Prayer is the raising of the heart to God.
God is greater than the creeds.
God said,”I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I made the world that I might be known. Muslim Hadith
In the 1960s the English bishop John Robinson caused a sensation with his book Honest to God. The newspapers reported him as saying, “Our image of God must go!”
And some people started calling him an “unbelieving” bishop and much worse. Yet the bishop had certainly not said that he did not believe in God; he had just suggested that the image that most people have of God might be in need of some revision for modern times. If this was true then, it is even more true now.
When we pray:
· Who are we praying to?
· What image have we got of the being or beings who are the recipients of our prayers?
· What is the relationship between our prayer and our religion generally?
Some people would say that no one or nothing hears or listens to our prayers. When we pray, they contend, we are just giving expression to our deepest thoughts and concerns, but we are deluded if we think our prayers are going to make any difference to the world.
Others believe that anything is possible through the power of prayer, even miracles and extraordinary wonders.
To help us think through these questions we need to start with our image of God.
I am assuming that most here today have been brought up within the monotheistic (one god) tradition of the Abrahmaic” religions of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, and if not within this tradition then in a context where religious vocabulary and images are monotheistic. By this I mean that most are probably familiar with the religious belief in one God:
· who made and upholds the universe,
· who has a personal character and who is concerned for the well-being of humanity.
As long as we do not give a name to this God, this picture of religion would probably also be recognisable by people from many other faith traditions of the world as well.
This picture of religion may be recognizable, but it is not really adequate. The definition of religion given above is most likely to be given by someone who does not actually believe in God.
For instance, the idea that there is a creator and sustainer of the universe is something that I do personally believe. I am talking about the way people differ, not the way religions differ. Each and every one of us has our own image of God.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself what your God looks like … choose a picture
You probably hardly need to pause because I suspect that, as you have been reading these words, your own image has been pushing itself to the front of your mind.
Who is God for you?
What is God for you?
Perhaps you have a picture of God as a wise old man or woman, as a serene, sagelike figure resembling a Buddha image, or maybe you do not see God as a person at all but as a sense of power, like nature itself.
These examples are only ideas, and it may be that when you think of God, it is feelings that come to the forefront: comfort or relief, anger or bitterness.
You could almost say that, whether God exists or not, God invokes powerful feelings in us, so those people have a point when they say that in prayer we are just giving expression to our deepest thoughts and concerns. Those people might also be prepared to agree that in the light of our modern “science” of psychotherapy—the “talking” cure—the act of expression itself is likely to bring about change. In this way, even the prayer of the unbeliever might be effective in helping such a person get to know and improve himself or herself .
I am assuming that most here in fact have some belief, even that we would would wish to identify ourselves with a definite religious tradition, namely Christianity. But I think we have to be careful not to confuse official dogmas with our private beliefs. We should accept that ‘private’ prayer might be powerful enough to bring about that greatest of miracles—personal growth and acceptance. It is helpful as we begin to pray to reflect on our own faith journey up until this moment, to try to get a sense of who we are and what God means to us…