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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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war