My Study       
Benno Zuiddam

 

 St Matthias Day: An introduction to the history of the early Church (mp3)

  

Conference for clergy in diocese of Tasmania

 

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 time. 

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?

"Morris Feinberg," he replied.

"Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?"

"For about 60 years."

"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 Country.

 

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 now.

 

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?

 

Ultimately prayer 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. 

 

Prof. Dr. Benno A. Zuiddam