September Magazine leader

From the Vicar

One of the most important things that Christians can do is to pray. To pray is to enter into the language of love between ourselves and God. It is God who puts his Spirit into our hearts whereby we can call him ‘Father’. So prayer starts with what God is doing in our lives and it needs to start with an openness to God’s Spirit. Silence, stillness and a quiet openness to the voice of God is essential to prayer. This may lead to Confession. Pope Francis has said that we must bless the past by Contrition, Forgiveness and Atonement. To have contrition is to have a sense of sorrow at what has damaged our relationships with God, with our neighbour and with creation. Forgiveness is as much about forgiving those who have hurt us as learning to forgive ourselves for what we have done. Atonement is a matter of being committed to doing something about what has been, in the way we live our lives today. Confession is also about opening our lives to the forgiving love of God. To know we are loved and forgiven, despite our sins, leads us on to Thanksgiving. It is no accident that the central act of worship for Christians is the Thanksgiving. The Greek word we use here is Eucharist. The central action of the Communion Service is one of thanksgiving for all God’s goodness to us. God reaches out to be where we are so as to transform our lives. Our response is one of thanksgiving.

Somewhere in all this prayer we also find Intercession. To intercede is to pray for others. To intercede is to join our prayers with those of Christ, who ascended into heaven and who prays for a broken world, that it might be healed. When we come to the Intercessions in our shared worship, we are not at that moment confessing or giving thanks, but holding the cares of the world in our hearts in prayer. The Bishop of Chelmsford is fond of telling people to stop praying for others, unless we are prepared to accept that we ourselves might be part of the answer to that prayer. Praying for a particular situation or person needs to challenge us to ask whether we might not be able to contribute to how that prayer might be answered. So praying for others needs to be a dynamic engagement in the world in such a way that we become part of God’s saving plan.

The Intercessions (also called ‘The Prayers of the People’) is a time for such dynamic reaching out to others. The president stands for this prayer, for she or he is presiding over a congregation in prayer. The person speaking should not be the one praying, but rather fulfilling the roll of the prompter in a play. The words they use are to prompt the praying community, for they are the ‘actors’ in this moment. The audience is God. So to lead prayers in this way is an important ministry. Having a number of people in the congregation who can lead us in such prayer brings great enrichment to our shared worship. Yet getting the dynamic right, that what is required here is to evoke the intercessions of the whole congregation, will mean taking care in the words used. The prayers are addressed to God as Father. Too many words will simply lead to spiritual indigestion in the congregation. It is not necessary to pray for everything every week. This is a process of reaching out to touch a broken world, so the prayers are for others, rather than for ourselves. Giving times of silence will be useful. Themes can be suggested and then the congregation can be allowed time to use their own imagination, rather than have the intercessor analyse a situation down to the smallest detail and then tell God what the answer is. The intercessions should not be too long, but they ought to engage in some of the concerns of the moment.

I have no doubt that such prayer is effective, providing as it does the background hum of conversation of a people being drawn ever deeper into the life and ministry of God. So thank you to all who lead our prayers in church and thank you for the great unseen ministry of prayer that so many of you engage in, day by day, which underpins all that we try to do here in God’s name.

 

Nigel


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