FaithWalk/ The Truth about Prayer

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Prayer. It’s not necessarily something that conjures up the most positive or enthusiastic thoughts. The word itself sounds a little dull, while the Oxford English dictionary definition relies on the use of the word ‘solemn’ to describe it. (“A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity.”) As a Christian, prayer is meant to be a significant feature of my faith – an opportunity to talk with the living God. I don’t think I’d refuse a chance to speak to the Queen or the Prime Minister, and yet so often I, like many, avoid praying or find it difficult.

Our spiritual enemy doesn’t want us to communicate with our Father, to ask for forgiveness or guidance or help. He wants us to stumble around in circles, depend on our own strength, get annoyed with others, and eventually give up on our faith altogether. He knows that good things happen when we pray and that there is power in prayer – so he’ll do everything to distract us from this very crucial activity that fuels our relationship with God.

But his ways are subtle – just as they have been since Eden, when he put doubt and questions into Eve’s mind. (“Did God really say?…”) He won’t try to stop us from praying altogether – rather, he’ll make it difficult, cumbersome, a burden. We start to think that we have to pray for a certain amount of time every day for it to be of any value; we think our prayers must be long and impressive. We assume that praying should take up lots of energy and focus, or we think we can’t possibly pray if we’ve messed up and feel distant from God. That would be hypocritical, right?

Jesus shows us the opposite of these thoughts. When teaching his disciples to pray, he kept it to a minimum – literally seven sentences (plus an ‘Amen’.) Not a lecture, not a rant, no wordy ramblings on.  I’m reminded that prayer was never meant to be complicated; it’s simply keeping the lines of communication open with God and asking him to forgive us our transgressions. A hearty, meaningful prayer can take 35 seconds (that’s how long it took me to recite the Lord’s Prayer). 35 seconds!

We don’t need to be guilt tripped into not coming before God because of our failures; that’s precisely why we need to go to Him! We need God, we need his light and his life to help us through our daily struggles. And prayer is the door we can open to let his rays shine through and transform us. When we speak out words about His power, glory and supremacy above everything, our perspective changes and most of the small stuff we fret over fades away. Through prayer, I admit that I don’t have everything sussed and that I’m not in control of everything. Through prayer, God is lifted high and I acknowledge my dependence on Him.

A life can be changed and heaven can touch earth in less than a minute. What an amazing God!


Surmountable: Risks and Rock Climbs

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If someone were to have shown me a picture of this rock (without the people at the top) and said, ”That’s a pretty easy climb, you could get up there”, I would have assumed they were either foolish or crazy thrill seekers.

Up there! That looks like a feat only for experts or skilled mountaineers with impressive equipment. Surely I couldn’t possibly entertain the idea of scaling that?

We were on a marked hiking trail in the hills of Northern Majorca. The sun blazed down, a calm breeze blew and we marvelled at the impressive views once we had reached this high point to the right of the trail. After veering off the path and clambering up some rocks, we could go no higher. But we were intrigued by the imposing rock opposite, that dominated the skyline.

We asked some hikers along the way about the route and discovered that it was indeed possible to ascend the rock, yet we were somewhat hesitant. We weren’t even equipped with our proper hiking boots, clad only in trainers, or in my case, pumps.

Yet lurking within me is a slight adventurous streak, emboldened all the more by the childhood years of being denied such risks and thrills. ”Get down!” ”Be careful!” “You’ll hurt yourself!”

It’s only in adulthood that I’ve climbed a mountain, learned to ice skate and rollerblade, jumped off a diving board, hitchhiked (with a friend), camped in the open, and stayed up all night. Glancing up at this apparently insurmountable obstacle before me, something stirs within me and I find myself saying “Let’s do this!”

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The start of the ascent up the rock, from a relatively easy hill climb, passes through this tunnel cut into the rock. At the other side follows an ultra narrow path, perilously close to the cliff edge. It looks frightening.

But it’s all a matter of perspective. As you walk along the rock face, there’s a sturdy iron chain anchored into the edge, which you can hold onto around the most dangerous curve. When you’re certain of your safety, you don’t mind dangling your foot out for an impressive photograph. Take away the iron chain, and it would be a whole different story.

Looking perilous?

Looking perilous?

Not only that, but when you see a variety of faces on their descent, from children to spritely pensioners, it reassures you that others have gone before you and accomplished the climb to the summit. If ordinary looking people without mountaineering gear can accomplish this feat, it makes you pretty certain that you’ll also be successful. If we’d only seen seasoned mountain climbers with helmets and ropes and hefty boots, I know my feelings would have been completely different. We would have undoubtedly turned back.

With those certainties – an iron chain and ordinary hikers – I felt inwardly confident. “I can do this.” “It’s not beyond my capabilities” – were my recurring thoughts.

It’s all about making judgements based on evidence before you, and considering perspectives at each stage. At one moment, I watched my teenage son turn sharply up and along what seemed like a dangerous short stretch, clambering over lofty rocks.

En route to the summit

En route to the summit

It seemed highly risky from my viewpoint, but he assured me it was fine. I was reticent but then I remembered that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad as it appeared.

It wasn’t. It was tricky, but it was doable for an adventurous and semi fit person like me. I just needed to take my time and scramble up the rocks, making sure I had a good foothold where it was slightly steep.

The next part involved pressing onwards and upwards – twisting from time to time, round rocky paths and minor inclines. There was no set path; you just had to choose which way round to tackle the incline. Most people would manage this part of the climb – you just had to keep going up.

Time for a treat!

Time for a treat!

The satisfaction of reaching the top was immense. It called for a minor celebration by eating some Kendal mint cake (which I discovered had lurked in the front section of my rucksack since last summer.) From the tunnel to the top had only taken about twenty minutes, but when you think about what was conquered, it inspired a sense of achievement. Especially for an average hiker like me who tends to avoid anything too risky.

The Rock

If I showed you this image, you’d probably say no way. If I showed you the safety chain, the winding paths away from the edge, and the flat summit with the breathtaking views at the top, you may have a different perspective.

View from the summit

View from the summit

And that’s how you conquer your fears and achieve the seemingly unachievable:  listening to others, following those who’ve gone before you, and telling yourself that it’s possible.  It’s amazing when you discover that something is actually surmountable or possible, simply by stepping out and having a go.  We’re often capable of far more than what we attempt to achieve.  Scaling this rock showed me that there are greater things ahead that are within our reach, if only we’ll take the risk. At church this morning, I was reminded by Adam Bradley that this principle applies not only to the physical realm, but also the spiritual – where stepping out in faith often involves elements of risk and challenges – challenges that are surmountable. Adam said that he’d learnt that faith is spelt R.I.S.K. Like most risks, there’s often a great sense of achievement and satisfaction in knowing that you gave something your all – and that is was absolutely worth it in the end. How awesome that God wants us to exercise faith and take some risks!