I am in Leicester this week. The town centre is definitely a hub of religious activity. I walk past a Muslim group setting up a book table with a bold banner declaring "Islam is the only acceptable path to God". The smartly dressed pair of Mormon preachers walk past me offering a smile - their approach seems a little less direct. A few middle-aged Christian ladies stand by the clock tower singing the glories of Jesus accompanied by tambourines and bells. As I drive back to our temple, I see streams of Sikhs flowing into the gurudwara, and finally come across the Muslim faithful bowing in surrender to their Lord. I pause to watch them pray... prayer is an interesting phenomenon.
One person I recently spoke to just couldn't understand the concept of petitonary prayer - coming before God and asking for something. As God is omniscient, every decision that He makes He makes in light of all of the facts; there cannot arise any new information that God failed to take into account that might cause Him to revise His decision. God, then, should never change His mind. So what’s the point of praying? Requests for divine intervention seem to be futile; whatever God is going to do He will do, whatever He is not He will not.
It’s important to avoid reducing God to an omniscient bureaucrat who simply does business with souls according to His assessment of their desires. There is personality and feeling in these divine conversations, and prayer plays a significant part in awakening the emotions of both the divine and the subject. Recently, I have been reflecting how prayer is also a lot to do with ourselves. As I write down thoughts on this blog it helps me make sense of life. Similarly, contemplative prayers help us to organize the jumbled-up mind which often plays host to a multitude of competing emotions, desires and goals in life. Prayer reminds us what it is that we really want – something that may get lost and forgotten in the madness of life. Thus, prayer may well be seen as the steering wheel for life, not just the spare tyre we call upon in an emergency.