The Confirmation service on Tuesday was a wonderful occasion. It was a real joy when Bishop Mark came and confirmed 11 people from this congregation. And we had a surprise visit from Fr Tony from Wakefield Cathedral, which made it even more special. Fr Tony had baptised 8 of the 11 candidates when they were at Wakefield. A number of people gave their testimony, telling us why coming to the Christian faith is so important to them, and that was very moving. Fr Tony and his wife Lynne took photos of people as they knelt before Bishop Mark to be confirmed, and the pictures capture the looks on their faces – they were full of joy. It was very special.
At the end, we gave them all a little present from the church. There were different things in the bags: for some people, we gave a prayer book to help them pray every day; for others, it was a holding cross, a cross you can hold in your hand to help you pray; and for some people it was a little angel figure, to help you remember to pray. There was also a little leaflet with prayers.
So you see a theme coming through there – the gifts were about encouraging our newly confirmed members to pray and go on praying.
And in the wonderful way that often seems to happen with the Sunday bible readings, they have something important to say about the things that are happening in our own lives. Coincidences often happen. And a big theme in this week’s readings is prayer.
The Old Testament reading tells the story of another very special service. Solomon has just completed the building of the first temple to house the ark which symbolises the presence of God, where all the people can come and worship God and make sacrifices – which is the way they worshipped in those days. King Solomon and all the priests and the people come together for a grand service to inaugurate the most beautiful building. There is a procession, there is incense – lots of incense. I imagine there were lots of candles, and musical instruments of all kinds. You can just imagine it.
Solomon prays a long prayer. We only got a few snatches of that prayer in the reading – it is actually much longer. You might want to read it for yourselves later in your own bibles. There are a number of features of Solomon’s prayer.
First – he praises God. God has given us so much. God loves us so much. So we acknowledge all that God gives us, and we give thanks and praise. Do you love God? Tell him. Can you see God’s hand in your life? Thank him. Do you rejoice in this wonderful world? Praise him.
Then Solomon commits himself and the people to serving God, to walking in God’s way. Those who were confirmed on Tuesday were committing themselves to following Jesus and serving God and the community. There are many times in our lives when we renew our commitment.
After that, there is a long passage where Solomon asks God to listen to the prayers of the people. He asks God to hear the prayers, to forgive the people for all their sins, and to make life better. In this prayer, Solomon sets out all kinds of circumstances when he is encouraging God to be merciful. And the last paragraph in our reading today asks God to remember those who have come from distant lands. Which is especially encouraging for those who have come from Iran and other places to grow in the Christian faith.
Solomon is there talking about another form of prayer, which is repenting of our sins. The wonderful thing is that whenever we turn to God and say sorry, God will always forgive us and help us start again.
Then in the second reading we had from the letter to the Christians in Ephesus in Turkey, Paul encourages his readers to pray at all times, to persevere in prayer, to pray especially for the saints, for the Christians in every place.
And there is a message here for those who have been coming to church for years – please pray for the new Christians, for those who have come to faith relatively recently, for those who were confirmed on Tuesday. On the back of the Order of Service, there is a request that you go on praying for all the candidates.
And Paul asks for prayers for himself. He was in prison when he wrote the letter. He doesn’t ask to be free, but to be given more opportunities to proclaim the good news of Christ. There is a message there about praying for the clergy too, that they may remain faithful – believe me, they do need prayer.
Prayer is a really important part of the practice of our Christian faith. When you love someone, you want to spend time with them. You talk to them about your problems. You tell them about your joys. Prayer is like that. When we love God who loves us, we spend time with him and talk to him.
There are many ways to pray, and different forms of prayer suit us at different times of our life. For me, a really important foundation of my prayer life is saying Morning and Evening Prayer each day. Another really good technique is to spend a few minutes at the end of every day thinking about what has been good about the day, the times when God felt close. Thank God for those moments. And then recall the more difficult things about the day, when God felt absent, when life was a struggle. Give those times to God. Ask God to help you do things better next time.
Whenever we pray, in whatsoever way we pray, God will always hear us. It’s not like putting a penny in the slot machine – God will not always give us the things we think we want. God has a wider agenda. He cares for us and gives us what we need, not just what we think we want. And God wants us to engage with him. Prayer is a two-way conversation. God wants us to pray, all of us. And when we pray ….. things just happen.