Prayer is the means by which God helps us to communicate with him, whether we’re lonely or in danger, being tempted, fearful or unhappy, or thankful, or happy, or excited, or even just getting on with our lives. It involves both speaking and listening to God, whether we’re alone or with others.
Many people think prayer is a way by which we can change God, and many people ask God that their lives might be improved in some way, but in fact it is the opposite of this: prayer is a way in which God changes us to make us more like him as we try to live out our Christian lives. The Bible is full of examples of this. In the Old Testament, Abraham prayed to God by listening to him and following his call. Moses too spoke with God at the burning bush, asking him questions. Just as Abraham and Moses came to trust God and serve him whole-heartedly through their prayer, so we should pray so we understand God and our calling better. The Blessed Virgin Mary knew this when she said to the angel ‘Let it be to me according to your word’. Here, Mary accepted God’s plan for her life and gave herself whole-heartedly to him. Jesus understood that this wasn’t always easy, but even when he was suffering, he did not pray that the pain would all go away, but that he might do his Father’s will.
Prayer can have set words, and many people are familiar with prayers like the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Rosary. These prayers have been given to us by God that we might draw closer to him both individually and as a Church community, so whilst they’re often included in worship in Church, lots of Christians also choose to pray them on their own or with their families at home. To unite Christians together even more, the Church also encourages us to use the Divine Office, or Daily Prayer. In the Church of England, the Divine Office or Daily Prayer is said twice a day, in the morning (Mattins) and in the evening (Evensong), and the words for these offices can be found in the Book of Common Prayer, or a more modern daily prayer book such as the Divine Office or Common Worship: Daily Prayer. Saying these not only draws us closer to God but helps us to understand that we are part of the world-wide Church which is constantly praying.
Whether following the prayers of the Divine Office or praying from your own concerns, both of which are important for our prayer life, prayer itself can take several forms, including blessing (where we ask for that God might look kindly upon the thing we bless), adoration (where we acknowledge God’s greatness), petition (where we call upon God in our need), intercession (when we hold before God those who we know to be in need), thanksgiving (when we thank God for what he has given us) and praise (where we rejoice in what God has done for us). Our posture can relate to what we’re trying to say to God: standing has been the standard posture for prayer since the early Church and acknowledges our reverence for him; kneeling is a common posture which recognises God’s greatness and our sinfulness; and prostrating helps us adore God. Our hands can also help us to pray: during the liturgy, you will see the Priest keep the palms of his hands together, which helps him concentrate on praying to God; he also stretches out his hands when praising God.
To help us live our Christian lives, we have a two thousand year old tradition to draw from. This helps us interpret Scripture and our prayer life in a way that is consistent with the faith which Jesus gave to his apostles and which the Church continues to teach. Many saints, for instance, have left writings, or have had biographies (known as ‘hagiographies’) written about them, and many theologians continue to explore the meaning of the Church’s teaching and how we should live it on a daily basis. It is always good to have a Christian spiritual book on the go alongside your prayer life, and at St Peter’s and St Paul’s there is a bookstall run at the back of Church with a wide variety of titles to choose from.
To discuss anything about your prayer life, the Daily Office, or spiritual reading, please speak to one of the clergy, who will be more than happy to help.