Saturday, 19 April 2008

The Difference Going to Church Makes in My Life Part 1: Praying

Not being a great pray-er, going to church helps me because:

I actually pray at church. Even if the rest of the week I don’t, I do at church.

And when I pray at church I use a variety of kinds of prayer; indeed, more variety than I use elsewhere. For example, at Holy Communion I confess my failure and hear the words of absolution pronounced. I give thanks to God for all sorts of stuff, and in particular, through the action of taking, blessing, breaking and eating bread (and wine) at Communion. Without the sacramental life of the church my personal prayer life would be narrowed and exclude praying through the ‘stuff’ of the sacraments. (Like bread and wine.)

And when I pray at church I use language that I do not use elsewhere. Words expressing feelings and thoughts, thanksgiving and petitions that I myself would not think of if left to my own devices. The language provided in the liturgy is deeper than my own, and leads me to a deeper place.

When I pray at church there is less self-focus. The problem for most of us when we pray at home is that it too easily becomes self-focused. If not on our own problems and possible suggestions to God to fix them, then the issues that we think are important (and they might be important, but they remain our version of reality alone. When I go to church most of the prayer is first directed to God through Christ and the Spirit in themselves, and only secondarily is my particular focus on life picked up in this great prayer.

And I pray with others. The problem with personal prayer is that it too often remains individual, indeed, even encouraging an assumption of my 'personal relationship' with God. Not that there is anything wrong with this, that is until our 'personal relationship' is no longer subsumed under our primary relationship with God as members of the people of God. The Bible thinks of God's relation to individuals as part of a people, and finally part of the whole created order. Praying with others brings different perspectives, and a background presence of the wholeness of God's salvation, intended for all creation.

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