‘When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t’

Mary Copping, 18 June 2017

Romans 5: 1–8; Matthew 9: 35–10: 8

Yesterday, I saw a nurse being interviewed on TV who had been involved in the rescue operations at the horrifying fire at Shadwell. She spoke movingly of her experience, especially about the need for the care of all the children who saw such things that they should never in their lives have witnessed. When asked what support she needed, having herself witnessed such things, she replied that she was receiving much support from her local church and much prayer from them – a lovely Christian witness of the support of her church community. She said that what was needed at the moment was love, kindness and generosity.

As Christians ourselves in this world, with so many dark things happening at the moment, how do we respond?

In our gospel reading, we’re told about Jesus sending out his disciples to do the work that he’d been doing: to heal the sick, raise the dead. Jesus looked at the crowds and saw they were harassed and helpless; he had such love for them, yet realised that he could not reach all of these. He looked to his disciples to carry on the good work that he had been showing them, and to tell others about him and his kingdom, so that they could carry out this work.

In our recent week of prayer, when we were asked to pray ‘Thy kingdom come’, we responded to this each in our own individual ways. But the command was to pray, first and foremost to spend time with God, to pray for our churches and our world for God’s kingdom to come, as in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done in earth as it is in heaven’. And in the light of the horrific things that have been happening in our country – the terrible fire where lives were lost and homes destroyed, the terrorist attacks – surely we must seriously pray. And continue to pray as we go into the world. Pray that God would use us, love through us, speak through us, act through us to bring in his kingdom of love, joy, justice and peace.

The archbishop preached at the Beacon Event in the cathedral on Pentecost Sunday (unfortunately I wasn’t able to be there) and spoke of the chaos and disorder in the world. He described Christians as an army of peace, without weapons, saying that God asks us to go and ‘be him’ in this world. God chose to give us Emmanuel, the answer to the darkness and chaos, God’s answer – Jesus, who paid the price of perfect love. We are God’s witnesses in the world, to bring in God’s kingdom, but only as we pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’. God’s presence, his power and his strength enable us to help bring in his kingdom

One time when the disciples were sent out by Jesus, they came back defeated, not able to fulfil what Jesus had asked them to do. He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’. Jesus knew the importance and power of prayer. This is the only way we can fulfil his command to bring in his kingdom, working with those who don’t know him to bring his love and hope.

And God does answer our prayers, as we pray for him to show his love through us, speak through us. Asking him to show us what he wants us to do each day, to bring us to the right people at the right time, to show us when to pray during the day. We might be the only person praying for the people we meet. God then does things beyond our comprehension, and certainly beyond anything we could ask or imagine.

As an example, as many of you know, I’ve been having guitar lessons from someone who teaches guitar at Western Church School. He has no time for God or the church, though we do have some good discussions about it. A few weeks ago I said that I would like to play the guitar at an assembly at Western but did not yet have the confidence. He immediately said that he would be happy to accompany me, as his children go to that school. I was thrilled and thanked him.

I then got a phone call a few days later asking if his son and two of his friends could play as well. Apparently, when my guitar teacher had told his son, his son had at first said, ‘Oh dad, that will be so embarrassing’. However, a couple of days later he’d asked if he and his friends could support me as well. I was amazed at how things were unfolding and got permission from Mr Burbridge, the head. We then practised our songs – ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’, ‘Our God is a great big God’, ‘Kumbaya’ and ‘Seek Ye First’. My guitar teacher sang with me. A couple of days before the assembly, I was thinking that I had made some terrible mistake, it was all going to go wrong and I would regret ever having started this. However, I then got a phone call from my guitar teacher telling me that Miss Fear was totally cool with this and was looking forward to the assembly, so I felt reassured.

On the morning, there were about 350 children, many staff, plus the parents of the boys playing the guitars, who had come to see them perform – no pressure, then, as I not only had to play my guitar but also give a talk on the Trinity and say prayers! Thankfully, the assembly went really well, and I was praising God for the amazing things he did. My guitar teacher’s a rock guitarist more used to playing at the Railway Inn and other such venues; the boys had been so embarrassed. All were singing and playing these Christian songs. Only God could have organised something like that, so unexpected. God can and does do amazing things in response to our prayers and our willingness and obedience.

Another example of God at work in our world was at St Matthew’s last Wednesday. A young man came in, sat down and prayed, obviously very concerned about something. When he had finished, I offered to pray with him and was aware of the prayers around us from all the others who had gathered for the service. I prayed for his friends and family and he then went. Many of us felt he had been affected somehow by the fire in London earlier that morning. We knew that God went with him into whatever he had to face, and would continue to be with him.

How much more could God do through us if we took seriously the call to prayer, not just in the week of prayer but every day of our lives?

How much more could God do through us if we took seriously the call to prayer, not just in the week of prayer but every day of our lives? Praying as we watch the terrible items of news; as we go through town, praying for those around us. We may be the only one praying for those people: in the toddler group, at the school gate, in the company office, at home. Prayer and action – God changes things, does things, through us.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s, is well known for saying, ‘When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.’

And the words of Jesus to his disciples: ‘Freely you have received; freely give’. Jesus has done so much for us: given us hope, love, joy, peace. It becomes more and more important for us to share these with others through our prayers and then our actions.

‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’

I am going to lead into the silence by singing the song written in the welcome sheet under the readings. Please join in if you know it.

God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name
I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share his love as he told me to.
He said: ‘Freely, freely, you have received
Freely, freely give
Go in my name, and because you believe
Others will know that I live.’