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That late night phone call! That knock on the door!

July 23, 2016

The phone rings late at night. For me they means something terrible has happened. Why else would they call? The phone rings, I glance at the clock, it’s just before midnight. I dash to answer, then pause, afraid to pick up and be told that my Mam is critically ill. I pick up and there’s a cheerful voice on the other end of the line. They’ve called to catch up and find out a few minor details about the service in the morning. I’m civil, I’m polite and helpful but most of me just wants to shout, “You idiot! I thought someone was dead. Next time there will be – you!”

Then there is the elderly parishioner who has been up since before dawn, so 6am on a summer morning is practically midday. The doorbell rings, I stumble down stairs expecting to find a fireman standing there telling me my house is on fire; or perhaps a police officer to tell me that there has been a terrible car accident and I had better sit down. But no, it is just a friendly elderly face dropping off a note by hand, they just wanted to give me my rota in person. Again, I’m civil, I’m polite and helpful but most of me just wants to shout, “You idiot! I thought someone was dead. Next time there will be – you!”

No one likes to be disturbed at some ‘ungodly hour’, now just as much as in Jesus’ time. So, I’m with Jesus’ outraged crowd when he tells them a story not too different from this (Luke 11.5-8):

“Suppose one of your neighbours comes to you in the middle of the night and says, “Let me borrow a few beers… and some nibbles if you have them. A friend of mine has dropped in, we’re catching up and I’ve run out.” And suppose you answer, “Don’t bother me! We’re all in bed. Go away before you wake the children.”

Too right! What friend would get you out of bed in the middle of the night like that?

Then the story goes on,

“But in the end you do get up and give him everything he asks for,  just to make him stop shouting and waking up the entire street.”

Again, I’m with the crowd. What a jerk! I just want him to go away so I’ll give him what he wants, just as long as he shuts up.

Then comes the real shock. That’s what my prayer should be like.

That makes no sense at all. How could a story about an annoying soon to be ex-friend have anything to do with something as holy and special as prayer? Before Jesus’ version of the story he has just given the crowd the sublime formula for prayer known today as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, or the ‘Our Father’; but now I’m with them in the middle of a sick comedy.

What is more, Jesus says that when I pray I’m to be like that annoying neighbour! I’m to pester and annoy God with my prayers. It seems all wrong. God’s too busy for all my trivia, surely. Then it sinks in; I’m an idiot! No great news there.

I suddenly remember the obvious: God is eternal, so there is no such thing as time for him. How can he be ‘too busy’? Where do I think he’s going to be when I pray? On the loo… or asleep, perhaps tucked up with Jesus and the Holy Spirit? I’m stupid sometimes; of course God is always ready to hear the prayers of his children; even in the middle of the night.

But why pester? Why not ask once then stop pestering God with my trivia? But Jesus does seem to be saying that I’m to keep asking. Then the penny drops again; I’m not pestering, I’m simply bringing everything to God who is my Father. He loves me and wants me to tell him everything. What Father wouldn’t?

There is another reason too. I’ve found that every time I draw near to God in prayer, he seems closer to me than before. The more I bring everything to him, the more he seems to get into everything and every part of my life. Prayer becomes a family chat. So, I’ll keep asking. I’ll be a proper ‘God botherer’. I’ll keep on ‘bothering’ my Father with my concerns and worries, sure that he will keep on ‘bothering’ me with his love.

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