Browsed by

Five Myths about Prayer as preached 7th May at Morcott

Five Myths about Prayer as preached 7th May at Morcott

Five Myths about Prayer

As  preached on 7 May at Morcott –background reading for the  Spring Study Group on The Lord’s Prayer


In the winter of 1871 The Prince of Wales fell ill from Typhoid. It was assumed he caught it in Scarborough during a hunting party.  His health declined and a committee including the Archbishop of Canterbury and The Prime Minister William Gladstone decreed that the nation should pray for the Princes recovery on the next Sunday, 10 December.  The following week the prince’s health took a turn for the better and in February 1872 a grand service was held in St. Paul’s Cathedral to give thanks for his recovery led by the queen herself.

We are approaching a period of special prayer in the life of Our Church: Rogation-tide, Christian Aid Week, The Archbishops’ Novena of Prayer which began on Ascension Day (Thursday) and a spring study group on The Lord’s Prayer starting on 21 May. So this morning I want us to think a bit about prayer and especially 5 myths which are commonly held about prayer.

Before we get into the 5 myths, just what is prayer?  Let me offer you a simple definition: prayer is seeking union with God. I had a conversation recently about holding people in our prayers.  I do a lot of that but what exactly am I doing?  If we hold onto that definition of prayer as ‘seeking union with God’ we can test it by exploring these 5 myths.


Firstly, there is the myth of the slot-machine God. This God is supposed to answer our prayers on demand.  It is a mechanical and random exercise.  We don’t always win because God seems to be biased against the user and in favour of the casino.  What is more, we seem to be guessing the answer to our prayers as if we knew what God’s will might be.  This sort of prayer to the slot-machine God put us at the centre of concern and not God.  Are we really seeking union with God or just displaying our selfishness?


Secondly, there is the ‘health and wealth’ myth – the expectation that God wants the best for us.  Well of course he does!  He wants us to have life in abundance (Jn. 10.10)! If we’re not careful, this is a prayer for material blessings and only one response is acceptable to us.  This seems to be a prayer to baby Jesus associated with Christmas presents and ignores the suffering Christ on the cross. Jesus too prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup of suffering would be taken from him.  It wasn’t; but the cross allowed us all to see and participate in a more abundant life.

Life takes many twists and turns.  We can only say, with Jesus, ‘nevertheless, not my will but thine be done’. How do we see the hand of God in all of it?


Thirdly, there is ‘feeding the meter’ God.  Regular prayer is critical and if we miss out on an opportunity then we think the lights will go out. Such regularity in prayer is important but it can be mechanical or superstitious, rather like professional footballers running on to the field and making the sign of the cross for good luck. Professor David Wilkinson of Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ fame talks about taking his family to Yorkshire for a Christmas break.  The cottage had a very thirsty electric meter and demanded a daily run to the bank and a convenient chair next to the meter so that the place could be kept warm.  However, they soon discovered that the oven was on a separate circuit so they basked in free heat for the rest of the holiday!  This is not like a God with whom we can have a personal relationship but rather a robot.  A union with such a robot is dehumanizing.


Then fourthly, there is making ready for a miracle.  I once went to an evangelical church in a carpet factory to observe what went on.  After a great deal of hype and emotion, the leader called people forward to be healed.  A blind student went up and a great fuss was made in prayer.  The result? Nothing – except for one distraught woman.  Sometimes in our prayers we ask God to break the very laws of nature he has established.  Why should he do that for one person?  How can God manage the expectation of the Norfolk holiday maker praying for fine weather and the Suffolk farmer wanting rain for his crops?  Surely, we seek a union with God whose presence must be predictable, reliable and generous?


Finally, ‘prayer doesn’t change anything’.  Billy Graham used to say that God answered his prayers except on the golf course!  If the laws of nature are immutable and nothing can change then there is no point in praying or even getting up in the morning!  We can’t change anything!

A simple scientific observation will tell us that this is not true. When water cools it actually contracts until it gets down to 4 degrees centigrade and then it expands, contrary to popular opinion. As we know to our cost this year, spring does not arrive on any given day. Humans are good at variation; the laws of nature are flexible and since the scientific revolution quantum theory and chaos theory have been discovered which have shown scientists that there is not so much predictability in the physical world as had been supposed.  It is an open system and it is here that God can work, in the variation and variety of life as we know it and much else that we don’t know about.  It is here that we come up against the mystery of God’s work which we must take into account as we seek a closer union with him.


