How often should we pray?

praying with dogWe have a theological student, Lisa, here for four weeks looking at our parish and learning from all she sees, enjoying Dubai in it’s Ramadan coat for two weeks before seeing it return to ‘normal’ colours after Eid. One of the first questions she asked me was what I do for daily prayers – whether I gather each day with a few people in church or the office or whether I pray alone. Being asked the question made me think again about the way I have become used to praying. She is asking all sorts of questions about what she sees here, and telling me a lot about how life is in her college and in her church in Durham. She teaches me as she tells me about it. What I consider normal, she is finding thought provoking. I hope you will find opportunities to show her your lives in Dubai and how it is to be a Christian in this amazing place.

Some of the new thoughts she raises in me will have their influence – the way I do things slowly changes as I learn new things and adapt to new situations. That trail of influence, Christian to Christian, is seen in the start of an email I received today – an American minister passing on a quote from Donald Bloesch’s book, The Struggle of Prayer, but that book itself is quoting Job and Shawchuck in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants. So the chain now becomes four because I liked it and pass it on to you:

The Bible does not prescribe the time or length of prayer, but it does offer guidelines. In Psalm 88 prayer is offered in the early morning (v. 13) and in Psalm 55 prayers are said evening, morning and noon (v. 17). The author of Psalm 119 advocates prayer seven times a day (v. 164). Daniel knelt for devotions three times a day (Daniel 6:10). Jesus prayed before sunrise (Mark 1:35) and in the evening when the day’s work was over (Mark 6:46). Peter prayed at the third, sixth, and ninth hours.
Despite their aversion to prescribed formulas in the life of prayer that function as a new law, the Reformers did make general recommendations. On the basis of the Scriptural testimony Luther suggested that prayer should be “the first business of the morning and the last at night.” He advised: “Cultivate the habit of falling asleep with the Lord’s Prayer on your lips every evening when you go to bed and again every morning when you get up. And if occasion, place, and time permit, pray before you do anything else.” Calvin urged that we offer prayer “when we arise in the morning, before we begin daily work, when we sit down to a meal, when by God’s blessing we have eaten, when we are getting ready to retire.”
Just as the Christian is not bound to ritual laws that regulate the preparation for prayer, so he [she] is not absolutely bound to set times for prayer. Yet there are times that are more appropriate for prayer than others: the gathering together for worship, the hours before work and bedtime, the time right before meals, when we need to remind ourselves of the goodness of God. But a Christian should feel free to pray anywhere, anytime, in the midst of daily work and play as well as in the solitude of his [her] room in the early morning or late in the evening.

On the road

Steve Pancake flipping 2Whoooaarrrr! That’s the pancake mix all finished! Mmmmm, lovely! Isn’t Shrove Tuesday wonderful!

I have reached the end of the book I referred to last time (The way of the heartHenri Nouwen) and with the second part comes a greater understanding of the first part. I said I didn’t really ‘get’ the first half but now I’ve finished I begin to see the place of it in the scheme of things. Lent begins tomorrow and if you are thinking of actually doing something for it, actually ‘observing’ it, but still you don’t really ‘get’ it, then I hope that when you reach the end of it that the purpose of it all will come clear. The way to observe it is to spend some time in self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word (that’s what my service book says :) ). I’ve got my plan for what I hope for in the season and will work towards it, and while I do not expect to reach perfection in my chosen task, I hope to be a little more convincingly on the road by the end of the season.

Someone prayed for me today that things surrounding my sabbatical later in the year would become clear to me. I was grateful for the prayerful support. As part of my sabbatical we hope to walk 800km of the road known as the Camino de Santiago. That is one long road and I still can hardly believe that it will come off, but we’re planning for it and have read some short guidebooks and I investigated footwear for it on a recent trip to England. It will cost a bit, but I don’t think finance will be the main expense but rather the effort and discomfort along the way. I hope for sublime moments too. Not unlike my expectations on the road this Lenten season.

