Every morning at 8:45 a bunch of us working for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society meet for prayer over Zoom. We’ve been doing it for some months now, initially responding to the Covid pandemic, praying a whole range of things, including wisdom for the government. This morning the theme was thanking God for all the prayers He has answered. For one of our homes it’s the only explanation we can see for why it’s been free of Covid when other homes in the area have so many cases. (We’ve prayed for them, too.)
Most of us can tell of times that God answered prayer. But, as individuals, if we’re honest we’ll also tell of the times when we felt our prayer hits an unyielding, ‘brass heaven’ (Deuteronomy 28:23). It’s nearly always a prayer for something or someone close to our heart.
There was a time, some years ago, when I experienced exactly that. My prayer was for a very good thing for a very good person, and I prayed for months. Then one day, the Holy Spirit told me that the answer was negative: it wouldn’t happen. It was a Wednesday afternoon and confirmation came with the mail on Monday morning. Looking back, I can see how gracious it was of God to tell me in advance as it meant I was able to help the person better when the news arrived. But I was so disappointed with God then; angry even. It was a good thing I was praying for!
In those days I had the key to the side door of the old church in Cambridge I belonged to, and I’d go at lunch time for prayer. It was quiet, and the communion rail seemed to be the right place for important prayer, a bit like an official post-box to Heaven. The day the bad news was confirmed that’s where I went. Kneeling before the rail I thanked God for my salvation and told Him that I wouldn’t be talking to Him any more; neither would I be talking about Him. I was stepping down from active duty.
But I hadn’t reckoned on the Holy Spirit. A few weeks later I saw a student standing with a flip chart in Petty Cury, an open space in a shopping centre. He was beginning to write a Christian message as an outreach to the crowds passing through. So I thought I’d stand and look at it because then others would stand and look at it, as they do, and a little crowd would form. That’s what happened – and something else, quite extraordinary. Suddenly I realised that I was smiling ear to ear, and feeling perfectly at peace. No more anger. It was as though God had put His arm around my shoulder and I knew that everything was going to be all right.
Although I’d stopped talking to Him, the Holy Spirit hadn’t. We’re told that, ‘the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.’ (Romans 8: 26-27.)
We are living in terrifying times, with the Covid pandemic and lock-down. Sometimes we can feel so overwhelmed we don’t know what to pray for, or can feel that God isn’t listening. Romans 8: 26-27 are good verses to write on a post-it note and put where you will come across it during the day. It will remind you that He is listening. It can give you hope.