I set out a theology of prayer, suggesting that prayer is an expression of how our inner selves are fused and inter-penetrated with Christ’s own life, as a work of the Holy Spirit.  In this second session, I want to show how such a theology does not present the same logical dilemmas as non-Christian prayer; and then to draw out some consequences in terms of how we pray.

I suggested earlier that intercessory prayer, presents a number of problems, when one understands the human pray-er as essentially a separate being from the divine  pray-ee.  If, however, one sees prayer as a practice through which the inter-penetration of God’s being and one’s own is rehearsed and deepened and expressed, these dilemmas evaporate, or at least take on a radically different face:

  • If God knows what is best for us, why does He just not do it?  Well, for the reason that God’s choice, in Christ, is to inhabit our problems with us, and to work solutions out with us in a way that helps us to grow in maturity, to become more Christ-like, more fit to be a friend of God.  For God to zap our problems as a result of prayer would have the opposite effect: it would intensify our sense of littleness and dependency, reduce our sense of responsibility.
  • Is our freedom infringed upon by God’s answering prayer?  No, it is enhanced – because we are collaborators with God, rising to the challenge of working with God to bring in God’s kingdom.
  • Are we in a position to judge the fairness of God’s actions?  Humans seen as separate from God often seem to be doing that, when they complain that prayers have not been answered.  However, if we are seen as implicated and involved, then we have no independent stand-point of judgement.  Where we do not understand God’s actions – when our prayer is, with Herbert’s, a siege-engine against God or a spear piercing God’s heart – this is the complaint of one who is involved, of an insider if you like, rather than of a critic.
  • Most fundamentally, does prayer change anything?  When I stress that one’s inner self is involved in both the act of prayer and its outcomes, I realise that I risk being misunderstood as reducing prayer to a self-help technique.  Let me be clear: God acts in power to do more things than we could possibly have conceived of.  But I want to assert that when God so acts, following on from the prayer of a Christian, then this a collaboration between the human and the divine.  This is the mind-blowing truth of Christian prayer – it follows from the mind-blowing truth that God has become incarnate – that the friends of God are invited to join with God in building the kingdom.  In other words, there are some things that God could do alone, but chooses not to – God withholds to act, until He can act in collaboration with us, in response to our prayer.

How we pray

Let me turn now to the practical implications of what I have said for a Christian’s life of prayer.  I want to make three simple points, each of which has an implication in terms of how you pray.

First, we never pray alone.  Because we are not alone, in our being in Christ.  At the moment we are baptised into Christ, we are also baptised into church.  We are in Christ as an organ of the body, along with others.  So how can our prayer reflect this?

There are evidently many answers to that, and I have no wish to be prescriptive. 

For myself, it matters a great deal to pray using the forms and words and patterns that have been used by Christians through time. 

We also re-affirm our connections with the body when we root our prayer in Scripture.  Praying the psalms is a way to do this.  Others pray scripturally by reading each day a passage of the Bible, and then seeing what that passage has to say to them.  All of this is very valid, but I would issue just one word of warning.  It is quite easy, when one normally prays without other people being present, to drop into “what has this passage got to say to me, personally?”  Which is a valid question, but not the only one or even the main one if we recognise that our Christian life is always and inherently a participation in a corporate life.  If the individualist question becomes the norm rather than the exception, that habit can diminish our prayer.

So there are several goals one might adopt for one’s prayer: that it should draw on your life in the Holy Spirit (and perhaps therefore consist of as much praise and adoration of God, as it does of intercession); that it tap into the wider prayer life of the church, as it has rolled through the last twenty centuries; and specifically that it might do that by using the words of Scripture.  If one were to draw a diagram, with each of those goals as one of a set of overlapping circles, then within the area of overlap we would find the Anglican daily office.  I mean the Morning Prayer that some of us join with each weekday morning, in the Trinity chapel, and its equivalent evening office; or the shorter offices, “Prayer in the middle of the day” and “Compline” last thing at night.  The office:

  • Almost entirely consists of passages of scripture;
  • Offers a structured menu of praise, reflection and intercession;
  • Is based on monastic patterns of prayer, dating back to St Benedict in the 6th century and, through him, back to the monastics of the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts from the 3rd centuries.  These men and women, who have carried on the “work of God”, have sustained the church’s life for most of its history.

That was point one: we never pray alone.

Second, we should be ambitious about our prayer life, and expect it to deepen and mature over time.

This is a direct result of understanding prayer as being an over-flow or an expression of your relationship with Christ, and of His indwelling in you through the Holy Spirit.  People change over time, and so do their friendships.  We may grow and mature, learning new information or skills, learning to trust.  Or we may feel that we are diminishing, weakening because of old age or illness.  In any event, a real relationship – whether it is with a person or with God – will keep pace, and should be expected to demonstrate change over time.

