We may know what it is to pray to God, to call to God and know that He is listening, but in times of darkness, do we know the fullness of what it is to depend upon God, to trust in the power and the grace of God and know that he will overcome our trials? God’s care for us does not falter, every morning God’s mercies are new. God loves us and does not wish us to be overcome by darkness, he brings us into the light. Do we really understand how wonderful it is that when we ourselves are broken, when we have no power to walk ourselves, to carry on, God will take upon our pain, and He will bear it for us?
It was peaceful there in the garden. The subtle greenery and the delicate flowers leading down to a restful pond. Enclosed from the crowds outside, I had never noticed this place before. And yet we had found a place of peace, a place in which we could talk to God with joy of the world that He has made.
During The Globe Church’s ‘Week of Prayer’ a prayer meeting on Southbank was organised. Having rushed from a Christian Union meeting I found myself outside the Globe Theatre a minute before the time of meeting. Jonty, his son and another member of the church arrived soon after. We were a small group, but I saw, in an instant, the challenge that God had given me. Because God doesn’t want us to remain within our comfort zone, God wishes to test us so that we may learn so that we may grow confident and bold in sharing our faith. I couldn’t hide in the background, or pretend that I wasn’t part of the group. They welcomed me, they knew that I was there. And I knew then that I had been given an opportunity from God to challenge myself, to grow in my confidence in prayer. And looking back I knew that a year ago this situation would have terrified me, to speak in such way and express myself openly. But here I was, and God was strengthening me, God was carrying me, He was giving me the chance to grow, to reach out and be confident in my faith.
And this same action brings us to the sermon on Sunday. As the last in the short series of ‘What is the church?’ it was titled ‘A Church that Goes’. Jonty talked of how Christians are sent into the world to give everyone a chance to hear about what Jesus has done for us. He built the sermon around the image of the harvest, centralised upon the image of Jesus as the Lord of the Harvest. He talked of how, as the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus has to come to gather his people as a harvester gathers crop. He talked of how we, as Christians, are sent to be workers, to spread God’s word across the nations and to show His love to everyone. The sermon challenged me, it reminded me of how important it is too reach out to others, and at the same time reminded me of the power of prayer in helping others. It reminded me that it is God who gives me strength and God who gives me the words to speak. In prayer, I know that God understands, and in trouble, I know that God knows what I need.
In the week following The Globe’s Week of Prayer I was faced with my First Year University exams. In the past I had always found exams and the education system extremely stressful, I was easily overcome by the troubles I faced. But I knew now that God was supporting me, that whatever happened it was part of God’s plan. Facing my own troubles following our church’s week of prayer showed me, in practice, the great importance of prayer in times of need. In desperation of the stresses I faced and the anxiety of the future I knew that I could turn to God. I knew that God cares for me and that God does not wish me to experience anxiety, that on the cross Jesus took on my pain, Jesus knew my pain and had faced far greater perils himself. He understands every persons pain.
And yet our week of prayer had shown to me something else of great importance. I saw in our activities and in the prayers of others that we must not come to God only in times of need, but that we should always be in conversation with God, not only calling and pleading, but praising and showing our great thankfulness for what God has done for us and for what God does for us every day of our lives. God has given me so much in my life and I knew, during the exam period, that the academic troubles I faced were of such little importance compared to the greatness and the kindness of God. I knew that if everything else fell away, I would still have God.
And yet I still faced a problem. Although I knew these truths I did not always accept them into my life. Even within a single day I find myself forgetting the promises of God and the reality of His presence in myself. I face distractions, challenges, I find myself, for a moment, turning away from God. And that was why Jonty’s sermon on Ruth, Chapter I, had such an impact upon me. Jonty spoke of what it meant to return to God, and the forgiveness that we receive when we do.
In the sermon, Jonty paralleled the journey of Naomi and her family away from Bethlehem, the ‘house of bread’, the land to which God has promised to provide, with our own sinfulness and rejection of God. He talked of how we forget God’s promises not only in dark periods of our lives but also within the context of each day. But the image does not stop there; Jonty continued to talk of how Naomi’s return to Bethlehem, and acceptance there, reflects the forgiveness that God shows towards us, upon returning to Him. I saw how I must realise the grace of God in every moment of my life and should not take His forgiveness for granted.
We also saw he firmness of Ruth’s faith, we saw how she put her trust in Naomi’s God, our God, and gave all she had to enter the same relationship that we have found with our Father. I knew that I could not be weak in my faith, that on praying to God I should be confident that He will answer my prayers. I could not let my fears and anxieties overwhelm me. God is far more powerful. And so I faced my final exam with fear and yet with a more important awareness that God was in control, that I could depend upon Him.
My final exam, with honesty, did not go well, I struggled to answer the questions and knew that I was not showing what I had learnt, I fell short of the academic success that I expected myself to achieve. But, it being a Theology exam, we were given Bibles, I had with me God’s word, and so, unable to write anymore, I flicked through the Psalms, on which I had answered my last question, and began to read:
The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
And I knew that this was all that mattered, that God is far greater than my worries, my fears of failure and of praying aloud. God knows my anxieties and they have been overcome. In times of darkness and light alike, God is with me. God will carry me.
A good reflection on what I had learnt about prayer was found in the Christian Union Prayer Breakfast which, in fact, Beth was leading. She talked about the ACTS model of prayer. A model formed, perhaps, to remind us of the greatness of God. She began by praying a prayer of Adoration. which was followed by prayers of Confession and acceptence in smaller groups. We then continued in creating prayers of Thanksgiving. This was followed by prayers of Supplication, in other words, praying to God for changes and needs in our own lives. Whilst this model is in no way required, it helped us to appreciate God for what He is given us and not only what we need from Him. It helped us all to realise what God has done for us already and place greater emphasis on our thankfulness instead of upon our own wishes. The fact that ‘supplication’ is considered last really showed me how important it is to show our thankfulness to God for the blessings He has given us first. God supports us, helps us to learn and to grow, He carries us, and we must not take this for granted.
And throughout the Prayer Week and the days that followed, even until the moment I have been writing this I have been reminded of the necessity of prayer, the necessity to show thankfulness and praise and to depend upon God both in times of light and in times of darkness. For in our prayers and in our relationship with God we can depend upon him, and we must not forget this. When we are too weak He will carry us, and I wonder whether we realise how wonderful and how great this truth is.