A Christmas Prayer image

A Christmas Prayer

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The Christmas edition of The Spectator has a feature on answered prayer, or rather, as the piece is titled, ‘Have you ever had a prayer answered?’

The answer to that question is provided by a range of media and establishment types and range from the sweet (Anthony Seldon’s answered prayer for a wife) to the grating (Amber Rudd’s ‘wish that nothing should stand in the way of [my daughter’s] ambition’). Bear Grylls, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Justin Welby provide the more mainline Christian responses.

As a Christian I of course expect to experience answered prayer – especially as a reformed and charismatic Christian. My theology expects to see evidence of God’s working in the world he created, and my experience confirms that. I once asked my congregation who had experienced answered prayer and almost every hand went up. But every hand stayed up when I then asked who had experienced unanswered prayer too. And that demonstrates the limitations of the question posed by The Spectator, or more to the point, that it is simply the wrong question.

Within the limits prescribed by the question, Cardinal Nichols probably comes closest to escaping its narrow confines and giving a truer definition of prayer: “In 47 years as a priest, even in the hardest of sorrows and confusion, never – yet – have I had a sense of being abandoned by the Lord.” Yes, that’s a better answer – prayer is about our relationship with the Lord.

I expect answered prayer, and experience it regularly, but that doesn’t seem to me the primary purpose of praying. Yes, Jesus himself instructed us to ask of God, but even that asking is in the context of communion with God – and that is what is largely missing from the answers given to The Spectator survey.

It is also what is largely missing from most people’s experience of Christmas. The incarnation has made possible our union and communion with God. So it is Christmas that makes true prayer possible! It is this that Christ invites us to: Just as the Son abides in the Father, we are called to abide in the Son (John 15:10). This means prayer is a way of living for us. It is not a task to get through, or a shopping list of requests to make,  but an expression of our knowing God and being known by him. Of course, this leads to answered prayer because prayer is the fruit of our relationship with Jesus, and what makes us fruitful.

We can wish one another a merry Christmas, but we also get to pray, and that is something far more solid than any wish.

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