Saying ‘yes’ to God
Here’s an astonishing truth. God, the maker and sustainer of all creation, delights to spend quality time with us. That thought alone is a wonder, isn’t it? At its simplest, prayer is us saying ‘yes’ to that invitation. Over the centuries we’ve wrapped prayer in all kinds of rituals, making it feel like something difficult or demanding. We humans do that. We take wonderful things and we bottle them in a bid to preserve them for posterity.
What might it look like to ‘unbottle’ prayer this year, to discover again the wonder of just being with God? Prayer is at its most wonderful when we can be ourselves, not performing or faking, not trying to appease or impress. The one we are with loves us completely, just as we are, and there are no rules for what our time with the lover of our souls should look like.
What might it look like to ‘unbottle’ prayer this year, to discover again the wonder of just being with God?
Since we’re contemplating the wonder of prayer, let’s consider three other W words which are all contained in the idea of wonder.
One of my highlights of 2022 came at about 6.15 am one November morning as I lay back in the cushioning salt water of the Dead Sea and watched the sunrise. I say ‘watched’ – I’m almost completely blind, so the sight was a little lost on me, but all around me the wonder was palpable. My fellow travellers were awe-struck by the beauty of creation, witnessed in that unique place on earth, and the word they kept saying was ‘wow’. It’s the word we use when we don’t have any other words.
‘Wow’ can mean many things, but usually it’s an exclamation of wonder, and it’s not a bad way to start praying. A sense of wonder connects us to the divine; people of all faiths and none can attest to that. When we find ourselves amazed by beauty or goodness, the moment becomes profoundly spiritual.
It’s as though a window has been opened and we catch the scent of something beyond our own reality. And, once we’ve uttered that ‘wow’, the next words out of our mouths are usually ‘thank you’. We breathe out our awe and gratitude to the one who fashioned all the wonders.
We can’t manufacture ‘wow’ moments – by their nature they are unexpected. But we can choose to immerse ourselves in beauty and goodness. Do you ever start your praying by looking at stunning nature photography, watching footage of stars and galaxies or listening to exquisite music?
We can’t manufacture ‘wow’ moments – by their nature they are unexpected. But we can choose to immerse ourselves in beauty and goodness.
For all of us, there are wonders that never grow old, and as you utter your ‘wow’ and your ‘thank you’, you may just find your heart soaring as you sense the presence of the one who is the source of all beauty and goodness.
One of the reasons I love the word ‘wonder’ so much is because it has several different meanings, all of which happen to be relevant to prayer. When we’re not wondering in amazement, we might be wondering in perplexity. That’s a darker place altogether. We wonder why bad things happen to good people; why life can’t be easier or brighter; why God doesn’t intervene to stop evil and cruelty. ‘Why’ is a question which rings with pain and confusion.
Many people would say it’s the ‘why’s of life which have driven them further away from God. How can we even think of spending time in the company of our creator when that creator has let so much go wrong and let us down so badly? Others say that they try not to think too much about these imponderable ‘why’ questions because they can’t really be answered; much better to put our trust in God and steer clear of too much unsettling wondering.
People went to Jesus with questions all the time. Many of the encounters we read about in the gospels start with a question, an expression of concern, longing or perplexity, and so long as the questioner was honest in their asking (not trying to trip him up or catch him out) Jesus engaged willingly in the conversation. God doesn’t necessarily answer all our questions as we’d like, but the Holy Spirit who understands all things is always ready and willing to hear our wonderings, no matter how gloomy or anxious they may be.
God doesn’t necessarily answer all our questions as we’d like, but the Holy Spirit who understands all things is always ready and willing to hear our wonderings, no matter how gloomy or anxious they may be.
Are there some ‘why’ questions you might need to bring in prayer? Though there may be no easy answers, God loves to hear and ponder them with you.
The question ‘what if’ is yet another sort of wondering, one which turns our gaze towards the future, one which ripples with hope. What if life could be different? What if sorrow could turn to joy? What if we could see healing, peace and justice in our world? Asking God for things is probably the most familiar and most practised kind of prayer, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Jesus told his followers to keep on asking for things. But if our asking is all focused on fixing the problems we see around us, it will become dry and tiring. The question ‘what if’ focuses us on imagining the future we’d like to see. It lifts our gaze. Instead of problem-solving, we begin to wonder, to imagine what it might look like for the people and places we care about to be filled with love and hope.
Next time you’re about to ask God for something, why not add in a ‘what if’ moment. For instance, as you ask God to heal your loved one, take a moment to wonder – what if this difficult situation could bring them closer to God? What if every hospital appointment could be full of peace and hope? What if this season could be a doorway to unimagined blessings in their life?
If our prayer is all focused on fixing the problems we see around us, it will become dry and tiring.
The God of miracles loves a ‘what if’ moment. As you speak out your hopeful wonderings in prayer, don’t be surprised if you find you’ve gone full circle and you’re breathing an awe-struck ‘wow!’