Our recent journey of effectively de-churching has led us to question pretty much every aspect of our faith and how that affects our day-to-day lives. This post is going to be part of a series on the fundamentals of our faith. Our first fundamental is prayer; what is it, why is it important?
I remember a chorus I learned when I was younger that claimed that prayer “is like a telephone for us to talk to Jesus”. I always found it a little trite; prayer is supposed to be more than that, more close, more intimate. But here’s what struck me recently, prayer changes as we move along the journey of faith. It changes purpose, meaning and method, but sometimes it is like a phone!
The journey of faith starts when we start to think about faith. Do I or don’t I believe? Is there a God? What does he want with me? In these early steps prayer is like a long-distance telephone call, one where our receiver doesn't always work very well. We take the tentative steps of reaching out to a God we are yet distant from to see if he will reach back. Perhaps it is less like a telephone call than a letter that can only be answered by a very short telegram (or to put it in modern parlance, half a tweet!).
This journey of faith doesn't take us along some cheery, easy-going yellow-brick road, but on a series of tough climbs and gaping chasms. As we make each leap of faith we get a little closer to knowing God, and as we do we become a little more keen to listen to our new friend and to do the things he wants us to do. Our conversations are still quite selfish, we spend a lot of the time asking for what we want and listen to maybe a quarter of what God has to say to us.
Our early “phone” conversations are very formal, the way we might phone a business or someone in authority, but it changes over time, it has to.
I'm not always good at keeping in contact with my friends, but when I speak on the phone to my friends I can easily get into deep conversation, even if we haven’t spoken for ages. That’s what prayer has to become in us, a moment of connecting with God deeply, of listening to the other (sometimes more than we speak) and finding that you don’t want to stop and look forward to the next time. That’s something I've not got to yet, the thing is I don’t really know God all that well yet.
Often our church practices keep us far from God, it’s a side-effect of our paganised religiosity, not least the bizarre practice of calling Him by a vague title (capitalised to keep it distinct from other gods) rather than by His name. He has many names, I'm trying to find out what His name is for me and us at this point in our lives - and why not ask Him, rather than look somewhere else for the answer?
Prayer must be a conversation, a two way process of getting to know one another. God knows me, because of who He is, but He’s not intrusive (at least that’s what we’re led to believe) so a part of prayer has to be me telling Him about myself, opening up and sharing some intimacy with Him.
Although I enjoy partaking in the Nortumbrian Daily Office and I love the thought that I'm part of an unbroken chain, this is mostly a meditation for my own benefit. It is a time to allow me to refocus on God, to feel some rhythm to my faith, but it is not a two-way thing.
So basically, what I've been trying to say is that yes, prayer is definitely a fundamental, but the structured repetitive prayer we often use the most is not enough. Let’s use prayer to get to know our Father God.