Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Sometimes the answer to prayer isn’t what you want to hear

Sunday at church one of the parishioners gave what might be described as a small testimonial.  He had been recovering from a quadruple bypass and was back at church for the first time in many months.  After thanking people for their prayers and general support he told is of an experience he had a couple of days after the surgery.  He was starting to feel more human and he started to pray.  In effect he said to God that he was 88 years old and has never been in hospital before.  He told God that God had better make sure he never was in hospital again.  These aren’t his exact world but that was the gist of what he said.  After that he heard a voice but couldn’t make out what was said.  So he asked that the message be repeated.  He heard it this time, “Sonny boy don’t ever tell me what to do again.”

I don’t know if this can be classified as revelation but it certainly is revealing.  It reveals a lot about our expectations for prayer and the purpose of prayer.  In prayer I believe it is hard not to substitute our will for God’s will.  Sometimes these two things seem to be indistinguishable or at least we would like them to be.  We may not create God in our own image or perhaps it is inevitable that we always do to a certain extent as God is certainly beyond all the ways we can think of God.  However, we certainly do substitute our will for God’s at times whether it is desire for healing when someone we love or we ourselves are in poor health physically, spiritually or mentally.  We pay for peace in times of conflict and that those who serve in our armed forces will not come to harm physically, mentally or spiritually.  We even pray for good weather and for abundant harvests.  In all this we hope and prayer that our hopes and prayers will be answered by God – in the way we would like them to be answered. 

Richard Rohr has spoken about this:

We need forms of prayer that free us from fixating on our own egos and from identifying with our own thoughts and feelings. We have to learn to become spiritually empty. If we are filled with ourselves, there is no room for another, and certainly not God. We need contemplative prayer, in which we simply let go of our passing ego needs, which change from moment to moment, so Something Eternal can take over.

In all this it is good to remember the closing sentence in Anglican prayer which I find helpful, “Loving God, you know our needs better than we know them ourselves.  Fulfil now our desires and petitions, as may be best for us, in this world knowledge of you truth, and in the age to come eternal life.”  Amen

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