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Prayer of clarity and purpose

Easter 5 BCP

13 May 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

Easter 4 BCP 'What he needs to offer is clarity and purpose' - a comment from one of his supporters about Gordon Brown as he makes a leadership bid in the Labour Party. This is not bad advice when considering today's theme - intercession or the prayer of petition. In prayer, as in any other undertaking, method is not unimportant. The secret of success is to know what you want…and to want it enough - clarity and purpose.

As a worldwide community, through prayer, I believe Christians have played an important part in helping to resolve and change seemingly impossible situations. Perhaps to our astonishment we experience the answering of prayer. The tearing down of the Iron Curtain…the end of apartheid…an apparent peace in Northern Island bringing together violent extremes. The peace of Jerusalem - peoples of the holy land living together in peace and harmony remains at the top of my own focus for prayer, even though the situation appears more hopeless now than at any time in recent decades. The sheer intractability of the situation in the Middle East makes even what might be experienced as the prayer of impotence, that much more urgent.

'Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my Name, he will give it you'. At first glance, it seems Jesus makes an overly bold promise. There are some people who regard the prayer of petition as some kind of magic art - to seek the satisfaction of any whim or fancy. They are those who treat prayer as a last resort…or as a short cut. But Our Lord qualifies his promise with reference to the need to pray 'in my Name'. This is what brings prayer out of the world of illusion and into the realm of reality. Christ's promise is not a blank cheque requiring the endorsement of his Name to grant us our desire. It means that those who are 'in Christ' - those in whom the Spirit dwells - those who will His will and love with His love, have in prayer the means to bring in the will of God - his kingdom.

Throughout the ages Christian experience has been that prayer in Christ's name is answered. Not always in the manner hoped for. Sometimes, indeed, it is refused, as was the prayer of St. Peter on the mount of the Transfiguration. But prayer is never simply rejected. Time and again the answer is abundantly and startlingly given, and this experience of being personally addressed by God, becomes for many the basis for a strong faith.

There are two points to make. The first has already been mentioned - namely the need to pray with definite intention and perseverance - the clarity and purpose needed for any project. Knowing what we want (which will need to be in accord with what God wants for us), and wanting it enough…and the condition of Christian prayer is faith and persistence in the name of Christ.

The other point is that God always something better in store - 'your joy shall be full' - and the greatest gift is always himself. 'Richer than gold' in the words of one modern hymn we shall almost certainly never hear at St. George's! There is a lovely quote from an old manual I came across: 'Prayer which begins in a mist of illusion, will, in the end, blush to be partial'

Prayer in Christ's name will raise the disciple above and beyond the region of his own selfish desires…into that rarer atmosphere of God's holy will, in which we find peace and freedom. And, having God, we have all.
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