For those who have never really walked with God this way, I encourage you to try it. Why don’t you pop into church in your lunch hour or something, or take the lift to the ground floor and each day go on a prayer walk up the stairs to your office each day (easy for me, only one floor LOL) reciting on each landing, ‘God have mercy on me!’ and at the top, ‘Thanks be to God’. The physical action is nothing on its own, but it can help you to separate some time out in your day from your normal time for the purpose of self examination and repentance, for prayer, fasting and self denial; and (unless you choose the stairs exercise) give you time to read and meditate on God’s holy word. Ooh, but now I’m repeating myself.

To be really religious I’d probably say it a third time…

Come and hear that phrase a third time, at our Ash Wednesday service, 7.30pm in church.

If you can’t do Wednesday, come Fridays, or Saturdays at 9.30am, or on Sundays at 7.30pm.  Walk with God.

A week to go

church fasting competitionIt’s only just a week to go until we start the season of Lent. I want to encourage you now to think what you might do in that season, to make use of it. Perhaps there’s some New Year’s resolution you failed to keep. Well here’s a chance to have another go. Of course, Lent usually leads us to want to try something religious as a resolution for the season. Perhaps you could do that – you could set aside a specific amount of time each day for it. Don’t use it as an opportunity to spend even less time with your family – if you have family with you, think of something that won’t take you away from them too much, or perhaps something to bring you together more.

I want to learn to listen to God a bit more and thought that spending a bit more time in stillness with God might be good. I really struggle to be still – normally, even on the days when I succeed in praying my daily prayers the way I aspire to, I find as I get near the end and it’s time for the intercessions part that it’s hard to remain in that moment but rather my soul is rushing on to the next thing – so often the ON button on the computer. I love the Benedictus, the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis, the Psalms, the canticles. Having said them so many times over the years their familiarity enables me to quickly enter a depth in the words, bathing in the concepts and associations which go with them in my mind as they tumble out of each psalm, canticle and bible reading into my soul, but I do not enter stillness so easily. In a book by Henri Nouwen I am reading at the moment (The way of the heart) he says: ‘The simple words “The Lord’s my shepherd” can be spoken quietly and persistently in such a way that they become like a hedge around a garden in which God’s shepherding can be sensed. These words, which at first might seem to be no more than an interesting metaphor, can slowly descend from the mind into the heart.’ I’m finding quite a bit of the short book quite hard to ‘get’ but this line I know in experience. This Lent though, I want to rediscover stillness – I used to know it better but my work life has been rather full this last year or so and has driven it from me.

Spending simple time being still might be a solution. But I read another quote from Thomas Merton in an article recently which wasn’t so encouraging, even if it’s true: “Religious silence is silence that is undertaken as an act of worship. Whether I hear God or not makes no difference.” I find this hard because sitting or kneeling there and NOT hearing God at all can make a difference to the emotions, even if it be a worthy act of worship to have devoted the time to being with him. Although there is something in not discovering anything – another book I loved years ago encourages us to go beyond what we can know (The Cloud of Unknowing) – I can’t help wanting to discover something, or learn something, or make some kind of break through somehow.

fasting from fastingI don’t really know what I’m going to aim for in Lent yet, there’s still a week to think about it though and I encourage you to think about what you might do to make use of the season to prepare yourself for Easter. If you’re not going for the fasting option pictured on the left here then come and have a last splash on leavened goodies at our Charity bake sale this Friday at 9.30am.

I encourage you all to come to church to kick the Lenten season off with a good bit of devotion on Ash Wednesday (5th March) at 7.30pm where we remember our human frailty with a vivid illustration and some prayers with Holy Communion. Don’t leave it there though, come every Friday, or Saturday at 9.30am, or on Sundays at 7.30pm. Whether you hear God or not makes no difference (Thomas Merton in a new context LOL) but you will have given some time as an act of worship, and I think you’ve a greater chance of hearing God if you spend time listening, and church is a good place for that, whatever  you do for the season.