Prayer – what to say?

We all could write a lengthy list of requests to God, but what does He want us to pray about?

It is difficult to discuss prayer without also mentioning "sin". This word conjures up all sorts of reactions when uttered in polite company. Christians use the word not just to describe acts which violate a moral code, but more fundamentally to describe an attitude or state we adopt which resists God - usually in favour of our own desires. In this state, God can seem distant and prayer difficult.

I can think of relationships with friends I have hurt or who asked me to do something one way and I insisted on doing it my way. Meeting up again, I felt guilty and a barrier began to form between us. However, when complete forgiveness followed a genuine apology, the barrier was removed and the relationship restored.

A similar pattern can be seen when we resist God. A barrier forms between us as a result of sin. However, Jesus said he did not come to condemn but to save. Because he died for our sins, we can receive forgiveness and approach God with a clear conscience. If we continue to resist Him in our everyday lives, the barrier begins to rebuild but complete forgiveness is assured when we turn back to Him and admit our fault. It’s not a formula but I have found that approaching God in faith, with a repentant heart, has always resulted in this barrier crumbling away and a beautiful sense that my Father is near and listening.

So what do I say to Him then? I often use the Lord’s Prayer as a structure. When I don’t, apart from sorry and thank you, I normally ask God for stuff. A few requests currently out there are for a record deal, love, restored relationships, protection for existing relationships, wisdom concerning life decisions, strength, courage and help writing this article simply with love and without heresy. Then there are prayers for others I love - for all sorts of blessings, including healing particularly but also joy, love, unity and a knowledge of God. Too seldom are the prayers for world peace and the relief of global poverty and, as I write, there are fewer prayers offered up for my enemies than I would like to report - Jesus instructed us not simply to love our enemies but also to pray for those who persecute us.

There are several memorable occasions when I have experienced my own or someone else’s healing after prayer offered to God through Jesus. Not as dramatic but only yesterday, my girlfriend laid her hand on my ear and prayed for it to be healed in the name of Jesus. It had been blocked with wax for about two weeks. This morning, as I began my day, it suddenly popped and my hearing was restored.

It is impossible to prove whether this was a coincidence or an answer to prayer? I like to think it was the latter and thank God for it, but I would be willing to believe my ear was ready to pop anyway. Meanwhile, a long list could be written of unanswered prayers. Perhaps longer still though would be a list of miracles and blessings from God for which I never even thought of asking.

The Gospels describe how Jesus went to great lengths in encouraging his disciples to pray and he made great claims about how faithful God would be to answer. We have heard of many miracles Jesus worked but he told his disciples that anyone who has faith in him “will do even greater things than these” [Jn 14:12]. He told them that he, Jesus, would do anything they asked in his name.

I don’t fully understand the discrepancy between this picture and the impotency I often feel when I ask God to do stuff. Occasionally, I ask God what he wants and then listen. After all Jesus did teach his disciples to pray “thy will be done”.

Adam is a worship leader at New River Church, Islington, a non-denominational, charismatic Christian church of about 40 people. He has a degree in physics, a PhD in neuroimaging and is a member of the electro-indie rock band Personal Space Invaders.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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