We have explored 5 myths about the practise of prayer, mainly in connection with prayers of intercession.  This last myth – that nothing can be changed – leads us into the mystery of God and a whole new exploration of God in terms of listening, loving and waiting in simple adoration.

Jesus himself spent much time in prayer, often alone.  He taught his disciples to pray and encouraged his followers to pray. It was through prayer that Christianity first spread through the Mediterranean world like a blazing fire.  We too have the opportunity to work with that power for the glory of God. Amen.



The Welland Fosse Benefice.

Outline material for the Sunday sermons and discussion material for the

Monday House Group at Barrowden Rectory, 7.30 pm to 9.00pm. Please bring a bible with you to the house groups.  All are welcome.

“…in the prayer there is contained an epitome of the whole Gospel.” (Tertullian, 200AD)

Module 1: Sunday 20th and Monday 21st May

“Our Father, which art in heaven; hallowed be thy name.”  (Mt.6.9; Lk.11.2)

Whose father are we praying to?  What are the global implications of this prayer?  Who would you like to exclude?

Where is heaven today?  Have you experienced it?  And what about hell?  Is that a reality to you – or a nothingness as The Pope has recently implied?

How do we hallow the name of God in our daily lives? Can we make more room for God?

Module 2: Sunday 27th and Monday 28th May

                “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.” (Mt.6.10; Lk.11.2)

How passionate can we be about the coming of the Kingdom?  How do we develop that kingdom in our own lives and in the lives of others? How real is the kingdom to you now?  And what hopes do you have for the future kingdom?  How do we live with that tension?

Module 3: Sunday 3rd June and Monday 4th June

                “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Mt.6.11; Lk. 11.3)

After 3 petitions where God’s greatness is proclaimed, this seems a very basic request.

Who is ‘us’?  For whom and for what are we praying this petition? Why do both gospel writers repeat themselves, stressing ‘daily’ twice? How do we participate in the provision of bread and how do we share our daily bread with others?

Module 4: Sunday 10 June and Monday 11 June.

                “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted

to us;” (Lk. 11.4)

What is sin and how do we identify it? What value can we place upon that feeling of goodness when we have forgiven others?  Is our forgiveness dependent upon our willingness to forgive?

Module 5: Sunday 17 and Monday 18 June.

                “And led us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” (Mt.6.13)

Is temptation always seen as negative?  Has Pope Francis got it right that God would not tempt us into wrong-doing?  Who or what is ‘evil’?






All are Welcome at any of our Services across the Benefice this Sunday

The 7th Sunday of Easter

                                            • 9.30 am South Luffenham Church:           Family Communion (CA)
•                                             11.00 am Barrowden Church:                     Family Communion (CA)

                                                                        Readings:Acts 1. 15-17, 21-end John 17.6-19

CA = The Very Reverend Christopher Armstrong AR= Mrs Anne Robinson (Reader)




Many had walked from their own Parishes. During the service we went round the Church yard viewing the green fields and animals and some of the crops, although this year they are about six weeks behind.

The weather was perfect and all prayed that it would be a successful season for crops.

Afterwards the Tixover renowned  hospitality, provided refreshment and drinks.

A selection of photographs are in the Gallery, click here to view




All are Welcome at any of our Services across the Benefice this Sunday,

Rogation Sunday

8.00 am Barrowden Church                Holy communion (BCP)( CA)

9.30 am Duddington Church               Family communion (CA)

11.00 am Morcott Church                     Holy Communion (CA)  

 5.00 pm Tixover                                      Rogation Service (CA)

Readings : Acts 10.44-end John 15. 9-17. BCP   James 1. 22-end   John 16. 23b-end.

CA = The Very Reverend Christopher Armstrong  

AR= Mrs Anne Robinson (Reader)

BCP= Book of Common Prayer

The True Vine – Sermon – Sunday 29th April 2018

The True Vine – Sermon – Sunday 29th April 2018

                                                              Benefice Service Morcott

‘En France’
Bumping off the ferry in Calais usually raises two emotions in us: one is fear – fear of driving on the right. The other is anticipation – of sunshine, good coffee, different cheese and good French wine.
Anticipation has to last for at least 2 hours before the vines on the chalky hillsides of the Ille de France begin to glide into sight. For me, that is when the holiday begins! These vines bear closer examination and for one who doesn’t possess a champagne pocket, it’s a good place to dream of enjoying the best wine which these vines can create!

