St Matthias Day: An introduction to the history of
the early Church (mp3)
Contribution to parish magazine
When prayer seems like talking to a wall...
The other day
someone shared with me the following fictive story: a CNN journalist, who heard about a very elderly Jewish man who had been
going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long
So she went to the
Wall to check it out. And there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site.
She watched him
pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached
him for an interview.
"Pardon me, sir,
I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. What's your name?
"Sir, how long have
you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?"
"For about 60
"60 years! That's
amazing! What do you pray for?"
"I pray for peace
between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all
our children to grow up safely as responsible adults and to love their fellow man. I pray that politicians tell
us the truth and put the interests of the people ahead of their own interests."
The journalist then
asked, "How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?"
"Like I'm talking
to a wall."
Perhaps you have
felt the same about your prayers. You prayed for years, but your petitions to the Almighty don’t seem to make
much of a difference. I have felt that way both in my private and public prayers in church as a minister. One
prays for the Queen and all her parliaments Sunday by Sunday for twenty years, without much visible
encouragement. As a member of the House of Commons was found praying by a colleague; and was asked afterwards
whether he had been praying for the House. No, he responded, I looked at the House and prayed for the
Of course prayer
has many facets. In the first place we could ask the question what the situation would have looked like without
our prayers. In the context of the anecdote, Israel has not been involved in a full scale war with Arab
countries since the 1970’s. That is a measure of peace and something to be thankful for. Also, there was major
support for Jews and the state Israel from Christians all over the world, and unwavering support from the one
country that was the number one enemy of Jews: Germany. More of the gentleman’s prayers may have been heard than
he realized. The same could be true about yours.
In the second
place, there is the contents of our requests. Is what we pray realistic and in line with God’s wishes?
In other words, what has the Bible to say about it? If Jesus and
all the prophets foreshadow wars and rumours of wars towards the end of time, if Scripture tells us that
sickness and death are going to be with us until God creates a new heaven and earth, we should not expect God to
answer prayers along those lines fully AS YET. He has already told us it is not going to happen now. But we can
pray for safety and for deliverance from evil, without expecting a perfect world right here and
Then one should
also consider what is good, or what God’s purposes are with the people involved in a specific situation. For
instance, perhaps it is God’s will that evil people be punished and other nations used to carry it out. There
are several examples of this in Scripture. The Israelites were only allowed to invade the Promised Land when the
measure of sin of the pagan nations living there was full, not before this.
Fourthly, there is
also our motivation for prayer and for particular requests. We could pray for the police not to discover our
speeding or drunk driving. But what are we praying that for in the first place? Why are we praying? Is it part
of a relationship with God? Or are we not interested in that, just for a quick fix for our situation, using God
as a hand while we remain captain on the ship?
is a tool to relate to God and his created world. He tells us to pray and to ask for things, according to the
great pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. To pray for God’s interests and our personal spiritual and bodily needs. He
is concerned about that. He loves those who have been baptized and called by his Name.
Our prayers operate in the midst of the turmoil of a turbulent fallen world that is
still in rebellion against God. And when we, every once in a while, hit a brick wall in the midst of all of
this, so what? Be honest to God. It is him you are interested in, are you not? Tell God how you feel, and
that your prayers seem to hit a stone wall, without doing much good. Read the Psalms, like the Church has
done over the centuries, and find out how many saints have struggled with the same. Lord these are your
promises, beautiful, might work for others, but it is not happening in my life. Are you really there? Are you
really as powerful as your Word seems to say? God relates to real people. Jesus was delighted to meet a man
without guile in Nathanael. May he say the same about us as we petition his Father.