by Victor Parachin
hen asked to share his thoughts on the power of prayer, a retired missionary recalled an event which had taken place several years earlier while he was piloting a small Piper Cub aeroplane. After flying through the clear blue sky for several hours towards his destination he saw a sight which filled him with dread. ‘Directly ahead of me was the boiling, swirling black fury of a summer storm. Below were the mountains. A landing was impossible. I passed the point of no return and didn’t have enough fuel to get back,’ he recalled. His plane was not equipped to fly through a storm. Not knowing what to do, he began to fly in a circle while trying to determine a course of action. With his fuel gauge registering empty, he knew he had to attempt a landing at a
nearby airport, but it meant flying into the storm. As he flew into the clouds, the rain began to come down in torrents. Within seconds of entering the storm, the little plane was tossed about like a canoe on an angry sea. The plane’s instruments were spinning crazily. The pilot had no way of knowing if he was flying upside down or right side up! He couldn’t see the ground or the sky, only a swirling blackness. ‘I was completely helpless to do anything except pray to God to help me,’ he said. Immediately after he uttered his prayer, a tiny break appeared in the clouds directly below him. He could see the ground. With a shout of joy he flew the little Cub through the small hole in the clouds. Directly below was the airport. Desperately he guided his plane towards the runway. Even though he
Seven prayer types 1. Petition This is prayer at its most basic level – asking. Prayers of petition are perhaps the most frequent forms of prayer. It was the prayer of the pilot. It is the prayer of a student asking for
2. Confession While the prayer of petition may be the most common and popular, the prayer of confession may be the most difficult for many people. It is never easy to confess and itemise our shortcomings and failures, and then ask forgiveness. Yet confession is the path which leads to emotional and spiritual cleansing. If offering a prayer of confession is difficult for you, consider this insight from writer Louis Cassels: ‘In confession . . . we open our lives to the healing, reconciling, restoring, uplifting grace of him who loves us in spite of what we are.’ 3. Adoration This is the prayer offered when you simply want to thank God. A prayer of adoration and praise should flow naturally from a heart fully aware of his many blessings. ‘It is always springtime in the heart that loves God,’ noted the nineteenth-century French pastor Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney. Such prayers of
LIFE issues Picture of sky © iStockphoto/konradlew. Picture of man relaxing in chair © iStockphoto/Lise Gagne
help with school, the prayer of a father for his child, the prayer of a wife concerned over her marriage. We pray to God because we are in need or a friend is in trouble. The crisis may be major or minor, but we approach God requesting aid. In the Bible, Jesus stressed the importance of telling God what we need. ‘Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.’1 One of his followers told fellow Christians: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask God.’2
approached from the wrong direction and overshot the runway, he landed safely. As he taxied back to the hangar, the tiny hole in the clouds closed into complete blackness again. Later he learned that the small break in the clouds lasted only a few moments and that it was the only break in the ceiling all afternoon. The pilot concluded his thoughts on prayer by saying: ‘Passing the point of no return when only destruction lies ahead is a frightening experience, but knowing that our God can answer prayers gives us comfort, courage and joy.’ That pilot’s dramatic experience is an example of the most common kind of prayer, that of asking for help. While such prayer is very important, there are six other types of prayer. A balanced spirituality means engaging in all seven ways of praying.
26 © iStockphoto/Nuno Silva
4. Intercession These prayers are offered on behalf of others, especially those who suffer and hurt from life’s blows. A biblical example of intercessory prayer is that of Moses, who prayed for his sister Miriam, suffering with leprosy. ‘So Moses cried out to the Lord, “O God, please heal her!”4 Miriam was fully
5. Meditation ‘If I were a physician, and I were allowed to prescribe one remedy for all the ills of the world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence!’ That insight comes from the nineteenthcentury Danish Christian, Søren Kierkegaard. Meditation is an important spiritual discipline. In those quiet moments we open our soul to God’s love, direction, and admonition. Being silent in the presence of God is an effective way of re-establishing contact with eternity. Quiet meditation is also ideal when we are
For health and food, for love and friends, For everything thy goodness sends, Father, in heaven, we thank thee.’
6. Thanksgiving If we believe God has blessed us abundantly, prayers of thanksgiving should flow from our hearts and lips naturally, routinely and frequently. American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson often offered this prayer of gratitude: ‘For each new morning with its light, Father, we thank thee, For rest and shelter of the night, Father, we thank thee.
7. Consecration This prayer involves surrendering completely to God’s will and service. It is offered by sensitive, responsive Christians. When they see a need, they desire to fulfil it, and when they see a hurt, they work to heal it. History is filled with ordinary women and men who did extraordinary things because they consecrated their lives to God. Such committed individuals include Mother Teresa, working among the destitute in Calcutta, India; Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the British physician who laboured among Eskimos, Indians, and Whites in Labrador, Canada; General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, working in the slums of London. St Vincent De Paul, who ministered to the poor in France and ransomed slaves from North Africa; Dorothy Day, whose deep sense of justice led her to open dozens of shelters providing food, housing and clothing for America’s impoverished citizens. Of course, consecrated lives are also found among those overlooked by historical accounts: the husband who remains faithful and serves compassionately at the side of his terminally ill wife; the mother who prays earnestly and fervently for a wayward child; the young person who consistently resists peer pressure to engage in wrong activities; an executive who applies the highest moral and ethical standards to his work. Cultivating these seven types of prayer will result in a more rounded and satisfying spiritual life, because prayer is a way of educating the soul. The Russian novelist, Feodor Dostoyevsky noted: ‘Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be a new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will
© iStockphoto/Cat London
experiencing inner turmoil, because prayerful silence soothes the anxious soul, calms the spirit, helps us think more clearly and ultimately pray more wisely.
LIFE issues adoration and praise are commonly found in the book of Psalms: ‘I sing praises to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.’3 Those with the deepest spirituality are able to offer prayers of praise and adoration even in the most depressing circumstances. One splendid example of that is Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman imprisoned by the Nazis. From the bleakness of her concentration camp Hillesum was able to offer this prayer of adoration and praise: ‘The misery here is quite terrible, and yet I often walk with a spring in my step. . . . Time and again, it soars straight from my heart, this feeling that life is glorious and magnificent . . . you have made me so rich, O God: please let me share your beauty with open hands.’
healed seven days later. A more recent example is shared by Sandy, a 35-year-old mother of two. Sadly she and her husband had decided to separate. That decision had an immediate negative impact upon their 8- and 3-year-old boys, who were having difficulty sleeping. Deeply distressed by the separation and the turmoil it brought upon her sons, Sandy confided her marital troubles to a neighbour whom she barely knew. The neighbour listened compassionately, offered to help in any way she could, and said she would pray for Sandy, her husband and the boys. ‘My neighbour’s kindness and offer of prayer brought some hope to my life. Shortly after our conversation I was amazed when my husband called suggesting we go for counselling to see if the marriage could be salvaged,’ Sandy recalls. ‘We were both afraid of what would come of the counselling, but we did go. Sometimes our discussions were painful, but in the end we decided to try a six-month reunion. Today, more than a year later, we have a great sense of peace and happiness in our marriage and with our children. In the months since I confided in my neighbour, she has continued her prayers on our behalf. I will always appreciate deeply her prayers.’