Why pray

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Pentecost 13B
22 August 2021

[ video ]

This seems like a good day to talk about prayer …

Prayer is always an important topic:

  • relates to PRAXIS and not THEORY
  • touches on how faith is done outside the walls of the Cathedral
  • but also concerns the essential spiritual DNA of the Cathedral

We are a place of prayer:

  • our bricks call people to imagine there is more to life than the everyday
  • we point to eternity
  • we invite people to connect

Our readings today all refer to prayer:

  • Dedication of the temple in Jerusalem
  • Psalm 84
  • Paul urges his readers to pray for him
  • Jesus attends synagogue in Capernaum

But this is also a day when churches are calling on the nation to pray

  • we might wonder why now and not much sooner than now
  • but today is the chosen date
  • should we join in?
  • will it make any difference?

If prayer worked

So, I start by asking, Does prayer work?

Imagine if it did!

  • droughts would vanish
  • floods would not happen
  • bush fires would not wreak havoc on creation
  • wars would disappear
  • peace would break out everywhere
  • hatred, fear and xenophobia would vanish
  • the Queen would live for ever
  • all illness would disappear
  • cancer would not steal our loved ones from our arms
  • we would have the politicians we need rather than the ones we deserve
  • and every lapsed grandchild would come back to the faith

If prayer worked in the ways we pretend that we expect it to work, then the Cathedral would be packed every Sunday. And probably every day during the week as well! People would be banging on our doors and flooding our email account, asking us to teach them how to pray.

However, prayer is not a formula; it is an attitude.

God is not enmeshed in our transactions, and she is not interested in cutting a special deal for us! No matter what we promise to do afterwards if God would just do this little thing for us … right now!

BTW, we cannot escape from this moral challenge by invoking, “God knows best” when our prayers are not answered.

If God actually knows best, then why do so many bad things happen all the time?

And what kind of God are people imagining when they even speak about God in such terms?

Looking at this from another angle: God’s perspective

We often think about prayer from our human perspective:

  • we are asking for things that we cannot achieve by ourselves
  • in our better moments, prayer is attentive appreciation for life
  • for advanced souls, prayer is simply choosing to be in the presence of the sacred

But have we ever thought about prayer from God’s perspective?

  • can we imagine God praying for something?
  • Jesus could and I do
  • for Jesus, God’s prayer is called the commonwealth of God
  • it is expressed in the creation of our amazing cosmos in all its diversity

God has a dream (a prayer, a hope).

Like our own prayers, God’s prayer also seems mostly to go unfulfilled

But do we imagine that God ever stops praying? Indeed, in the NT we are asked to imagine Jesus praying for us without ever taking a break!

So, prayer is not really about outcomes but about inputs.

So we choose prayer

We choose to pray.

We do that not because it is a get-out-of-jail card. Rather, we pray because that engages us in the reality about which we are praying.

If we pray about the poor, we find that we start to care about them. Or perhaps we do already care about them and that is why we pray. Perhaps it is a circle with care growing deeper as we pray more, and those prayers combined with compassion generating action to make a difference … then more prayer, more compassion, more action … more prayer …

You can repeat that paragraph with peace, refugees, climate change, or COVID-19 … in place of “the poor.” 

But never forget that it is the poor who always suffer most, as we are seeing repeatedly in Western Sydney these past few weeks.

It is the poor who are central to God’s own prayers, and it is no surprise that they were right at the centre of the ministry of Jesus.

There is no situation which is not improved by prayer when those prayers draw us into compassionate solidarity with those for whom we pray and compel us into action to set the world aright so that God’s prayers can be answered. By us!

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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2 Responses to Why pray

  1. Beverley Robertson says:

    Thank you Greg.

    Bev

  2. Wendy Margaret Stace says:

    Greg thank you for the wonderful words with which you have expressed the concept of prayer. Connecting with the Sacred and those for whom we pray is such an inspiring insight into prayer.

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