Politicizing Prayer

As with the Synod, so with the Parliamentary debate about tax credits: they are both giving rise to a great deal of politicized prayer. By that I mean someone decides, quite sincerely, what they think the ‘right’ outcome should be and prays earnestly for it to come about, often solliciting the help of others. I can’t tell you how many requests for prayer have come to the monastery, urging us to pray that this view or the other may triumph (significant word) at the Synod, or that ‘the evil Tories’ may be foiled in their ‘plot against the poor’ or, alternatively, that all opposition may be wiped from the face of the earth. As you may have gathered, I have no intention of saying anything much about the Synod until it is over, and I won’t be drawn into party politics, so you may be wondering how we cope with such requests. How do we pray in response?

The answer is as simple as it is disappointing to many. We ask God to ensure that what he wills comes about. That isn’t as easy as it sounds, because we all have opinions, but it is the only honest way of praying when our knowledge is imperfect and our view of any situation partial. If someone who hasn’t done a stroke of work all term asks us to pray for good exam results, I trust an open-ended prayer of the kind I have described may lead to a realisation that some effort of one’s own has to be put in. We are asked to to pray for a specific result, but what God chooses to give may, ultimately, prove much better. So, too, with the Synod: those sure that the Church ‘needs’ such and such may be surprised to find that the Holy Spirit doesn’t necessarily agree. Similarly, the policies advocated by a political party may have good or bad points, but we don’t have to ask God to take sides.

What I think is important, though, is that we bring to our prayer a sense of reverence, not just for God but also for the people and situations we are praying about. One of the sad aspects of the media debate surrounding the Synod, for example, has been the name-calling and bitterness that goes with the polarisation of views and demonisation of those who hold different opinions. It is much the same with party politics. A prayer request that refers to someone as ‘evil’ or ‘hardline’ is not one I want to take before the Throne of Grace. That isn’t just middle-class niceness asserting itself, or a wimpish desire to avoid conflict: the fundamental disposition of prayer must always be profound humility and reverence. Anything less, whatever else it is, isn’t prayer. In fact, it is a hindrance to prayer because it fills us with our own noise and deafens us to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. At least, that has been my experience, born of innumerable failures to pray as I ought. On that basis, I think I can safely say, learn from my mistakes.

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9 thoughts on “Politicizing Prayer”

  1. So glad I caught this excellent post because I feel these truths need to be applied as never before in a shrinking world.

    The picture is always so much larger than we can frame it and we don’t know what’s best in any situation, but we do trust that God intervenes for the good in the lives of those who pray and are prayed for. Deliverance may not always look like deliverance when circumstances in themselves appear not to have greatly altered. But our real life is on the interior, the journey that cannot be seen except by its fruit.

    It’s also worth remembering that out of the great negatives of life, God’s best work is done. ‘Strength made perfect in weakness’ as St Paul put it. ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings’ as the Psalmist said, has strength been ordained. Not what we humanly expect at all! But then, nor was the Saviour of the world looked for in a stable.

    It is a pity that Synod debates have to be so public and often bring the Church in general into disrepute. They don’t begin to represent all the good work that goes on quietly at grass roots level for the benefit of society.

    As to how we should pray, this yours is the ultimate wisdom: ‘The answer is as simple as it is disappointing to many. We ask God to ensure that what he wills comes about.’

    The trouble is, how many of us pray to the image of ourselves in the assumption that we are party to God’s mind? Are we praying for God’s kingdom, or ours?

    A little humility in our approach might well produce miracles we had not envisioned!

  2. A wise priest who is also a Vatican accredited exorcist once told my husband and I that not only is it imperative to pray that God’s will be done in a situation but to also work collaboratively with the outcome. If it isn’t God’s will unfolding it will soon become apparent. If it is and we’re not working with it then we’re operating in opposition to God, a very dangerous position.

    Often it’s only in hindsight that we see the whole picture, but the difference between knowing all the details or not before moving forward is faith and trust in God’s supremacy.

  3. I haven’t been following either the Synod debate or the one about tax credits. I know that I should be keeping up with these things, but my priority has and always will be to praise God and ask for Jesus to intercede for those things which trouble the world. I’m talking war, human traffiking, the plight of the millions of refugees from conflict and the many people imprisoned unfairly by undemocratic regimes because they dissent with yow they are being governed.

    Yes the synod is important, yes the debate on tax credits is important, but they pale into insignificance when compared to the plight of those suffering.

    • I respect your views, Ernie, as you know, though I attach greater importance to the Synod on the Family than you do. My point in writing, however, is in the last paragraph. Synods and tax credits are by way of contemporary illustration!

  4. Think this thought applies in many situations. After a frustrating morning at work, I found myself praying that a software glitch would resolve, such that I wouldn’t loose all my data from 2 days of experiments. Half way through my moment of complete exasperation, it occurred to me that it wasn’t exactly the biggest crisis in the world! I’m currently on a schedule daily visits to the hospital to check on a sick relative! So somehow this turned into a prayer to help me keep my work in perspective.

    The data is still lost in limbo… But the ill relative seems to recovering. 🙂

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