I usually write here as if I’m writing to Christians, or to those in church leadership, but today I write thinking of those who are not church goers, who might not identify as Christians, but to those who find themselves in these difficult times wondering about prayer. In times of great distress or in reaction to shocking events, we’ve seen in the recent past hashtags trending – #PrayFor… often used in the wake of terror attacks: #PrayForLondon #PrayForParis, as we find it hard to express what we are seeing, feeling, experiencing and so perhaps prayer is all we have, even if we are not sure what it means.
Sometimes for some of us, when we don’t know what to do, even if we don’t know if we believe, we might talk of an upward glance and a ‘please help God’; or of a sense of thinking of those we are concerned for as a form of prayer. Perhaps we light a candle to remember a loved one, or go to a special place that helps us feel more peaceful. We think about the ‘spiritual’ and look for an answer beyond our own understanding. Prayer can be so many things to so many people, but whatever it is, it often brings a great deal of comfort and peace to many.
Today church leaders in Britain and Ireland are calling us to a National Day of Prayer & Action. In a letter from the Archbishop’s of Canterbury and York they share some comforting words and advice on what we can do to help one another, and then they say:
We make no apology for saying “Pray!” Even if you scarcely can imagine how, pray! Pray for yourself, for those you love, for friends and neighbours.
In these uncertain times perhaps some of us have thought about praying, maybe even for the first time, but we’re not sure what to do. How do I pray? What do I do? Well, to be honest I don’t think it matters how you do it, it’s more that you do something, but for those who are unsure, here are some ideas…
At its simplest, prayer is just a communication between you and God. Perhaps a conversation even. A sharing of thoughts and emotions, of heartfelt desires and deepest anger. You could try simply having a conversation as if you were talking to God (in your head, if out loud seems too strange!). What would you say to God right now? Be honest! Would it be fearful words, angry? Lamenting? Thankful for the loo roll you have?!
Or if that’s a step too far then why not try writing something down? Type or scribble, private or public. Write down what you would want to say to God right now.
- Read some spiritual resources
Perhaps you need some spiritual guidance – seeking an answer to prayer maybe? Have a look at some spiritual writing, something uplifting. If you’ve got one, why not try taking a look at The Bible? The Psalms are great for times like these with the writer pouring out a whole load of emotions that might strike a chord with where we are all at. If you’ve not got a bible try Bible Gateway – it’s free and you can search through the whole bible and in different translations. If you’re not sure about that, there is a spoken word poem here on prayer that I wrote a while back, that talks of what prayer is in all its different forms.
- Set prayers
If you don’t know what to say or do, why not try some set prayers – words that are already written so that you can say them yourself. For Christians the most well known one is the Lord’s Prayer, which you can find here. Below is a prayer from the Church of England for now, and they have more here for this specific season.
Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy. Sustain and support the anxious, be with those who care for the sick, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may find comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Get creative
If you’re a creative type why not use creativity? Write down the names of those who you love or are worried about, the NHS, teachers, our world leaders. Doodle them, use nice scripts, draw, paint, express the emotion you are feeling or the thoughts in your mind by being creative. There’s a post on this theme here.
- Thinking & meditating
Perhaps you like space and time to think? A bit of quiet to still your mind? Again this can be a form of prayer if you are using that time because you are seeking the stillness and peace of God. Why not take 5 minutes, just to sit by yourself and away from the news, inside or outside, and just enjoy the space.
Sometimes we might be seeking an answer or clarity on something. What situations are you facing in this season? Why not try sitting in quiet and just listening. What thoughts come into your mind? Perhaps answers will come in the quiet – I like to think they are from God.
Sometimes in prayer we need to think things through, perhaps to think about how each day has gone, how we ourselves have been in each day. There is an ancient form of prayer called The Examen in which at the end of the day we might look back at the day just gone and reflect on it. There is a helpful video here that guides you through it.
Now you might be thinking, this is all very well but who am I actually praying to? Well, for some it’s just a sense of a spiritual being, for others maybe it’s the traditional old guy in the clouds with a long and flowing beard? Well for me, it is all about Jesus.
In simple terms, in the bible Jesus tells us to pray to the Father, but also to pray in his name. We also read that Jesus ‘intercedes’ for us – so he takes our prayers and brings them before the Father in heaven. People take this different ways but for me, I pray like I’m chatting to Jesus, seeking his advice, sharing my thoughts, asking him to help people, or give wisdom into situations, and I always finish my spoken prayers with ‘in Jesus’ name, Amen’
Praying helps me feel closer to God, it helps me to better understand who I am and it brings me an amazing sense of peace, which I’m finding so valuable right now! I am sure I’m not the only one struggling to sleep well, or waking up feeling anxious at to what each new day will hold. But taking some time at the start of each day really helps me to be calm, to know that I am loved and that I can help others to feel the same.
So, today is a national day of prayer– why not give it a go? And if nothing else there is a suggestion that we light a candle (or I hope a non fire risk version! – we might do fairy lights!) and put it in our window at 7pm, as a symbol of hope.
Go on, try praying – what have you got to lose?