I’m just back from one of the richest, most inspiring weeks of my year – the “On Fire” conference, a time when charismatic catholic Anglicans gather for a programme of talks, workshops, and some truly wonderful prayer and worship. Year after year, I’m blown away by belonging to a community whose expectation is that God will turn up, will be tangibly active in their lives and their worship, and will respond readily and unmistakeably when they pray. Believe you me, it’s extremely exciting.
So, this morning’s gospel feels, right now, very much like lived experience.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you...”
Whatever you ask
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can expect the slot machine experience – prayer in equals result out. You don’t need me to tell you that simply adding “in Jesus’s name, Amen” to a string of requests does not automatically guarantee success, even when the things we ask seem to be wholly good…the sort of thing that surely no loving God could ever deny us.
That’s always a challenge to faith…for even as I speak I’m sure that many of you are remembering with sadness the times when you prayed urgently, with all that was in you, for something that just didn’t happen…
The cancer didn’t go into remission…
A troubled marriage did not suddenly come right after all…
Warring nations did not experience a sudden unexpected outbreak of peace
“Whatever you ask in my name…”??
We do struggle with this, don’t we?
Sometimes hindsight makes sense of a prayer that’s been left apparently unanswered…for sometimes the answer is “Wait”. Sometimes, we have to acknowledge that the “No” that was so unwelcome actually led to the best outcome in the end.
Sometimes I think that we’re left in a situation where all we can do is to be honest with God about our disappointment, our rage…
“You are supposed to be almighty yet these awful things happen, despite all our prayers and entreaties. What are you doing? Don’t you know that this hurts!”
Thankfully prayer is nothing to do with being polite to God, and everything to do with coming as we are, with our wounds, our angers, our deepest most painful needs.
We set out with our best intentions…we try to believe that God will answer our prayer…and then it seems as if nothing has changed.
Yet we have this promise…ask for whatever you wish…
Does that mean nothing?
I think that actually to pray in Jesus’s name is to embark on something rather different.
Just think for a minute. Names are powerful things.
We talk about preserving someone’s good name when we are intent on ensuring that people realise they are people of worth and integrity.
When we march and protest “Not in my name”, what we are doing is saying that whatever is happening is not an expression of our world-view, our way of being.
So…when we are praying “in Jesus name” we are doing more than using it as a sort of formulaic ending, a quality stamp for our own wishes.
Rather, we are asking Jesus to validate our prayer – and if we are to do that with any integrity, that means we must ensure that our prayers are those we know he can be part of. In other words, when we pray in Jesus’ name, we must set out to align our own wills with his, so that the prayers that we pray have the hallmark of his presence running right through them, like the lettering on a stick of rock.
He shows us how it’s done in the Lord’s Prayer, a model that covers all that we could need for the world’s good:
“Thy kingdom come…Thy will be done”
Thy will…In Jesus’ name…
That’s the secret. It’s not about what we want, about what we think would be the best way to arrange things. We aren’t setting out to change God’s mind, but rather, by spending time with him, to change our own minds, our own outlooks...to abide with and in Jesus, his words abiding deep within us so that we might discern God’s will, and place that at the heart of our own prayers.
And that process of abiding, of soaking up God’s presence, God’s light, God’s love is, of course, transformational.
When we pray, we become more Christ-like…we enter into a benevolent circle so that as we pray in Jesus name we become more able to see what Jesus would do…and to work with him to achieve this.
We pray, God works and to him be the glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.