Screwtape Reflections iv

Letter XXVII brings us to prayer -“intellectual difficulties with prayer”.

Screwtape tells Wormwood:

“You can worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result…

…If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then it is more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which have led up to it, and ‘therefore it would have happened anyway’.”

So why pray?  Why does God sometimes answer our prayers, and sometimes not – or apparently so?

First of all pray is about communicating with God – and communication involves listening as much as talking!  God wants us to be involved in a two way relationship with him, and that involves taking the time to be with him, to tell him what is on our hearts, and to listen to what he has to say to us.

Soren Kierkegard said, “prayer does not change God, but it changes those who pray.”  Relationships are not about trying to make someone else think the same as us.  Any woman who has taken on a man thinking she would change him knows that! (or vice versa of course!)  Prayer is not just to tell God what we want, but to change ourselves, to seek to align ourselves with God’s will. Not just telling him how it is, but asking him what he wants US to do about it.  If we expect God to answer prayer, then we should expect him to change us to make those answers possible.

In an ancient legend, Saint Benedict, riding from Chapel one Sunday met a peasant.  “You’ve got an easy job” said the peasant.  “Why don’t I become a man of prayer, then I could ride on horseback?”

“What makes you think praying is easy?” responded Benedict.  If you can say the Lord’s Prayer just once without your attention wandering from the holy God, I’ll give you the horse!”

The astonished man leapt at the opportunity.  “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy …”  Suddenly he stopped and looked up at Benedict, “Will you give me the saddle as well?”

His prayer did not change him, his mind was still on what he wanted.

Coming to God in prayer is about changing us, not about changing God’s mind.  It shows we are serious about what we are telling him, and allows him to speak to us.

So why does God not always answer prayer?  Well, I believe he does – but he may not always do it in the way we anticipate.  He always hears what we say, and does something.

When our children were younger, they would ask for things – children do, it’s how they have their needs met.  Sometimes they could instantly have what they asked for, a drink or even sometimes a treat.  Having it was not a problem and helped and fulfilled them.  Sometimes the answer was ‘not yet’.  I never let them have anything new just before a birthday or Christmas – you never knew what else you were going to get soon that would be better or meant you didn’t need what you just asked for.  And sometimes the answer was a direct ‘no’.  What they were asking for was inappropriate or not what was good for them at all.

All of those were answers.  Not always the answers they wanted or believed were right, but they were answers.

God, in his infinite wisdom and love, always hears our prayers and responds.  He holds the big picture.  We may not understand why he sometimes says no, or wait, but he does.

That might sound really simplistic, or even trite, but I have found it to be true.  We do not know the answers, but I believe in God who does.  It may be painful when we feel he isn’t doing something, but he holds us in that pain and waiting, gently keeping us and leading us.

We pray, not to persuade God to do things our way, but to hear his voice, and allow him to guide us.  To be a part of his wonderful work.  To hear his love, his comfort and his challenges, and to receive his equipping power.

Do pray, pray with an open mind, pray with a listening ear, pray with a loving heart.  Pray, and let God do the rest.

I’ve ‘taken up’ C S Lewis for Lent.

They’re a couple of books that I found when we moved, and thought ‘I must have another read of those one day’.  Well in an effort to do something productive during Lent, ‘one day’ has come.

I’m starting with The Screwtape Letters (first published 1942, I’m reading a reprint from 1977 – though this is a third impression from 1982!).  It must be about 25 years since I read it – and a lot of water has passed under this bridge since then.

Screwtape is writing to Wormwood.  Screwtape is a senior demon.  He is advising his nephew, Wormwood, a more junior demon, how to tempt ‘the Patient’ away from ‘The Enemy’ – ie God.  So it’s an appropriate theme for the beginning of Lent.  I’ll share just some of my random thoughts as I work my way through it – hoping they might spark some thought.  Feel free to comment!

~ by pamjw on March 4, 2010.

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