Do we really believe in prayer?

First published 27th January 2016

On Wednesday 23 rd December, I had scheduled into my diary a day of prayer for the work of vocations across the diocese of Bristol. Nearly every one of my previous blog posts has included a call to pray and insisted upon the importance of prayer, and so I thought I had better actually do some praying! I had done a full days admin on the Tuesday, with a view to clearing my inboxes for the space to pray the following day.

However, 9am on Wednesday morning found me just having one last check through my inbox and to-do list, just in case. You know what happened. Just one more job led to several more and before I knew it, it was 3.30pm and my prayer day was a distant memory.

Driving home, I wrestled with my feelings of satisfaction that I had completed so many important jobs, while at the same time feeling deeply guilty that I had so easily abandoned my good intentions.

Am I the only one who finds it quite difficult to make prayer a priority in the face of so many worthy demands and expectations?

I have reflected a lot on this particular day and how it is that I can speak so passionately about the importance of prayer on the one handand yet manage so consistently to fail to do it on the other. I will just share a few of those reflections with you in case any of them may resonate with your experiences.

God is very forgiving, people are not.

I am aware that in failing to honour my commitment to God to spend a day in prayer, God is not going to berate me or make me feel guilty. God's abundant grace means that I do not have to spend time in prayer to earn his love and blessing; that God knows my weaknesses and frailties and delights to work in and through me anyway.

This is great news. People however are less likely to be so understanding when I miss deadlines or fail to do things I am responsible to do. Thus, the temptation to please others is significant and relentless.

Mywork is (mostly) good and God-orientated.

For those of us who work in and for the church, so much of what we do is good and orientated towards the kingdom.

I am not having todecide between praying and national espionage, but rather between time spent in prayer and other worthy church work such as completing someones paperwork for their discernment journey, or enabling a Lay Minister to be more effective in their ministry. For many volunteers, the choice might be the same: I could spend this next hour of my evening in prayer or in planning my session for kids church this week. Because its for God, we can confuse our spirituality with our service.

Short term fruit is more tangible than long term objectives.

I believe that prayer is powerful and effective, but the rewards from a day of prayer are frustratingly elusive. We never really get to know what differenceour prayers have made and as such, I am frequently tempted by the promised gratification of immediate action.

When I complete a task, I can see the fruit of my labours I canuse and enjoy them. Whether it be a completed policy document, or a course program, or a completed reference, there is obvious satisfaction, for myself and others, which results. When forced to choose between the elusive and the concrete, the latter often takes precedence.

Measurability is preferable to mystery.

One of my tasks is to increase ordained vocations across the diocese.

Logically, the way to do this is to plan promotional events, advertise, produce promotional literature, give talks and presentations at different events, network and involve other people. These activities are controllable and measurable; we can understand them and evaluate their success. Sitting quietly in a room with my eyes closed saying Please God, increase vocations and hoping that this will produce the results I want to see feels tantamount to lunacy, even from my perspective of faith. It is a mystery which we will never fathom and can never control or measure.

And this is why it is crucial! Prayer is the constant reminder to us that it is God's work, it is God's church, it is God's world and purpose. It is all about God and for God. I dont know about you, but I am regularly in need of this reminder, lest I allow myself to believe, through folly or vanity, that I am in anyway necessary to the mission of God.

February is Vocations month, which is a time that the national church is seeking to promote vocations in order to inspire the increase in people coming forward for ordained ministries that we hope to see. I am very encouraged to see that prayer is at the heart of this campaign. Attached are two resources which you may like to use in your parishes and personal prayers to join me in praying for vocations. (And in committing to actually being intentional and disciplined about taking the time to do it!)

Throughout February,there will be daily CofE postingsof prayers and vocations stories on Facebook and Twitter.

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