Over a week ago now, I went to a ‘Summer Central’ at HT (Holy Trinity, my Cambridge church) on prayer. So many useful and encouraging things were spoken about and shared, but I will mention the thing I most needed to hear.
The vicar, Rupert Charkham, briefly talked about 3 main barriers to prayer: Satan, the World (distractions of life), and the Self. It is that last one which he thinks is the hardest barrier to overcome, and it is that one which this blog post will be about.
Rupert highlighted a passage that I have just re-read a couple of days back as part of my reading through the gospels over the summer. It is in Luke 18 where both the Pharisee and the tax collector pray:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Rupert said that the Pharisee prays in a circle – the prayers revolve around him, and so they never get beyond him.
But the tax collector knows his sin, and is therefore more aware of his own weakness. Because of this, he is able to surrender himself – all he is – without reticence. He gets off the throne of his life and places God there instead. Part of prayer is submitting yourself, re-aligning yourself with what is important. It is by doing this that we become most useful in the kingdom of God.
It is all about becoming nothing so that God may be everything. That when we decrease, Jesus may increase in our place. We are to be able to say, to use a phrase Miriam Swaffield used in one of her talks, ‘when you see me, see the one who made me’.
I find that my pride makes this hugely difficult for me. So much of me protests that I want to be seen and I want to be known, and if I don’t make myself visible, who will? But then, what is it that I am trying to gain through being seen and known? Nothing that Jesus hasn’t already given me in abundance.
The issue of my pride was illustrated effectively by the prayer we had time to quietly think through and reflect on that particular Tuesday night. As I read through it, I remember feeling the hardness of my heart rebelling against the words and sentiment. I wonder if it is the same for you.
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
I googled the words from this prayer a couple of days later and found out that it is the Methodist Covenant Prayer. It is so beautiful, and I pray that with time I would be able to pray those words increasingly more honestly!
There is one more thing I want to say on this. Self forgetfulness is a beautiful thing. (I believe that there is a reason why studies have found becoming wholly-absorbed in an activity has been found in studies to be the key to happiness. Jesus was not wrong when he said that you find life when you lose it – and this finding is a reflection of that truth.) But never let your inability to do this stop you from praying. Prayer is a means to reaching this end. Nothing should stop you or make you feel disqualified from enjoying prayer. Always start praying from your starting point, wherever that may be.