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.
Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.