Praying & Prayerful
Sermon 5 in the series about the ecclesiology of St Andrew’s
Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 4 February 2024.
I heard a story the other day about a man who encountered a bit of trouble while flying his small aeroplane. He radioed the control tower and said, “Pilot to Control Tower, pilot to Control Tower. Over.” ‘The Control Tower operator said, “Receiving; please report.” The pilot said, with his voice rising in pitch and in volume, “Pilot to Control Tower. I’m 350 kilometres from the airfield, 600 metres above the ground, and I’ve run out of fuel. I am descending rapidly. Please advise me what to do.” The dispatcher began, calmly, reassuringly …“Repeat after me…’Our Father which art in heaven …’”
Instead of prayer being something that we do everyday – that informs and colours our lives – it seems to have become like that little glass covered box on the wall that says, “Break in case of emergency.” It is true that we often associate prayer with crises in our lives.
But praying and prayerfulness – and that’s the part of our series about church life that we’re up to today – – – praying and prayerfulness is so much more than merely saying prayers, whether in emergencies or at other times. “Prayerfulness” describes life-orientation. “Prayerfulness” encompasses everything from praise-filled enthusiastic hallelujahs and loud Arab ululation and dancing before God … to quietly gentle, peaceful murmurings of an individual believer who is lost in his or her own meditation … and then to tear-sodden incomprehensible gaspings, or to the desperate silence that springs from the inability even to form words because of the awful circumstance we are in.
PRAYING AS AN ACTIVITY
When we say that one of the characteristics of a local church is that it is “praying,” that certainly includes the fact that recognisable prayers are spoken in our worship together. If you were to go through the Communion Service we use each week, and put a pencil mark in the margin where there is a prayer, you would have a well-marked service.
The Prayer of Preparation prays that we may worthily magnify God’s holy name;
the Confession unloads our burden of sin;
the Gloria is an outpouring of praise to God for all that God is to us;
the Prayer of the Day brings a corporate concern to God;
the Intercessions express the concerns and worries we have in common to God about the world we live in, and about our life together as a church;
the Prayer of Approach prays that we may worthily receive the sacrament of Holy Communion this morning;
the Great Thanksgiving Prayer rehearses the actions of Jesus with his disciples in the upper room and sets aside bread and wine for our acts of communion together;
the Prayer after Communion prays that we may live and work to God’s praise and glory.
These are 8 recognisable and well-used and much-loved prayers.
Hymns as prayers. Some of the hymns we sing are also prayers that we offer in our worship together. It’s a very helpful exercise to think about what sorts of hymns are the hymns we are singing, and temper our volume and attitude according to the hymns type. When we sing “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,” we give it the full works. But when we sing such a prayer as “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” – a hymn of confession – we should be more reflective, more restrained.
When we say that one of the characteristics of a local church is that it is “praying” that certainly includes the fact that the individual members of the local church are praying people themselves. The page of our Pew Sheet that ought to feature in the routine of our lives each week is the prayer page … page 18 in today’s Pew Sheet. Each day of our week could feature one of the sections of the prayers –
Monday, The Nations and People of the Earth;
Tuesday, The Church and its Mission;
Wednesday, St Andrew’s; and the activities mentioned on the page of notices – Page 19 – in the Pew Sheet;
Thursday, Ourselves and our Community;
Friday – People who have asked us to pray for them with Special Prayer Requests and the people known to us personally who we should pray for in their needs;
Saturday – Thanksgiving for those whose lives have enriched us, and whose lives do enrich us because they are living today faithfully as Christians.
On Sundays we shall join together in praying for the choosing of a new Rector on page …. as our congregational part in assisting the elected patronage committee to do its strategic work.
The words and language we use in our prayers are not important. They are useful, they are convenient. They help us to express verbally the concerns and desires of our hearts so that we can give form to what we are feeling about people and circumstances. But God is not concerned with our words. God does not speak English or Swahili or Japanese or American. God speaks “heart.” When we pray, God listens to our “heart”. Our words are the best expression we have for revealing our hearts’ desires, but God hears our heart. Of course we ought to use words … but for our sake, not for impressing or persuading God. We are grateful that Archbishop Cranmer and others were so jolly good at wrapping prayers in helpful words. I remember as a very young curate at Dapto, south of Wollongong, being left in charge of the parish after the Rector had left to go elsewhere. I was asked to go and visit a parishioner who had been badly hurt at work, and was in Wollongong Hospital. When I got there I was met by his wife Juanita who was dreadfully embarrassed and apologetic. “Stuart,” she said, “Ron is swearing and blaspheming.” Well and truly daunted, I went into the ward, and there was this man who worked at the local electricity station. And he was saying, “O God …. O God …” I had the spontaneous wisdom to say, “Juanita, he’s in so much pain, that that’s all he can say. He’s praying.” I really, really believe he was!! He had no other words – just physical and emotional distress. The words he used may not have been the words we would have used – but they expressed the concern of his heart at that moment. Incidentally, he recovered after a while.
It illustrates the saying, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
PRAYERFULNESS AS LIFE-STYLE
If by praying-as-an-activity I mean feeling and voicing our prayers to God … then by “prayerfulness” I mean the life-style of Christians … waiting for us to hear from God. Now, all of us here at St Andrew’s are “secular” Christians. That means, we don’t live in a religious closed community such as the Benedictines or the Carthusians. We go about our daily lives – to the supermarket, to work, to recreation and so on. Popularly, the monks and nuns in convents and monasteries are thought of as people of prayer and meditation but not of work, whereas secular Christians like us are thought of popularly as people of work and not really as people of prayer and meditation.
But it’s a false dichotomy. God calls everyone to be people of prayer and meditation – of prayer and prayerfulness. We are all called to have an ear out for what God will communicate to us in one way or another. Prayerfulness means listening for God’s leading, just as much as speaking for God’s listening! Our patronage committee members at the moment are listening for God’s leading in the search for a new priest for our parish.
Do you remember the Old Testament narrative of the child Samuel in the Temple, who was told by the old priest Eli to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” In a hymn that was written about this Old Testament incident are 2 verses that say,
O give me Samuel’s ear, the open ear, O Lord,
alive and quick to hear each whisper of thy word,
like him, to answer at thy call,
and to obey thee best of all.
O give me Samuel’s heart, a lowly heart that waits
where in thy house thou art, or watches at thy gates;
by day and night, a heart that still
moves at the breathing of thy will”
And in a time of silence that we build into our prayer times … in a time of meditation that we may engage in … we too are really saying, ”Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”
St Andrew’s is a Christ-centred, sacramental, inclusive, thinking, praying and prayerful Church.
So when we pray, we are really saying, “Listen Lord, for your servant is speaking.”
And when we are prayerful, we are really saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”