Monday, 21 October 2013

How does God answer prayer?

There are certain parables that describe the kind of people that are required for the Kingdom of God, and this is one of them.
We could miss the point of the parable altogether of course if we imaging that the point is that God is a lazy God that doesn’t immediately answer prayer but has to be bludgeoned into answering prayer by persistent nagging, because In another place (Matthew 6:7) Jesus says that God doesn’t hear because of our “much speaking” or babbling like the pagans do.
This particular parable is meant to stimulate, not so much perseverance in prayer, but faith that our prayers will be answered. Jesus sometimes teaches by contrariness. In this parable He is  saying  that if even this ineffective useless judge will eventually act because of the incessant badgering by the widow, then how much more will a just God who loves us want to answer our prayers.  
This raises the pertinent question – how does God answer prayer?
This is a delicate area that needs intelligent thought, because God can be seen as a cosmic slot machine where you put your requests in and they are automatically answered.  But if I pray for a warm sunny day tomorrow, that won’t happen
 If I pray for a Mercedes, that doesn’t mean I’ll get one. Just because an unemployed person prays for a job, doesn’t mean that God will find them one.  
Much more seriously When we pray for peace in Syria in our intercessions what happens to that prayer? How could it be answered?
Well, when we intercede for things like that, at the very least what we are doing is aligning our wills and aspirations to those of God. We presume that God is a God that wants peace in Syria and we pray for that, because that is what God would want. I do not presume to know what happens to those prayers beyond that because I just don’t know.
I don’t want to take a reductionist approach. Prayer may be much more than my experience allows, but I can only start with my experience and say what I absolutely know it to be true. If prayer is much more than I know it to be – fantastic – but I can only say what I have experienced and seen and have taken from that experience.  Prayer may be much more than this but it is at least this.
Prayer, for me, is fundamentally about consciously bringing your entire self, which includes your hopes and fears and wishes into communion with God. It is primarily about “being with” God rather than a chance to present a  list of requests, though that in itself may be a valuable exercise in aligning our wills to the divine will.
But consider this. Who or what in this world do you have the most influence over? Who can you most influence? It is yourself. Prayer, for me is about changing the world and starting in the only place you can start – starting with yourself. If the results of prayer are about looking for change things for the better – then be the change you are looking for in the world.
Because God works through us, not apart from us. God worked through Jesus, not apart from him.
For example if we pray for an end to a drought in Ethiopia. Is God going to answer that prayer by causing it to rain in Ethiopia, or might he more feasibly work through people to change the way that aid is delivered, or to educate and change a country’s mentality and ways of doing things, or by inspiring scientists to develop better more drought resistant forms of grain, or inspire better water storage and irrigation systems, to inspire nations to work together more effectively. These are all answers to prayer, and they all have their locus in a change that happens in the heart of individuals – changing the world one person at a time.
I have used this example many times before because it was so personal. But it was looking into the eyes of a young Romanian girl, severely physically and mentally disabled, and dying of AIDS that I had a Damascus road experience that told me that no amount of prayer was going to change anything for that girl or anyone else in that children’s hospice. But God was present and was answering prayer through the nurses that worked tirelessly with precious few resources to allrviate their suffering.  I asked the question then – where was God in that orphanage in Cernavoda, where was prayer being answered? Where God was, where Christ was, where prayer was being answered was in the very concrete human form – a lady called Lorna Jamiesson. She was Christ in that place, she was the answer to prayer.
When  change happens in a human heart based on a strong loving relationship to God that is an answer to prayer. Our faith rests on the assumption that things can be changed by Love and that starts right where we are. In giving it away, showing love to another we become Christ for others and only through changing ourselves can we begin to try to change others. As I say, because this is experience of how God works in the world isn’t to say that he doesn’t work in other ways. Your experience may tell you something different, but surely prayer is at least this, and doesn’t exclude other explanations – they are just beyond my experience.
In speaking o prayer I will end with a prayer that is very dear to me. I printed this prayer in my weekly email before I knew what I would be talking about today and I want to end with this well known prayer by Theresa of Avila morning. What is so profound is that it is a Christian prayer for God to change things in the world but the locus of that change is in ourselves. The way  that God  affects the world around us in answer to prayer  is for  God to change us and work  through us just as God worked through Jesus. 
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.


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