In our instant world, persistence is not something we tend to be good at. Prayer is something that many Christians say they struggle with. Add ‘persistent’ to ‘prayer’ and perhaps we have a problem! Praying with others is one way to help ourselves continue in prayer and not give up. In my sermon last night I looked at various ways of praying with others in order to persist and bring about change.
The readings were Psalm 89:19-37 and Luke 18:1-14.
After his cat got stuck up a tree, a vicar mounted a rescue operation. He climbed a ladder, tied one end of a rope to the narrow trunk, and the other end to the tow bar of his car. He gently drove forward and the inevitable occurred: the rope snapped, catapulting the cat into the sky.
No more was heard of the cat until a few weeks later. The vicar went to visit a member of his church, a young mum (and her little boy, Johnny). In her front room, lying on the rug, was the vicar’s cat! ‘How did you find such a lovely cat?’ the vicar asked, with thinly disguised innocence.
‘You’ll never believe it,’ replied the mother. ‘My little Johnny’s been asking for a cat for months. In the end I got so tired of it I told him to come out in the garden where I was hanging out the washing. I told him the only thing to do was to pray. So we put our hands together and looked to the heavens. “Dear Jesus,” we prayed, “please send us a pussy cat.” *
And you’ll never guess what happened next vicar ……’
It just shows, prayer works! Sometimes in very odd ways.
If anyone can show us how to pray, it surely has to be Jesus. We know that Jesus taught us the structure of prayer when he gave us the Lord’s Prayer, which we use in most services here and in many churches all over the world. In the gospel passage he teaches us that we should ‘pray and not lose heart’. He compares how we should pray to the behaviour of a widow who pesters a judge until she gets the justice she deserves.
We live in a world of instant everything and patience is not something we often cultivate. We tend to want what we want now, right now. The idea of persisting in prayer is not one we necessarily find easy. One way to help ourselves is to pray with others.
I’m not sure if any of you have been involved with a Billy Graham mission. I remember his Mission England a long time ago. We were all encouraged to form ourselves into prayer triplets and each of us was to bring three people to the Lord in prayer in that triplet. That meant that the three of us prayed weekly for 9 people who were not Christians. It was so much easier to keep on praying when we met up together. After several months the mission happened and our prayer triplet stopped meeting but I continued to remember those people in my prayers. It had become a habit by then. Gradually, over the years the three people came to faith, the last of them 7 years after I had started praying for him in the prayer triplet. Persistent prayer certainly works.
I know how much the opportunity to pray in our services is valued by those attending, and also the chance to put prayers in the prayer box, knowing they will be offered at each service. I’m not sure how many people take advantage of the votive candles when praying but I’m sure some do. We also have a team of people who will pray with anyone who needs it. You may have noticed the board to the left of the door when you came in which lists the members of the prayer team and allows you to page them. I hope, too, that gradually people from this community will form themselves into twos and threes and meet regularly for prayer, much as the prayer triplet I was in did.
On Sunday, Able Shepherd whom many of you will know, was ordained and I had the privilege to be there to witness the joyful event. I ask you to pray for him as he begins his ministry as a deacon in his new church and for his family as they settle in their new home. One thing that ordained people undertake to do is to pray the morning and evening offices every day. They pray whether they feel like it or not, every day, even if it feels like they are talking to the ceiling. This is another form of persistent prayer. It’s a scaled back version of what monks and nuns do. Many lay people also pray in this way. By doing so they are praying with others the world over who offer regular prayer. Here in SL we are very aware of different time zones, of the fact that what might be evening prayer to one, might be morning prayer to another and midday prayer to a third. Whatever time of the day it is, if we pray we are sure to be praying with others somewhere.
Another way of coming together for prayer is to join those who are praying for a cause or an event. Many people have prayed when the G8 have met or when other important meetings of world leaders have taken place. We may not be able to be in the meetings or speak to those who will form policy, but we can influence the outcome by persistent prayer. Some people make it their concern to pray for those who are imprisoned for their faith. So many are suffering because they are Christians and it is so easy to forget just how lucky we are to have such freedom.
Recently Christians around the world prayed together as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) was formed. Tomorrow the General Convention of The Episcopal Church begins. Already prayers are appearing on Twitter and elsewhere for this important meeting. Within SL there will be special times of prayer in the next three days when Christians of all denominations will come together to pray that God’s will be done through TEC. (Details here) I hope you will join in, either by meeting at 1pm SLT at Willoughby here in SL or by praying at any time in any place over the next three days.
Times are difficult in the Anglican Communion at the moment. There are disagreements and differences of emphasis and many people feel hurt and rejected by those who think differently from them. However, we all have one Saviour and one God and belong in one family. Families have their difficulties but there is the saying that ‘blood is thicker than water’. The blood that holds us together is that of Jesus, shed on the cross for our sakes, so that we can know the joy of sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life. Let’s pray and not lose heart for all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Brother Roger of Taizé said, ‘When the church becomes a house of prayer the people will come running’. It is my prayer for that to be true of this Cathedral.
* Story taken from ‘A Box of Delights’, J. John and Mark Stibbe, Monarch Books
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor