Monday, 13 June 2011

Answers to prayer

In our prayers of intercession in church on 12th June (Pentecost) we prayed over the issue of increased aid for vaccination programmes in the developing world. I read in today's Independent (13th) that the government is announcing increased aid of over £8m towards this. It is immensely pleasing to be able to note this here and for thanksgiving next Sunday. To keep me becoming too triumphalistic in my approach to prayer, I should also add that we prayed for peace in most of the warring countries that are hitting the headlines at the moment. Sadly I think it will be a little longer before this prayer may be answered, although I continue to look for speedy resolutions to the conflicts.

To be honest, I was also surprised to read the news about vaccinations in the paper. It occurred to me to say I was ashamed to be surprised, but I wasn't. I'm not ashamed of my being surprised, not because I've stopped believing that God answers prayer, but because I have become used to the fact that we tend to couch our more formalised prayer in the setting of the institutional church and formal church services, in a more generalised way, which doesn't seem to look for specific and speedy resolution or immediate solutions. I know that the human condition throws up far more things that we would like to see mopped up quickly than ever are. Neither God, by direct and miraculous intervention, nor the progress of humankind, clear up all the problems as soon as we would like. This latter is hardly surprising, given that we cause many of our own problems. However, the news that increased resources are being made available for the vaccinations does remind me to be more intentional about prayer, and to raise the bar of my own expectations with regard to it. I need to hold this in tension with what I like to call realism, or spiritual common sense with regard to prayer. Some things could not be cleared up quickly even if God did intervene directly and miraculously, and some things need the development of goodwill and wisdom before they can be addressed. And many of the things which God could clear up instantly, he doesn't. I suspect he doesn't so that we will learn wisdom and patience, and not tire in endeavour to make things better. This means that prayer also involves management of the expectations of those with whom or for whom we pray, since we all know of cases where people have been bitterly disappointed and even lost faith because they did not get the answer for which they longed. And then there are some things which could be miraculously changed by the application of things like grace, which is within the gift of every one of us to give, but so often we fail to manage. 

No comments: