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2 Desperate Prayer

26 FebruaryDesperate Prayer with Frances Ballantyne

This summary awaits proof checking (9/3)

Our speaker focused on the lit candle and introduced the subject of desperate prayer from a personal perspective, outlining times in her experience where 'Centreing Prayer' had been a help to her.  The talk included 
Psalms, Bible verses and hymn lyrics as a mantra to help in times of desperation.  It comes when people are in need, overlapping into pastoral care - which may bypass the conventional approach of people kneeling in prayer in petition, adoration, confession or thanksgiving.  Desperate prayer might not even address God by the right name, has no right posture and it is no respecter of place nor time.  Desperate prayer can happen at night or day, home or office, church or hotel.
Desperate prayer may have few words, unstructured, possibly subjective, and is reached when all else has failed and there is nothing left.  Self help has failed - it is a reaching-out prayer to the one who can help, save, rescue, liberate, free from, the one who has authority to calm the storm and bring peace, to the one, the only one who is the Lord of all time, every desperate situation and all time.  Maybe we forget that.
Hearing the anguish of many as a hospital chaplain is compounded with anger and faith questions beside the hospital bed: 'Life isn't meant to be like this', I've been taken to the edge of beyond', such is the cry for the relief of agony or to gain some sense of control again; 'I'll do anything to be out of pain or change the circumstances'.  Have you been there? People often try God last rather than first; he is guaranteed to be there.
The atheist might cry 'God help me' at the point when the strange reality happens - one that doesn't fit a belief system when God is absent.
Desperate prayer occurs when... France offered some experiences by looking at Easter [Holy] Saturday where all is quiet.  How desperate were the people?  The disciples woke to a quiet city after the crowds had disbanded and Jesus is dead. This isn't Friday, it isn't Sunday - it's Saturday.  The day after a prayer is prayed but there's no answer on the way.  It's a strange day, an in between day between despair and joy, in between confusion and clarity, in between bad news and good news, darkness and light. All we know about this day is that guards are posted.  Saturday is the day with no extra appendage, the day when nothing happened with the realisation that the disciples have to go on. Everybody knows Saturday - you'll know it if you've been through that Saturday - the day your dream died. You wake up and you have to go on but you don't know how or worse, you don't know why.  Deliverance may never come - that one day story may last the rest of your life. Silence is the only thing that happened on that Saturday.  You call out to God: 'Hear me, listen to me, respond to me, do something, say something, rescue...' The silence is seen in the Psalms:
God - aren't you listening?  
Why have you forsaken me?
But there is a great silence because God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.  God lies dead, submits to death and defeats our greatest enemy.  If you can find Jesus in death, if you can find him in hell, where can you not find him?  But first of all we have to have our experience of Good Friday with Saturday following - without the adrenaline of Good Friday.

Saturday prayers might include 'I'm reaching the end of my tether, I'm drowning, I've had enough.' Is that a desperate prayer? OMG is a desperate prayer in desperate times. An exclamation of reality but it's not a good reality.  Desperate prayer cuts through 'Pull yourself together, get on with it, put up with it'.

Frances described how she died another death when people want to tell me their story or when they said they'd pray for me - assuming that I hadn't prayed or that their prayer would work faster or better than mine. And yet desperate prayer did affect my sense of the presence of God if people were absent from me.

The desperate prayer of the prodigal in the pigsty who came to his senses when he couldn't sink any lower. The desperte prayer of the addict is looking for hope and reach out to a higher power to take steps towards life again.

Favourite bible stories include Bartimeaus ('Lord have mercy') or the woman who punched through the crowd to touch the hem of garment - was her prayer simply her action of reaching out? When circumstances were controlling them, they're out of control so they shout and scream and cry and lament 'Lord help me!'  Short, sharp and to the point.

Adrian Plass in his book 'Jesus, Safe, Tender, Extreme' describes what it is to be falling through the gaps to solid ground, falling through the holes in your life, through the gaps of his certainties. He landed in a place where he knew the presence of Jesus - where he knew that Jesus had died so that his sins could be forgiven.

Desperate prayer is a 999 prayer rather than an arrow prayer. It needs a real God in a real life in our real story. What aspects of God do we want - the one who is Emanuel, God with us, the one who knows our every weakness or the one out there, the one at a distance, the one who judges, the one who allows the experience?  In us, Holy Spirit, empathy, the son of man - the compassion of Jesus borne out of his desperate prayers in Gethsemene and passion week and crucifixion.  The one who knows our every weakness.  I'll allow the prayer to come alongside me if they can hold the light of Christ in the night time of my fear.
Pastoral hymns are wonderful (Brother sister let me serve you) but they have to work in real life. Desperate prayer begins desperate but Frances finds that beyond the storm and agony there can be stillness, space and salvation.

Salvation: a saving from, a release from, a relief from,a  movement from, a redemption from... The peace that passes all human understanding...

When we feel the shut door, centreing prayer and listening to an old CD with Biblical verses ('Coffee break') can regain some peace, even when we are angry with God and realise it would be wiser not to meet with people because of our desperate anger.

Desperate prayer is no laughing matter.  Even so, Frances' last illustration was of Corporal Jones in dad's Army crying 'Don't panic!' offered a lighter perspective - although desperation does have some panic qualities to it. 

Frances hoped that this evening had directed people to the God of help, the God of change, the God who can take you through.
God is our refuge and strength / There is a river whose streams make glad / He lifts his voice / Be still and know that I am God / The good of Jacob is our fortress / I life my eyes to the hills / Indeed he who watched over Israel / The Lord will keep you from all harm / Be still for the presence of the Lord

Frances repeated the words Be still - let's hold the words again - and led the meeting in small groups in an Ignatian prayer as though in a boat.  How could Jesus sleep in the storm when he was in charge of it?

The groups discussed various aspects of desperate times based on the handout (right, click to enlarge).

The hymn For this we have Jesus was read as a poem and the song 'When I needed a neighbour' was sung.

Further reading: Centreing PrayerIgnatian Prayer

Thanks to all at Spalding Baptist for recording this year's talks; listen again