Martyn Payne, BRF’s prayer advocate, reflects that however inadequate our prayers, they are important, inspired by the Holy Spirit and used to grow God’s kingdom.
Prayer: a spiritual internet
Recently we moved home, after 36 years of living in the same house. There was a lot to sort through, pack up and arrange to be moved to the new home. As anyone who has been through it knows, it is an exhausting and testing experience.
We also needed to ensure that our internet connection moved with us. Being able to get online has become for all of us, particularly this year, one of life’s essentials. And so it was with trepidation, after the engineer’s visit, that we awaited the positive blue signal from our home hub that assured us that all was well with the virtual world once more. We were back in touch with family far away, able to join in with meetings and services, and pick up messages on social media.
This being in touch via the invisible and powerful worldwide web put me in mind of the even greater but equally invisible dimension of prayer that God invites us to join through Christ – and with no monthly subscription!
Pray as you can
We began this series of articles with a reflection on prayer as a mystery that we are invited to enter so that we might experience the presence of God and join in with a conversation in heaven on behalf of earth. Joining this heavenly universe-wide web of intercession, thanksgiving, praise and repentance is on one level very simple.
Yet even for those of us who follow Jesus, prayer is often underused and can become a struggle, as we experience ‘technical difficulties’. And so this series of articles has encouraged us to find creative ways to troubleshoot those difficulties, with suggestions on how we might:
Each of us has been encouraged to find a way forward in prayer that works for us, staying true to maxims such as ‘pray as you are’, rather than attempt what is out of character, and ‘pray as you can’, rather than try to imitate someone else.
Simple, powerful prayer
God never intended prayer to be some sort of spiritual Mt Everest that is only accessible to experienced religious climbers. In fact, prayer is never as powerful as when it is at its simplest, and even its most amateur.
Prayer can be as straightforward as an awe-filled ‘thank you’ when we see something beautiful; a heartfelt ‘help’ when faced with something painful; an indignant ‘no’ when hearing of something dreadful; or an impatient ‘how long’ when confronted with injustice.
In fact, prayer starts in a place before and beyond words, and God is always listening with love.
Of course, prayer can be much more complex too, involving beautiful, traditional liturgies learned by heart; entering a deep meditative silence before an icon; engaging in a lengthy angry lament before God who seems distant; or simply repeating the name of Jesus in time with our breathing.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember in all this, that prayer is never shallow because it is simple, nor is it less mature or less powerful because it stumbles over its words.
The Holy Spirit helps us pray
It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray. The apostle Paul put it this way: when we have no words left, it is the Spirit who intercedes for us, ‘with groanings too deep for words’ (Romans 8:26, ESV). Later in that same chapter (and also in Hebrews), we are reminded how Jesus in heaven is always praying on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25).
We never pray alone and we never pray without support.
The house we now live in is close to a small church building, where we are now worshipping. There is no internet connection in the church, but soon after our blue light came on, I discovered to my delight that the signal we receive at home can also be picked up in our worship space.
In the same way, wherever we connect with God in prayer, we enable God’s power to reach far beyond where we are and who we are with.
Our connection with God, however feeble, means that our prayers can connect God’s love with anyone, anywhere, not just in the building nearby.
The importance of prayer is far greater in the scheme of God’s creation than perhaps many of us have yet realised.
Just as God’s word brought everything into existence, so now our words – however few or feeble – in partnership with the Word can continue to create good and multiply beauty in the world around us.
As we, in prayer, speak the language of heaven here on earth, we can also, through prayer, grow the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
And just as, when we pray, we can experience the joy of heaven here on earth, so too through our praying we can invite others to become part of the conversation of heaven, wherever they are.
Made for prayer
The prophet Isaiah says that the Lord who fashioned the earth gives breath to its people and also the Spirit to those who walk on it (Isaiah 42). In other words, we have been given the power to live both physically and spiritually. These are both God’s gifts to be enjoyed and to be used to bless others. We are made for prayer.
Meeting God in prayer
Prayer is not just a personal business transaction with God, in which we ask and God gives. Prayer is so much more!
Prayer is about inviting others into the friendship with God that we have discovered through Christ, so that they too might come to look to God with faith. As they do so, they will discover that God is already looking at them with a steady gaze of unshakeable love – the love that God has made visible in Christ to us and to the whole world.
Prayer starts as a personal experience but can’t help but become communal, as we talk with God about anything and everything, anywhere and anytime.
Pray with us
The Bible Reading Fellowship simply cannot exist without both the breath that keeps its staff going and the Spirit that enables their work to bear fruit for the kingdom.
Maybe you are already among those who join with us weekly in prayer using the BRF prayer diary. We want you to know that those prayers have been and continue to be vital, particularly during this difficult pandemic year.
Perhaps you are new to BRF’s Bible reading notes, books or articles such as this. If so, we’d love you to pray with us for the work God has given BRF to do. Our prayer diary is full of pointers for prayer, inspiring quotes from our books and new prayers to help you grow in your personal prayer life, as well as pray with us for the growth of God’s kingdom.
Like the internet (when it’s working) prayer is what keeps us connected; it keeps us connected to God both mysteriously and powerfully. And also just like the internet nowadays, we certainly can’t live without it, because prayer is how God has chosen, by his Holy Spirit, to work in and through us in this world to make all things new!
Martyn Payne was a BRF staff member and part of the Messy Church team until his retirement in 2018. Martyn is now a volunteer and writes the BRF prayer diary and is involved in Messy Church.