Fermanagh Churches Forum

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Lenten Reflection on Prayer by Dr. Ronald Brown

on March 20, 2020

For the past few years about this time I have to start looking for inspiration to help me prepare a topic for this reflection.  It doesn’t come readily and I often wonder how our clergy and lay leaders manage it week in week out.  I reckon the good Lord is looking down on me and thinking ‘Here Brown goes again looking for inspiration-I will make him work for it and so He does! My topics have been varied over the years from the sleeping apostles at Gethsemane to James and John’s Mum trying to book a good seat for them in Heaven.

This year I was in Waterstone’s in Belfast looking for books to get in exchange for the Book Tokens I got as Christmas presents. I am easy to buy presents for-Book Tokens are always most welcome! Anyway what did I see but a book by CS Lewis ‘entitled ‘How to pray’. Ax you well know CS Lewis is long gone but this is a new book of collections of his thoughts on prayer. Up flashed the flag-this is your topic. Ah no I thought. I was not at all keen as there are few topics that create more dissension, doubt and questioning than Prayer. What is prayer? How should one pray? Is prayer really answered? Surely God should already know what we need and does it not reflect poorly on him that we have to ask? How come we are so quick to be thankful for what seems answers that please us but not so keen to recognize the times when answers are not to our liking or seemingly absent. This last may be so; even in what we might think are absolutely cast iron cases.  I could give you examples of these but don’t think I need to. All these questions can cause, at best confusion, or in many cases pain, doubt, disbelief or loss of belief. We are often told that if everybody prayed then great things would happen-does this mean that God is impressed by numbers? Of course not, but I fear these are questions we don’t often like to ask ourselves but are often asked by others.

C.S Lewis is quoted as saying ‘I don’t feel I could write a book on prayer: I think it would be rather a cheek on my part’. Most certainly it would be a cheek on my part to give this group any teaching on prayer. What I am going to give you is my own experience and thoughts on prayer.  Perhaps you may think what has this to do with Lent? Well, surely our Lord was in constant conversation with His Father during the 40 days in the wilderness?

I expect we all recognize prayer as petition, asking for things or better outcomes, confession and penitence, praise or adoration and sometimes a real feeling of His presence, perhaps felt at odd times or during Holy Communion.

I am always aware that although I know God to be a personal God and that his Grace is directly available to us through his son Jesus Christ I acknowledge also that his whole being is far beyond my comprehension and remains a Mystery.  Acceptance of His majesty and central place in our being alone makes it inevitable that we should wish to praise and communicate with him. For me this mostly means mentally talking and discussing frequently daily matters with Him. I frequently feel and say I do not understand but this does not reduce my belief.  The Psalmist had no trouble praising or arguing with the Lord and neither do I-in suitable humility I hope.  Some believe that prayer should be at certain times, for example morning and evening, and see this as a worthwhile discipline. I do not find it so and reckon it should be more like a conversation with a definite effort to listen as well!

In set prayers and prayers at routine times the words can be on the lips but not really in the mind!  Certainly I have a love of the Book of Common Prayer and indeed our own Methodist Service Book. One really needs to actively think about the words and not just say them which is far easier and dare I say more usual! I sometimes find meetings, where prayer is the main theme, disconcerting especially where some of the seeking is for unlikely miracles, which experience tells us is not the way God usually answers prayer, certainly in the immediate sense and my scepticism asks does this person truly believe this is likely? Are we trying to put God on the spot? I am sure this is never really in people’s minds but for me God’s answer is in supporting and helping us to cope with whatever comes our way. I have many good things to be thankful for in my life and have had, like most people, some hard times as well.  I see the hand of Heaven in some of it (though not always apparent at the time) but I accept it all as part of God’s plan for me. His answer is often through the works of others and it is good to remember that God works through us all. As Paul quotes in Corinthians-we are all God’s fellow workers.

We have three readings which I find particularly helpful. The first which runs on from the Beatitudes and Jesus’ teaching on a number of topics ends with the model prayer that he gave us all-the Lord’s Prayer.

The second reminds us not only that loving your neighbour includes your enemy but is also a useful reminder that prayer and being a child of God does not protect from the things of the world-or as it says the rain falls on the righteous as well as the unrighteous, something which may be especially reassuring in this part of the world!

And then we have the third-the well known passage about Jesus at Gethsemane before his arrest. Some passages in the New Testament seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers but this cannot be what they fully mean for in the very heart of the Gethsemane story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. There the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. But, of course he goes on to pray ‘Not thy Will but Thine, oh Lord’!   This we really must remember.

I will sum up prayer for me. I converse with God on a frequent and undoubtedly inadequate way. I have faith that this is responded to by Him and sometimes I even pick up the message, if I am listening well enough. It sustains me through good times and bad. There is no doubt that in doing this there will be a greatly increased likelihood that I will travel my life in a way more pleasing to Him.



One Response to “Lenten Reflection on Prayer by Dr. Ronald Brown”

  1. Fiona McFarland says:

    Very well done! Thank you

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