A Common Image
Wandering among the vineyards also brings us right up close to the mind of Christ, as we can plainly hear in our gospel today: the vine and the branches. The vine was a common image in the Bible as its presence was everywhere and its liquid fruit more reliable than water. But in the Old Testament, the image was invariably one of a degenerate vine whose grapes had grown wild and whose foliage was rampant.
This passage from St. John’s Gospel records a discussion among Jesus and the apostles after the Last Supper as they were walking past a vineyard on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus would have known all about the sick vine which now represents the Jews. He also had a good idea of what was about to happen in the Garden so he shared the message of the True Vine with his disciples. Not only was he the vine which was a focus of unity but also one which was to be pruned severely in just a few hours. So it was a message at the right moment for his disciples and for us.
Now it is always dangerous to get too close to a biblical image and treat it as analogy but John has at least two clear messages for us in this image. One is the strength of unity; the other, the value of pruning.

The appeal for unity, voiced on the cusp of the disciples running away from the crucifixion, is as apposite now as it was then, with half of the adult population of the UK now living alone. We live in an atomised society as a result of many pressures, none of which are religious. Opportunities for social events in the pub, the youth club or the political association are fast disappearing. Even the crowds at a sports event disappear as quickly as billiard balls after a break. In this fragmenting culture, the churches can hold their heads up high.
Jesus appeals to his followers to stay in touch with one another and find a new way of sharing once his physical presence was no longer available. The crucifixion was the prelude to several bouts of persecution as Christianity was deemed illegal. Ironically, this caused the churches to scatter and mushroom around the Mediterranean. As the historian Tertullian wryly comments in AD197, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’.
The scattered church had to remember the promise of Jesus that he would be with them always through the Holy Spirit – that unseen power which courses through the branches with its source in the Godhead. Without it we can do little.
In our French vineyards, the vines are trained along wires, in order to stop the branches breaking under the weight of the fruit. That is the purpose of the church: to bear fruit – not to be successful or beautiful but faithful. So beware, the solitary Christian, the one who says, ‘I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’. Once a rather arrogant student asked a bishop why it was important to go to church. The bishop said nothing. He bent down, picked up a burning coal from the fire and placed it on the hearth where all present watched it quickly go out.
So in this image of the vine, we are encouraged to stay together, to support one another. We don’t enjoy big congregations in this rural benefice but it is such an encouragement when a few visitors from other churches join us. I have said it before and no doubt I will say it again but for those from churches without a Sunday service to join another church for the day is to be a real blessing. It is not to desert your own church. Quite the reverse! It strengthens us to go back and encourage others!

The Value of pruning is the other message which we can take from this image of the vine. We have heard that it is expected of both good and useless branches. The useless branches in Jesus’ eyes were the posturing Jews but also the Christians who were all talk and no action. They needed to be cut out so that the sap is not wasted. The good branches are those that will bear even better fruit with a little more attention.

Now I realise that I am speaking to a collection of garden lovers who will know all about pruning from one side of the pruning knife. But from the other side, the victims of the pruning, we have to remember that the vinedresser places all his skill and expertise behind the pruning knife. It is never wasted. That unlikely witness, Oscar Wilde, writing to his lover from the confines of Reading Gaol quotes Dante: ‘Sorrow re-marries us to God’. A more likely witness would be T.S.Eliot, who – at the end of his play, ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ – reflects upon the murder of Becket. He prays,
“For the blood of Thy martyrs and saints shall enrich the earth,
Shall create the holy places. For wherever a saint has dwelt,
Wherever a martyr has given his blood for the blood of Christ,
There is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it…”

May we endure any pruning that comes our way with resilience and ever rejoice in the presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.



All are Welcome at any of our Services across the Benefice this Sunday,  Easter 4
• 9.30 am South Luffenham Church:  Holy Communion (CA )
• 11.00 am Barrowden Church:             Holy Communion (CA)
Readings:   Acts 4. 5-13     John 10 . 11-18
CA =The Very Reverend Christopher Armstrong