Café Church – How to Pray: Sunday 14th February 2021
Reflection by Rev'd Lizzie Kesteven
Matthew 6:5-14 and Luke 22:39-46
How many Elephants can you fit in a zoom/room at the same time?
It might be sound like a strange title – Elephants – for what is essentially our opening service based around a book about Prayer. What have elephants got to do with prayer? That would be a reasonable question.
Yet when a small group of us met to look at this book and plan ahead for the café churches this year, it seemed that there were perhaps lots of elephants in the room.
Lots of perhaps unspoken things about prayer that we never talk about. The questions that everyone knows are there but are better ignored. An elephant is pretty hard to ignore – so it felt good to bring them out of the corner and name them - or as many of them that we could think of – not just one elephant but perhaps two or three or more. …..How honest are we about prayer? Do we do it as often as people think we do? Do we do it less? Are some prayers better than others? Do some prayers work and others don’t? Is there a Holy Grail way to pray? A magic formula – that was a real elephant – big fat one - as often it can seem that being able to speak prayer out loud and in a spontaneous way has some sort of elevated view – that people have achieved another level like a Super Mario game. They haven’t - but some times that sort of prayer seems like the gold standard. Are some people “better” at prayer? Does prayer feel weird or uncomfortable?
I think I said that there were a couple of elephants…it might be that there are a whole herd of them!
One of the things that I like about the way Pete Grieg who has written this book on Prayer, is the way that he cuts to the chase and is brutally honest in the opening chapters. He speaks passionately about prayer needing first and foremost to be honest. It’s why one of the questions for discussion is “What’s the most honest prayer you have ever prayed?” It might be that question alone that you find takes up all the breakout room time – and if it does – then that is fine. In many ways that is what part of the reading from Matthew is touching on – one person was being pious, the other was being honest. That spoke to me.
There’s is a bit in these opening chapters about how the author has really wrestled with God about prayer just as Moses did, and Jacob did and Jeremiah did and even Jesus. That when his wife was very ill, that he asked and shouted and sobbed and barter and blackmailed and threatened God. And he said that was the most honest prayer he has ever spoken. What’s yours?
I think that I also found helpful some of his illustrations of other people. I love the CS Lewis quote he uses
“What seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those which are least supported by devotional feeling….these may come from a deeper level than feeling. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately, when he catches us, as were, off our guard.”
Pete Grieg also in the very beginning of this book starts poking at one big elephant in the room – the idea of perseverance. What do we do when we feel like giving up – or or honest enough to admit that we have already. That focus on discipline and rhythm. Not saying that his rhythm is the only way, but that finding our rhythms of prayer are important. And in that way they form habits. The image used is that of chucking rocks into a swamp. That you can chuck rock after rock after rock and they all sink and it looks as if nothing is happening. Then one day you chuck a rock and it suddenly doesn’t sink. Held up by all the ones that you couldn’t see underneath it. What we think is wasted, God has used as a foundation.
Jesus’s rhythms were also mixed. He didn’t necessarily always pray at a certain time or a certain place – but the gospels do talk about Jesus taking himself off to pray a lot – or encouraging or teaching others to pray. Perhaps one of the most powerful of these is the one form the other reading we heard when Jesus is in the garden of gethsemane.
PAUSE. REJOICE. ASK .YEILD
One of the other things I found helpful was the way in which as we use this book the sections fall into 4 bits – Pause, Rejoice, Ask and Yield - all of them really interesting. It took me a while to work out that spelt PRAY – but I suspect that many of you were there a long time before me! We will use these as headings for the other café churches, and in that hope to ask some of those deep and important questions of ourselves in the safe company of others – so that we can poke and prod and expose a whole company of elephants!
Why do you pray?
What’s might be your biggest barrier to praying?
What’s the most honest prayer that you have ever prayed?
What has been the most helpful or encouraging thing that anyone has said to you about prayer?