Pray at all times

One of the things that most of us have to do is a budget, be it a weekly working out of household costs or at work. As a parish priest I had to learn how to work within a budget for the church. Fortunately, we were blessed with a good treasurer and a church warden who was also an accountant, so I could for the most part, let them do most of the number crunching. But there was always that dark evening in November when we had to sit down and face the hard choices: to keep within our predicted income we had to make cuts. What was going to go? These decisions were hard because they were so often about ethical choices or about mission or about something for which we really had a passion. But it made me think. If it was hard for us in our little parish church how tough must it be for all those who in these financially demanding times are having to make cuts in public spending?

How do we make hard decisions? It has been pointed out to me recently that in most church business meetings we start with a five minute prayer and finish with something like the Grace. In between we do not refer anything to God at all, except perhaps in passing. We do not say, “Hey, let’s stop and pray about this.” Yet Christ’s instruction is to “Pray at all times and never lose heart” (Luke 18:1).” In a way, this is how the monastic idea of “praying the hours”, the periods of the day, came in. This is why religions like Judaism and Islam make such a point of stopping throughout the day to pray – much more so than Christianity. But this is really the saying of prayers (plural), different from prayer (singular). The one tends to be collective and verbal, the other tends to be private and silent. We need both. But when Jesus told us to “Pray at all times,” I think he was asking us to shoot all our activities through with the latter, prayer; to stop when we got stuck and turn to him.

During our budget meeting for Launde we got stuck. I joined the meeting late on in the day to find out where we had got to. Those who had been working at it all day were exhausted and deflated. So we decided to stop and just be silent for five minutes. Those who wanted to were invited to pray quietly and if you didn’t want to, you could just sit and be still. I must admit, the cynical side of me didn’t believe it would make much difference, but the other side was saying, “Give God a chance to talk to you about this.” In the event, one completely new and very viable idea was brought to the table and two others gained real clarity and confirmation in that five minutes of silent turning to God.

This is the second time in six months that I have seen this invitation to pray work. Both were in church business meetings when things were either stuck or threatened to unravel. So perhaps it is time to take Jesus’ instruction seriously, not only in our everyday private life (pray as you make the shopping list, pray as you shop, pray on the train to work or in the car, pray for people at the school gates or on the phone etc) but much more so in our church business meetings. Should not every decision we make on behalf of the kingdom of God be checked out with God? And in these times of money shortages and anxiety in the Church about money and falling congregation, should we not especially remember the second half of Christ’s instructions and be comforted by it, “Pray at all times and never lose heart.”