Wit and Wisdom: True prayer is not a shopping list
Tearfund commissioned a research project recently in which 2000-plus people were asked how often they pray and it’s clear that many people who have never prayed are now doing so, fearful of the threat of COVID-19, writes Adam Harbinson
Also, it seems that many who claim they do not ordinarily darken the door of a church have listened to online church services; reminiscent of the Cuba Crisis in October, 1962, when churches all over the world were packed.
I was discussing the current situation with a friend the other day when she asked: ‘What is prayer?’.
This is something I’ve thought about often; in fact, I have written a little book entitled: ‘Wait Quietly: how to achieve inner peace through contemplative prayer’ that you might find helpful.
Most people see prayer as an exercise in which a shopping list is presented to a big Supermarket in the sky, presided over by a God who needs to be persuaded to jump to our aid when we reluctantly admit that we have run out of options. But it’s a topic that is addressed in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus was speaking to some of his followers. He said ‘Don‘t worry’, saying: “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear...for your Heavenly Father knows what you need. But seek first the kingdom of God”. In other words, he was saying - don’t do that, do this instead. He was saying that if we see prayer as a plea, ‘Get me out of here!’, we miss the point. Think about it: if we look at the effect COVID-19 is having on society, there is clearly much for us to learn as a result of the ‘lockdown.’ For example, could it be that our new found discovery of the value of regular exercise, more time with family, less dashing around in ever increasing madness to achieve things we don’t need, has the potential to reshape our values and the way we live? I have a feeling that when it’s all over, many of us will look back with nostalgia to the ‘way things were.’
I look over my turbulent life and am grateful for the times when I cried out to God for things I thought I could not do without and I was answered with a gentle but very firm ‘No!’
True prayer is not a shopping list; it’s a drawing close to our Creator who is eager to give us what he knows we need, not what we think we need.