Scripture teaches us that prayer is a powerful tool. So effective it moves mountains. The book of Acts suggests it’s the key to unlocking mighty miracles; it stills storms of life, drives away evil and unlocks prison doors. Why then do modern Christians see few mountains moving if any? Why are prisons overflowing? Why is the pagan culture winning out? There can only be one answer, if scripture speaks truth, we have forgotten how to pray.
And little wonder as, over the last Century, great energy has been invested driving God out of the culture, out of schools, universities, even out of the Church. The last century saw a dumbing down, not only of doctrine which was bad enough, but worship and liturgy too; the very lifeblood of the Church. And where this happened a shift of focus occurred from the unchanging Word of God to the obvious agenda of man. Witness, just this week, in the Vatican gardens no less, prelates bowing (in the name of political correctness of course) before an idol of the Amazon goddess Pachamama. Such syncretism is obviously wrong. This is not edifying prayer. And there are other widespread examples of bad prayer. We might consider the banal narcissistic services that have become the norm throughout the West- where the community gathers to celebrate self above all else. Or the skilful flowery language of what masquerades as prayer on the BBC; “Lord ban plastic straws and advance my favoured political cause”. In both examples prayer is obviously faulty because man not God is the object and focus. The words are delivered in ecclesial language but the prayer is the wrapping not the gift.
Lex Orandi, lex credendi is an ancient motto of the church. ‘you are what you pray’ meaning how we worship effects what we believe. Ergo reverent God-centred worship forms reverent God-centred Christians. Naff self-centred worship forms naff self-centred Christians. Is the church in crisis today? Ceertainly where we find worship performed as fifth rate entertainment and in which God is marginal if not entirely absent.
Such prayer fails the church because it is fake. And situation that is not only dangerous but deadly for ego-centric worship chokes the divine presence. It cuts off access to grace. Prayers continue to be thrown up, but because they are of man not God, they fall to earth unanswered. Divested of power and purpose. And that, my friends, explains exactly why we live in an age when every denomination claims God answers prayer… but pews continue to empty, vocations dry up and we see little by way of miracle and genuine Christian progress.
Ironically ego-centric Christians mourn the very decline they cause. Like authentic Christians they love the church though often for different reasons. They love the institution, it’s a great vehicle for transmitting political desire. So they do want to help the church. But their rescue efforts again display their primary fault. Instead of looking to God and trusting the historic faith they look only to themselves and the world. Because prayer has grown sterile and unanswered for them they think nobody desires it. They don’t trust that grace is enough. And that is why we find them turning to gimmicks in desperation; crazy golf in the nave or scheduling extra business meetings for the diocese– as if PR exercises are a solution to a spiritual problem. Yes post-Christian Christians will seemingly do anything to fix the church save the one thing necessary; falling on knees in humility and obedience , turning to the faith of the ages and allowing God to replace self as object of devotion.
If we are to be part of the solution and not the crisis we need to go back to basics and learn to pray afresh. We must open our bibles and study how Jesus wants us to pray. Today’s Gospel is an excellent start point. For Jesus presents a feisty woman to learn from. A woman seeking justice who exhibits tremendous qualities that we do well to mirror: desire, determination and deliverance.
DESIRE. A widow but no fool. Her husband had died but she refused to roll over and be helpless. She would not simply shrug shoulders, as modern Christians do, but determined to make something happen. The judge was fobbing her off. But she would not be swayed. If we want change- in our lives, in the church, in the world. We must learn to roll up our sleeves and make it happen. We must be prepared to embrace struggle to bring about change for God. Keeping praying until our petition is answered. Never giving up as we seek to bring about what God is asking. Where oh modern church is thy desire for change?
DETERMINATION. She pounded on his door. The servants tried sending her away but she would not be intimidated. This wonderful woman would punch them in the eye if need be. Unlike Christians today she did not think her vocation was simply to be nice or non-confrontational. She wasn’t wet. but up for a fight and good for her! She was prepared to upset the peace in pursuit of truth and goodness. And it was this persistent nuisance that finally made the judge succumb. How different to today where the church has forgotten how to fight. How to stand up for the faith in the world. Perhaps we would stop abortion and the creeping secularisation of our institutions if only we stood up for our faith. If only we didn’t shrug shoulders and slink away. So often the devil advances when good people are too cowardly to speak out. Evil happens when good people do nothing. Where oh modern church is thy zeal?
DELIVERANCE. She won, returned home with head held high. Like all great saints in history. Her desire and determination to embrace struggling and make a difference eventually led to miraculous change. That is how it works. We still cheer St John Fisher- whilst the bishops who said nothing, like so Christians in our day, are rightly forgotten. See how prayer becomes effective! It is charged -to the point of being dangerously exciting -when it comes from a pure heart given over to truth; when the person praying is in a state of grace and blameless before the enemy and ready to stand up and fight for what is right. So now go and be that widow. Pray for the church and the world and return to authentic worship and authentic belief via the authentic power of true God centred prayer.