Praying while neither here nor there

Rev David Thompson

30.11.2021 | Congregational Life, Refined

Rev David Thompson, Secretary of the Council for Congregational Life and Witness, shares some reflections on praying in these ‘in between’ times in which we find ourselves neither here nor there.

Prayer: Simple but not easy

Prayer. It’s as simple a thing as just talking to God and yet that never makes it easy. When living in stable times in our lives the discipline of praying becomes hard because we begin to doubt our need of it. When living through tough times, prayer becomes challenging because we often doubt that it is seeming to make any meaningful difference.

Praying in these ‘in between’ times where we find ourselves now, when we just want everything to go back to normal or to fast forward into some new normal, is even more difficult. Finding ourselves suspended for such a long time neither here nor there, we might not even be sure what we want to say to God in our weariness with it all.

Prayer: Weakness and wrestling

In Romans chapter 8 verses 26 and 27 we are reminded that sometimes that is to be expected. More than that it is okay and may be when God is doing some of his deepest work in us by his Spirit. There, reflecting on the struggle of the Christian life, Paul writes,

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

There is a weakness and a weariness that emerges in this picture of prayer and yet there is also a wrestling that echoes something of that famous incident at Peniel in Genesis chapter 32 when Jacob struggles with God through the night and emerges graciously enabled by him for all that lies ahead.

Prayer: Changing us more than our circumstances

Blog_Nov_prayer-(1).jpgIt’s important to remember that more often than not in prayer God is at work by his Spirit to search and change us inwardly much more than to ease the outward circumstances of our daily lives. What might that prayerful searching and challenge to be changed look like in our present times? Well, imagine if in our present struggles in prayer and frustrations with God’s seeming lack of activity and answers, he was changing our perspectives in some really significant ways.

By having us continue to live with the discomfort of uncertainty, what if God was wanting to change our well-worn prayer of ‘God, help us to know’, to ‘Father help us to be okay with not knowing so that we can really learn what it means to trust you’. Or how about our frustration with still not being able to do some things that we usually can. Might that turn out to be God’s invitation to stop engaging in prayer as we too often do as if we are asking his blessing on our desires and activities. Perhaps instead we need to learn to genuinely pray that his ‘will be done’. What if ‘God, help us to make speedy progress’, became a prayer for something we usually need much more than that, ‘God, help us to be patient’?

Prayer and prayerfulness

Maybe the challenge in all of this is to better understand what is really meant by a life of prayer. We often talk about prayer as something we do - together in worship on Sunday, at a prayer meeting through the week, at the start of a meeting in which we are going to have to take decisions, on our own in a daily quiet time. And of course these are all forms of prayer. However prayerfulness is something much more than any of these expressions of prayer, or all of them put together. Being prayerful is something we are. It is an approach to life, a moment by moment awareness that God is with us and goes before us in every circumstance and situation. It’s something that is much more of a settled spirituality than a series of spectacular solutions to all our problems.

What a difference that could make when we are living with so many uncertainties of being neither here nor there. It reassures us that, as the old hymn puts it, our present strange times are in God’s hands. There’s a rich depth in that truth that is well worth taking time to reflect upon.

My times are in thy hand;

my God, I wish them there;

my life, my friends, my soul I leave

entirely to thy care.

My times are in thy hand,

whatever they may be,

pleasing or painful, dark or bright,

as best may seem to thee.

My times are in thy hand;

why should I doubt or fear?

My Father’s hand will never cause

His child a needless tear.

My times are in thy hand,

Jesus, the crucified!

Those hands my cruel sins had pierced

are now my guard and guide.

My times are in thy hand;

I’ll always trust in thee;

and, after death, at thy right hand

I shall forever be.

W. F. Lloyd (1824)

Prayerfulness that brings peace and poise

Our having to linger for so long in these ‘in between’ times has exposed a lot about us and our church life. It’s hard not to notice how crisis has increased the volume of criticism, how an increase in anxiety has boiled over into outbursts of anger, how there is a nasty edge to many of our encounters with those with whom we don’t see eye to eye . We have failed to manage ourselves well. It is to be feared that the scars of many a careless comment, hastily written email, or judgement passed without knowing all the facts will take some time to heal.

A more consistent prayerfulness is key to helping us regain a more settled peace of heart with our circumstances and to recapturing a more gracious relational poise with one another. By definition a prayerful person will be a more careful person and a prayerful community will better preserve its unity.

So, if we are feeling ourselves a bit stuck in prayer, our personal circumstances or our church life just now, maybe that is opportunity rather than obstacle in learning God’s deeper lessons in prayerfulness.

David-T.jpgRev David Thompson is Secretary of the Council for Congregational Life and Witness.

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