15 February 2021
Praying with necessity
I never fail to be inspired and challenged by stories of Methodist Mission Partners in days gone by. Reading the accounts of their adventures and the difficulties and hardships they faced makes me feel like a real wimp in comparison!
I have recently read about the Revd Bernard Jinkin who served for 30 years in Africa. The little booklet he produced in 1963 is called ‘In time of need’ and contains testimonies of the amazing answers to prayer he received whilst serving in what is now Zambia. He served in a lonely bush station 50 miles from his nearest colleague and 100 miles from the railway station and his only form of transport was a bicycle.
Bernard documents how he came to depend on prayer and how his total reliance on God developed a deep and intimate relationship with his Lord. He differentiates between ‘praying with and without necessity’ and suggests that in the affluent world ‘we have so much that we have become self-reliant.’ He goes on to assert that ‘We give lip service to the necessity of putting God first, but in actual practice he is often dragged in as an afterthought.’ His stories demonstrate that prayer for him on the mission field was borne out of dire necessity and complete reliance on God in every area.
I felt deeply challenged by this thought and realise that in my own life, there are few times when I pray out of sheer desperation and utter dependence on God. One of the times that I did pray in desperation was when my daughter was going through an incredibly difficult and long labour. For three days and nights I cried out to God for the safety of herself and the baby and was so relieved and thankful that they were both OK. In another time or place the outcome could have been so different.
Another time I cried out to God was as mission partners in Guyana when we were on a rickety wooden boat crossing the 20 mile wide estuary of the Essequibo River so that I could deliver some training to children and youth workers on the other side. The danger of death was very close that day knowing that if the overfilled and inadequate boat capsized I would most likely be eaten by piranhas or crocodiles before I could drown. Thankfully God spared us and we lived to tell the tale but my prayer life took on a whole new level!
People often tell me that they don’t think they pray very much but I always think that they probably pray more than they think they do. We often have an image of prayer as kneeling at our bedside with hands together and eyes closed listing our requests to God but prayer is much more than asking for the things we need or want. At its heart I believe that prayer is about our relationship with God and developing that relationship. Bernard Jinkin gives an example of a small child who has fallen off their tricycle running into the house sobbing and throwing themselves into the arms of their parent for comfort and help. I love that image of us running to God and allowing him to comfort and strengthen us as well as to hear about our joys and sorrows in honesty and openness.
We don’t even need to use words. Some of my deepest prayer times have been when I have been in such turmoil of heart and mind that I have just cried or groaned or even on occasion wailed before the Lord in desperation of heart. Sometimes because of situations I have faced personally but other times when I have heard stories of suffering in the lives of people around the world. There is a Sting song which contains the line, ‘Whenever I say your name, I’m already praying.’ As we cry out to Jesus I believe he hears the cry of our heart and draws close to us by his Holy Spirit.
I love the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10 when Mary chooses to lay aside the busyness of the day and simply sit at the feet of Jesus. As an active and driven person this is something I find very difficult but I pray that for each of us, we will find time particularly in these current challenging days to sit at the feet of Jesus – to tell him what is on our heart and to listen to his response to us. I pray that we will recognize again our total dependence on God for our very breath and that our prayer lives will help us develop an intimacy and deep relationship with God so that we will know and experience his presence and peace with us as we face each day.
Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference 2020-21.
Photo: Essequibo River crossing, Guyana