As a result, the way that you most naturally pray is likely to alter over time. One of the most serious hindrances to the spiritual life can arise from a tendency to revert to the patterns of childhood.  People sometimes get stuck – both in their theology, failing to confront the challenges of mature adult life and their ideas of God – and in the way they pray.

If your standard pattern of prayer has not altered for many years, then I suggest it might be fruitful to conduct an audit.  You can do this yourself with a piece of paper, although it might be more helpful to do it in conversation with a soul-friend or Christian minister. 

  • Think first about how you have changed as a person; how your circumstances have altered; the habits you have dropped, the ones you have acquired.  The perspective you can gain by seeing through another’s eyes might help you to understand how God has led you forward; how His Spirit within your heart has brought about a maturation and growth.
  • And on that basis, how might this more mature person pray?  If the problem you face at this point is to know what other options there are available, then that is easily remedied.  There are myriad good books, courses or other resources available these days to introduce many forms of prayer: using the imagination; engaging with Scripture in different ways; using your creativity; through silent meditation; and so on.

My third point about prayer flowing from relationship, is that our ability to pray as a Christian is rooted in the restoration of our relationship with God; that is to say, in our redemption through Christ’s saving work: a reality we claim for ourselves through contrition, repentance and confession.

This may seem to you obvious.  However, I refer to what I said earlier – that all sorts of people pray, and many of those prayers are not enabled by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and are not rooted in Christ’s saving work.  And I suspect it is quite easy for a church-goer to drift into this latter kind of prayer, if she or he does not frequently return to the basics of the Christian life: returning to the cross, as we might say.

In that regard, I suggest that you think carefully about your practice of confession.  Each Sunday we say together a corporate confession, followed by absolution.  It is one of the benefits that the Church of England gained from the Reformation to stress that this practice can be wholly sufficient: absolution comes from Christ, not from the Church.  (Although, both biblically[16] and in Christian tradition, it can sometimes come through the church.)

However, the issue with the corporate confession is that it is quickly done, and often based on very little time spent scrutinising one’s life.  At one time – when Anglicans took communion less often – we were taught to spend time preparing for the Sacrament, which would include a careful examination of conscience.  However, this may not be a practice that you were ever taught.  If so, this also is an area where you might seek help.

That said, spilling your guts to another person is not straightforward.  The things that we might want to confess might well be things of which we are deeply ashamed, things that are extremely difficult to say.  They may, indeed, be things whose disclosure could do great harm.  This is an area that calls for wisdom and discretion.  All these are reasons why the Church of England has always made provision for personal, individual confession.  From the Reformation onwards, this was provided for in the Book of Common Prayer’s Office for the Visitation of the Sick.  More recently, the church has instead described it as the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

My point here is not to recommend either individual use of that Sacrament, or of any particular way of preparing to participate in the corporate confession on a Sunday.  That is homework that you need to do yourself.  All I wish to stress here is that all of a Christian’s prayers – whether they be of praise, or intercession, or whatever – depend on the quality of that person’s relationship with Christ.  I believe, therefore, that a prayer life that is superficial or dry can often relate to a whole spiritual stance that is complacent, and so does not come to grips with the daily nitty-gritty of a person’s spiritual life.

Let me re-cap.  On the basis that a Christian’s prayer is not like anyone else’s prayer – but is a rehearsal of the soul’s basic inter-penetration with the life of Christ, through the Holy Spirit – I have suggested:

  1. That you can never pray alone, but only as a member of the body of Christ that is the church.  And the way you pray should reflect that: your prayers should at least sometimes draw on the people of God’s experience of the ways of God, as reflected in Scripture.  And you may well find it helpful to use the forms of prayer that millions of others use, all around the world, and have used through most of Christian history.
  2. That the Daily Office is a way of praying that ticks a lot of boxes in these respects.  It takes a bit of getting used to – if you want to try it, I would recommend that you set yourself to do so for a couple of months before taking stock.  And many of us find it easier done in common with others, rather than alone – after all, many of its prayers are set out in the form of a dialogue.
  3. That you should expect your prayer life to change as you change.  If your habits of prayer are the same today as they were decades ago, then that could be a sign that these habits have become a burden not a help.  An audit of how you have changed as a person, as well researching some new ways of praying from the very wide menu now available within the church, might help to strengthen the connection between the daily reality of your life and your daily diet of prayer.
  4. That it is of particular importance that your prayer is rooted in Christ’s saving work.  Which means that confession must be rooted in a realistic, thorough and truthful audit of how you stand with God.  For some, individual engagement with the Sacrament of Reconciliation can help with that.  For most of us, perhaps, the issue will be about proper preparation for our corporate confession on a Sunday morning.

