Prayer is one of those things that most people would say they are no good at. I think we all tend to assume that people who go to church have all been let into some kind of secret about how to pray, and that we must have been absent that week. So what is prayer, and how do you go about it?
Time spent with God
At its simplest and most fundamental, prayer is time spent with God. If we want a relationship with anyone, we need to spend time with them. You don’t always even need words – think of times when you’ve simply sat in companionable silence with someone you know and love and trust.
Try setting a timer on your phone for 10 minutes, and simply sitting in silence. Trying to be consciously aware that in doing so you are choosing to sit in God’s presence. You might find this easiest in a space like a church or cathedral, or outside.
Time spent talking to God
Prayer is also time spent talking with and to God. Obviously we don’t often literally ‘hear’ God replying, so the idea of a conversation can seem odd. Think of a time when you’ve been talking an idea or a problem over with someone you trust. Often they barely say a thing, just sit there listening, and you find yourself working out what you really feel and think as you talk it over in their presence.
Try speaking to God in this way – not reciting set prayers or asking for the things you feel you ought to ask for, but imagining God is sitting in the room with you and just talking aloud, honestly, about how you feel, or whatever is on your mind.
A communal experience
Prayer is also something communal, not just something we do as individuals. ‘Corporate’ prayer literally means prayer that we do as a body. One of the central mysteries of the Christian faith is that we, whatever our differences in theology or worship style preferences, together make up the body of Christ. When we gather as a body we are all different. Yet, together we are part of the unity that is at the heart of God. You don’t have to agree with or even like the people you are praying with – the Church is bigger than our differences.
One of the things we’ve found in lockdown is that we don’t even need to be physically together for this to be true – gathering on Zoom or Facebook or in Second Life (other social media platforms are available) is just as much an expression of this mystery of unity-in-difference, and can make it even more noticeable.
Try going to a church, or joining a prayer group or service online. For example, in the Team Parish of St Luke in the City (which includes St Bride’s, St Michael in the City, and St Dunstan’s) we’re live-streaming morning prayer on Facebook every morning, including a short discussion on the Bible passage of the day using the comments facility. Find us at https://www.facebook.com/StLukeInTheCityLive/
On Fridays that service has a particular focus on our student community.
Author: Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes is Team Rector of the St Luke in the City Team Parish, and author of the Prayer Experiment series of books published by SPCK.
Find Your steeple contact: Lilly Nelson (St Luke In the city)