Easter 6

THE VALUE OF PRAYER – BEAULIEU 17.5.20 by Revd Iain Morrison

IonaOn a retreat that I led on Iona a few years ago we focused our time together throughout the whole week on the subject of prayer and this was inspired in part by a sermon which the late Pope John Paul II delivered to thousands of young people at Ninian Park in Cardiff during his visit to the United Kingdom in 1982. We are fortunate in the western world that we have access to so many books on the subject of prayer but I want to lead you on a journey this morning to explore what is meant by prayer and how we are best able to enter into the real meaning of this subject which is first of all the activities of our Christian discipleship.

Christ Himself taught us how to pray but His instructions to His disciples led them into a radically different kind of prayer from that in which they had been nurtured in the orthodox Jewish faith. The God to Whom Jesus prayed was not the invisible, untouchable God whose name ‘Jahweh’ could not even be uttered, for Jesus knew that a much closer relationship was possible between God and Man in a dialogue (not a monologue) that enabled this to happen and to flourish. It is in the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus, when teaching His disciples how to pray, began with the words ‘Abba bishmaya,’ – ‘Our Father.’ The word ‘Abba’ was a word that was used and used still by children who speak Aramaic to this day – the daily language of Jesus and a language that is softer and more gentle than many dialects of Arabic. You may have heard it spoken by the actors cast in the controversial and Mel Gibson’s very graphic film ‘The Passion.’ Jesus used this familiar address to His Father to illustrate that we too are able to relate to God as a young child relates to his or her father, respecting his authority yet having the knowledge that we are loved, protected and guided by Him.

Prayer, however, is not confined only to our corporate prayer in church nor to the verbal utterances we might offer. Those of the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, especially those in the religious life, are familiar with the ‘Jesus Prayer,’ which is way to a great application and perseverance in the art of prayer. The Jesus Prayer uses the simple words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” It begins with these words being spoken softly and gently and allowed slowly to enter into the mind and as time progresses it becomes evident, by God’s grace, that these words gradually become an interior prayer. Any verbal expression then becomes redundant and it then becomes the prayer of the heart and the mind. It is when we have achieved this status that we become aware of God’s vibrant presence and are drawn into an intimate relationship with Him. We begin to hear His words addressed to us by name and our sense of purpose and being is slowly revealed.

Pope John Paul II spoke of prayer as a multiplicity of different levels ofr applications. It is in prayer, especially silent prayer or peaceful, quiet prayer, that we begin to focus our attentions purposefully upon God. We need to know even in our ordinary daily lives the whereabouts of someone before we can begin to communicate with them! We could not hold a conversation with someone else in some sort of void if we are unsure where they are or where we are!

I am sure that all of us are lovers of the open countryside: the hills, the rivers, the forests, the Downs, the lakes, tarns and lochs and all those other things of nature that can delight the soul and in such places we can sense and even be keenly aware of the creative forces of God in His handiwork:- the silver veins of a new dawn; the shimmering cascade of a mountain steam; the swish of the rising swell on the ocean tide; the call of the new-born lamb or the skylark winging her way high above with a canopy of sapphire as her roof; of a rainbow or the setting golden sun floating on the scattered islets in a darkening sky. God’s handiwork cries out to a world which is able to see, to listen and to feel the Divine presence. Unless we are able to distance ourselves from time to time and retreat from our ordinary, daily lives we shall always find it difficult to be aware of God’s presence in our lives and certainly to communicate with Him in prayer in ways that we find rewarding.

We need always to prepare ourselves for prayer and where we can hear God speaking to us: guiding us; comforting us; listening to us, we shall be able to say ultimately ‘Yes’ to God and a great joy will be come to us in that, despite the vastness of the world in which we live and the countless millions of people who live on its surface, God speaks to each one of us - and we matter to Him! He calls us by name!

When we become conscious of our prayerful state and that we are privileged because of the freedom and God’s grace and goodness to know Him at a more intimate level, then we begin to take responsibility for ourselves and to put aside perhaps the ways which we have done little to enhance our attempts at discipleship.

Every time we pray, we acknowledge that Christ is our way, our truth and our life and our prayers become channelled through Him to the Father. God knows us for what we truly are, whatever that may be, because only through Jesus is God able to experience every condition of Man. God in Jesus, shares our human experiences with us! By coming to know Jesus we come to know the Father and to detect His presence in our lives. “To have seen Me is to have seen the Father,” said Jesus to Philip. “The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in Me, Who is doing this work.” (John 14:10).

This is why, when we pray to the Father, we conclude with the words: “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” for only by our knowing Jesus can we come to know God. It is Jesus Who represents humanity transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the unique state into which we are all invited to share. It is the same Holy Spirit that converted the Disciples and all the Holy Saints in over two thousand years of Christianity that can change us today! But why do we expend effort and struggle to attempt what seems impossible?

As Christians we know instinctively that we cannot remain static for we are all on a pilgrimage of great significance and hope. We may doubt that we shall ever achieve Sainthood but at least we can try and God will love us for it!