One final point.  The life of prayer can be feel like the yellow-brick road, but sometimes it feels like the rugged pathway.  Along this way, we need friends.  It seems to me that most of us need help.

The use of spiritual direction is growing in the church.  That is perhaps a funny phrase since, in my experience, good spiritual directors are not very directive!  They are, rather, enablers: the sounding board that makes possible the kind of audit that I have mentioned several times.

However, spiritual direction does not suit everyone.  Another way to achieve the same result can be through spiritual friendships.  A place to talk about what one hopes for; to voice out loud what one is promising to oneself; perhaps, in a gentle way, to be held accountable for such promises.  This could be with a Christian minister (ordained or lay), on a house-group, or just with a congenial friend.

Whatever way you seek it, I would urge you to seek this kind of support and encouragement.  Seek to build in regularity, and accountability.  If every one of us were supported in our prayer life with love – gentle love where appropriate, maybe tough love on occasion – I believe that together we would grow faster into the image of Christ.

Now to Him who is able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[17]


[1] James 3:1.

[2] Genesis 18:23-33.

[3] Tearfund ran a survey in 2007 which found 42% of the population pray (

[accessed 1 July
2019]

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[accessed 1 July 2019]

.}”,”plainCitation”:”Premier, ‘Half of Brits Say That They Pray, Including 20 Percent with No Faith’, Premier, 2018 <https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/Half-of-Brits-say-that-they-pray-including-20-percent-with-no-faith>

[accessed 1 July 2019]

.”},”citationItems”:[{“id”:840,”uris”:[“http://zotero.org/users/2676674/items/4ND58JAT”],”uri”:[“http://zotero.org/users/2676674/items/4ND58JAT”],”itemData”:{“id”:840,”type”:”webpage”,”title”:”Half of Brits say that they pray, including 20 percent with no faith”,”container-title”:”Premier”,”abstract”:”A new survey has found that 51 per cent of adults in the UK say they pray, and a fifth of them are not affiliated with a religion.”,”URL”:”https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/Half-of-Brits-say-that-they-pray-including-20-percent-with-no-faith”,”language”:”en-GB”,”author”:[{“family”:”Premier”,”given”:””}],”issued”:{“date-parts”:[[“2018″,1,14]]},”accessed”:{“date-parts”:[[“2019″,7,1]]}}}],”schema”:”https://github.com/citation-style-language/schema/raw/master/csl-citation.json”} Premier, ‘Half of Brits Say That They Pray, Including 20 Percent with No Faith’, Premier, 2018 <https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/Half-of-Brits-say-that-they-pray-including-20-percent-with-no-faith>

[accessed 1 July 2019]

.  I have not myself reviewed the research to know how statistically robust it is.

[4] Romans 1:20.

[5] See Chittaranjan Andrade and Rajiv Radhakrishnan, ‘Prayer and Healing: A Medical and Scientific Perspective on Randomized Controlled Trials’, Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 51.4 (2009), 247–53 <https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.58288>.

[6] Galatians 2:20.

[7] Romans 8:26-27.

[8] Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20.

[9] John 3:5.

[10] John 14:20.

[11] John 15:1-6.

[12] 1 Corinthians 12:12–27.

[13] 1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 6:16.

[14] Romans 8:9.

[15] There is a rather harmful theology, which has made some progress in the CofE in the last few decades, that the full gift of the Holy Spirit does not come at baptism but in some other, later experience.  This idea, which originated in the Pentecostal churches, sees the Holy Spirit as mainly bringing phenomena like speaking in tongues or gifts of prophecy.  It seems to me really important to rebut that doctrine.  First of all, it is unbiblical: when St Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost and invites the crowd to receive baptism, it is “so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”[15].  This is an expansion of Jesus’ own words to Nicodemus, when He said that we are to be born again “of water and Spirit”[15].  And it also tends to suggest that those who have been baptised, but have not had the Charismatic treatment, are in an ambiguous half-way house situation; that for these people God’s promises cannot be relied upon.  The traditional and biblical doctrine of baptism is a properly high doctrine of the Holy Spirit – seeing Him as totally involved in our salvation, in the redemption of the whole of creation indeed, just as He was in the initial creation.  By contrast, the Pentecostal theology suggests that the presence of the Holy Spirit shows mainly through essentially trivial phenomena, like speaking in tongues.  That is a massively diminished understanding of the Holy Spirit and indeed of God as Trinity.

[16] See John 20:22-23, Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18.

[17] Ephesians 3:20-21.