Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Other English versions use the terms tribulation, trials, hardship, difficulties, but I suppose “trouble” is sufficient. Yet I doubt that the Lord had in mind this kind of trouble.
I have trouble with prayer. Other people’s prayers and my own. I didn’t use to have too much trouble, and I don’t think I’ll have eternal trouble, but I do have it now.
In this uncertain time . . . and I’m thinking first of the virus pandemic, not the U.S. political scenario . . . shouldn’t I sense that there’s more point in the words of prayer? I do have confidence in God’s ultimate provision, but I have little in human prayer, as I have experienced it. I offer this as a confession, not a merit badge.
In the midst of a slight uptick in my own prayer-activity, I came upon this news about prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem:
Tomorrow afternoon in Jerusalem, prayer will occur. I wonder about that in several respects. And then I find this:
The article refers to “the novel depiction of [Mary] as the mother-protector: she stands with her mantle open, sheltering the people under her intercessory protection.” The prayer itself—a prayer to Mary—is at the bottom of the article. And I don’t wonder about that at all. Take from that what you will.
Being troubled by both of these news items indicates concerns over misguided philosophy and misdirected zeal. I do know, obviously that praying people share various concerns over the ramifications of COVID-19, and we presumably share a measure of general faith, too. But that’s not all the trouble there is . . . I’m also concerned, in more typical types of prayers, by the rote nature of them. This may indicate my human lack of faith, but it also shows my annoyance with system-driven religion. Most people I know would say “prayer makes a difference,” but I prefer to put the emphasis on God, not on the activity or the words of prayer per se, or on the liturgical intoning of prayer-words. Prayer is not some elixir or magical incantation that’s effective in itself.
Here are a couple of past posts on prayer.
The first deals with some of our bad habits, as seen in small groups, but also elsewhere.
The second highlights some wise words of C.S. Lewis on prayers asked and (not) answered.
God, forgive me if I have reflected poorly on your designs and desires. God, help us all. And hear this prayer, written by another, sung by many, and remembered now by me:
Father, whate’er of earthly bliss Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace let this petition lie.
Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine my life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine, and crown my journey’s end.
– Anne Steele, 1760