The Work of Prayer

‘Many Christians today do not pray, and this is something that is true both of laity and clergy. The cause is a mystery.’[1]

Somehow, so many of us have lost sight of living in anything other than a selfish, anthropocentric (human centred) way; that religious or not, we can see no point in praying unless it improves our earthly lives in a tangible way; and not only that, in our impatience, we can often see no point in doing something unless it changes things immediately -or at the very latest, within a couple of weeks.

It’s very strange, in the West, we’re living longer than every before, and wasting more time in front of TV, and yet somehow we kid ourselves, that our time is so much more valuable than it used to be, that we can’t spend it on doing certain things… devout Muslims put lackadaisical Christians to shame, in the amount of time they regularly spend in prayer… but it was not always so.

Here at college, where we share times of prayer with a monastic community, the Community of the Resurrection, the Christian duty to pray is taken seriously, and the fruits are tangible. There is something about obediently returning to prayer regularly, that, whilst honouring God, also brings about change within us… an immediate difference is the ordering of time and life, something that Fr. George Guiver, superior of the Community talks more about in the book from which I quoted , ‘Company of Voices’.

For me it is certainly true that a day begun with prayer -even if I wake late and have to fight the urge to rush on with the day and catch up- is always more productive than one of frantic human effort with ‘no time to pray’… that is why I believe that: if you make time for God, God makes Time for you. After all, there is no time but the present moment, and if one’s thoughts are flitting back and forth between what one should have already done, and what one is hoping to achieve, then one is ignoring the present completely! In prayer -if one is able to pray wholeheartedly, one is centred completely in the present, and this seems to linger on long after the time of prayer finishes.

Also prayer does transform… it is not a ‘once and for all’ transformation, but, like an athlete’s training, a gradual spiritual development which will always need work, but which builds up to a longterm change. And if one is to take one’s vocation seriously then, like an athlete’s training, one should be prepared to pray regularly and pray every day, even in holidays, days off, fine weather and foul… when a challenge arises, it is easier for the  athlete to cope with that challenge, even if training has recently begun to slip; than for a habitually lazy person who just runs for the bus now and then.

Formal prayers: So a formal pattern of prayer, has benefits over no pattern at all, because it provides a balanced shape: not reliant upon personal whim or mood; not dependent entirely upon a gift of inspiration (though there should always be room for that); not picked and chosen to give ourselves an easy time (‘I don’t fancy praying about that today…’); but balanced according to spiritual health -to worship God, to hear and read words of scripture, to pray a psalm or two as Christians and Jews through the ages have done; to transform and renew our minds and to turn our thoughts to the needs of others and the transformation of the world.

The fact that this sort of exercise, formal daily prayer for 20-40 minutes a day, is so hard for even earnest Christian believers to begin or to continue -should also alert us to the fact that there is no GOOD reason this is so… and the importance of therefore making the effort to do so, cannot be underestimated.

So if you are a Christian and you don’t tend to pray in an organised way ( beyond perhaps a hurried ‘Our Father’ in bed)… time yourself on a usual day to see how easily you can fritter away an hour or two on nothing, then take up the challenge and try and give just 15 or 20 minutes each day at the same time, to run through a little pattern of formal prayers.

It’s an encouragement to join other Christians in prayer -even if not in the same location -so here’s an example of Anglican daily prayer you can find online:

or there’s a nice short daily prayer feature from the Methodist Church:

Or search online for ‘Daily Prayer’ for all sorts of suggestions from every denomination… rather than sit at a computer though, it’s even easier to really concentrate with just a prayerbook -and prayerbooks are easier to carry around and set-up than a computer -then you can pray in the park on your lunchbreak, or in the local library, at the breakfast table or on the train…

… this Summer I met a lovely lady who said she would like to begin every morning with prayer if she could, but since she commuted into central London, she didn’t feel she had the time. I asked her why she didn’t get a prayerbook and pray silently in her head whilst on the rushour train in the morning… she said she only liked to pray aloud in ‘tongues’ – obviously not everything is suitable everywhere…!

[1] George Guiver CR,Company of Voices, Daily Prayer and the People of God,(Norwich: Canterbury Press,2001) in ‘Introduction’


About Jemma

Learning to be both a priest and a human being in the Anglican Church
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