Readings: Jeremiah 8:18–9:1, 1 Timothy 2:1–10 & Luke 16:1–13
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Tim. 2:1–2 NRSV)
The Apostle Paul tells us that we should pray “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity”. He says this in the context of providing his disciple Timothy, with encouragement and advice on the day-to-day life of the church at Ephesus, when he tells Timothy that prayers and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, including kings and those who are in positions of authority.
He singles out those in authority, because in his day, the Romans forced people pray to the Emperor, to recognise the Emperor as lord and saviour. But the Romans realised that this wouldn’t work with the Jews, who believed there was only one God; so they allowed them to pray to their own God on behalf of the emperor. This is where the early Christian attitude of praying for those in authority came from.
And Paul tells us that it’s perfectly acceptable in God’s eyes to pray for them. We should pray for them because it is all part of God’s plan to spread the Gospel to the whole world. If those in power and authority are doing their job, then they create the peace and social stability that allows God’s people to worship without being harassed or persecuted. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity”. In other words, when the world is at peace, the gospel can spread more easily.
I think it’s fair to say that here in Australia we do live very peaceful lives. As Christians we are certainly not harassed or persecuted. And while we may not always agree with the policies of our government, or the behaviour of some of our politicians, most of us are probably reasonably content with our country, and we might think the idea of praying for the government and politicians is not that necessary.
But imagine if we lived in a country which has had unstable government, and perhaps tyranny, for many years, which is a reality for a lot of Christians, especially for those who are minority groups in their own country. Suppose we lived in fear of a knock on the door after dark which means that the secret police have come to take someone away, perhaps to be tortured or killed. In that situation, we can understand why people would pray for good, strong, wise and just rulers who will hold their world together and prevent the bullies and the power-hungry from doing whatever they like.
So we should pray for those in authority that the people of the world might live in peace. When we do pray, we find ourselves in a dialogue with God. Prayer is a two-way communication. In prayer, we bring our petitions to God, asking for His help or direct intervention in some issue or problem that is important to us, but we must also try to discern how God might be responding to our petitions. Prayer brings us into a closer relationship with God.
When we do pray, it’s probably reasonable to assume that we might put ourselves, and our loved ones, at the centre of our prayers. We might pray for forgiveness and healing; we might pray for guidance and courage; we might pray for ongoing support and for the gift of perseverance. And even though our prayer might start with us concentrating on our own desperately felt personal needs, the Australian Cistercian monk Michael Casey believes that all prayer eventually expands to include the whole world and all of creation. He gives the example of Saint Aelred, an English Cistercian monk who lived in the twelfth century, who once told a female religious hermit to embrace the whole world with the arms of her prayer. Let me read for you now what he said to her.
In a single act of love hold the entire world in your heart. There consider all the good people together and rejoice. There look upon the evil and lament. Gaze upon those in trouble and oppressed and share their suffering. Within your soul encounter the wretchedness of the poor, the wailing of orphans, the desolation of widows, the grief of those who mourn, the troubles of travellers, the dangers of those at sea, the offerings of virgins, the temptations of monks, the cares of prelates, the labour of soldiers. Open to all the breast of your love. Let your tears flow for them. Pour out your prayers for them.
Our intercessions each Sunday morning follow a similar pattern of prayer to that which Saint Aelred outlined. We pray for the world, and for all the people of the world. We pray for the Church, and for the advancement of God’s church in the world. We pray for our local community, and everything that constitutes that community. We pray for all those in need–especially for those members of our parish community who are in need. And we give thanks for the lives of those who have died.
We hear some beautiful prayers during the intercessions, and quite often they come from special resources, such as this book by Janet Nelson titled Let Us Pray. It’s unfortunate, but I think that one of the unintended consequences of the intercessions, is that when we pray in private, we may feel that we have to use a similar format or words in our own prayer, which may actually prevent us from praying because we might feel intimated and unsure how to pray in this way.
But that’s when we need to remember that one of the reasons we pray is so that we can engage in a dialogue with God. And God doesn’t care how we talk to Him or what we say, He is just pleased that we want to engage with Him. I like what Michael Casey says about this: “We do not have to make our prayer respectable; it is an intimate interchange between God and ourselves—it is not going to be published or disseminated on the Internet. It has to be real.” Our prayer should be authentic, and perhaps more importantly, we should be authentic when we come before God. To again quote Michael Casey, “We do not have to disguise our reality so as to appear before God as somehow better than we
As written in the Gospel of Matthew, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45 NRSV) God does not discriminate. He accepts as we are, for who we are. So whenever you prayer, be authentic. Be yourself. Present yourself to God just as you are, for He loves you just as you are.
And if you don’t know what to say to God, then just remember the instructions that Jesus himself gave us on how to pray, and how not to pray. “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.”