There is power in prayer says Norwich Bishop
There is real power in prayer, writes the Bishop of Norwich in his Easter message, as the world of football realised recently when tragedy struck player Fabrice Muamba.
Three weeks ago Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton Wanderers footballer, collapsed on the pitch during an FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur. Since we are told his heart stopped beating for 78 minutes, it is astonishing that he survived. It’s a tribute to his physical fitness and strength as well as to the medical care he received.
The immediate response of many of his colleagues and fans throughout the world of football was to pray. On the pitch at the time Rafael van der Vaart knelt down, and the crowd soon realised he was praying. Stunned by the incident, many of the spectators prayed too. The next day Gary Cahill, the Chelsea player, had “pray 4 Muamba” printed on his shirt. It was against the rules, but no-one disciplined him. By then he was simply following fashion. Twitter had gone viral with prayers for Muamba. Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney were among the thousands who pledged that they would pray for him.
We keep being told that our society has become much more secular. If that’s true this was an odd way of demonstrating it. In a less church-going age prayer has evidently not gone out of fashion. Quite the reverse, it seems. A generation ago people were much more hesitant to say they prayed. They might ask someone going to church to “say one for me” but if they prayed, they kept it private.
It would be easy to be cynical and say there was no real praying for Muamba going on at all. Were people simply jumping on an emotional bandwagon? Perhaps some were. But there’s something very deep in the human spirit which causes people everywhere to pray when faced by danger or anxiety. They may not know to whom they pray or name the god to whom they address their prayers. People don’t necessarily always pray because they believe in God. They pray and then they may discover God. Prayer often comes first. Faith and belief may follow in its wake. That’s why all sorts of people may pray without being able to explain why or give you a detailed account of their beliefs.
Sometimes it’s assumed that Christians believe that if God wasn’t nagged by prayer he wouldn’t do anything. Such a heartless divinity would not attract many followers. Our prayers are not a means of manipulation but an instinctive offering of our compassion. We long for the things which are wrong in the world to be put right. Through prayer we are reaching out, however inarticulately, to the God whom Christians believe wants the best for his world. He longs for us to live in love and peace with one another. Somehow the instinct to pray is hardwired into humanity. Prayer is laced with hope.
Fabrice Muamba is only 23. It seemed wrong that he should die. That’s why people prayed. Death is clearly an enemy. It is the one certainty for all of us, but there is a natural instinct to fight it. On Good Friday Christians remembered the death of another relatively young man. Jesus was just 33 when he was crucified. This is one of the cruellest means of execution human beings have ever invented. He didn’t want to die, though he knew there was no other way.
There was no shortage of prayers, I’m sure, from those who stood around the cross, his mother included. They must have been devastated and defeated when Jesus died. Yet in this moment of history Christians don’t see simply the tragic death of a human being. They see God giving himself away in love for us. Sacrifice and love go together. You’ll do anything for those you love. You’ll even die for them. Christ’s death alters our view of the world. And it was not the end of the story. Easter’s surprise was still to come. No one expected resurrection. It was the defeat of death. The Easter hope has sparked more prayer than ever in our world. And we’re still praying. May we long to continue doing so. Don’t let false ideas about a secular society put you off.
A very happy Easter to you all.
The Rt Revd Graham James
Bishop of Norwich