Christian allegiance is to Jesus. Jesus is Lord is the core conviction for Christians. Christian conscience is held captive to Christ, and the values of the Kingdom of God are righteousness, peace and joy in HS. Jesus call to Seek first the Kingdom of God and his justice is the priority call on our loyalty, words and actions. When talking to God was outlawed, Daniel trusted God, prayed, put God first, suffered the consequences and went on trusting. No accommodation to Empire’s values, he prayed. What made him wise, trustworthy and trusting was that regular obedience to a holy and righteous God - exposure to holiness and justice, transforms and conforms conviction and action towards the God we believe in, trust and spend time with.
Prayer as Habit and Lifestyle. Regularity, rhythm, discipline – prayer is not occasional, but a habit of the mind and spirit. Like piano practice, a diet pattern, an exercise regime, practice and presence to the task. After years of doing tapestry on the smallest guage canvas, I can nearly always find the right pinhole from behind, first time. The disciples asked Jesus early on, "Lord teach us to pray". The lesson was the Lord’s Prayer. Amongst those who found the Paternoster an anchor point was Bonhoeffer. During his impriisonment a regular reminder of God as Father, of the Kingdom coming, the will of God for peace, reconciliation, love, mercy being done on earth as in heaven. Each of us has to find own way of praying – a gratitude diary – prayer list for intercessions – newspaper and Bible – headphones on the train, walking as rhythm opf daily obedience. Daniel was trapped by his known faithfulness in prayer.
Prayer as an Act of Witness. In a materialist culture, barcodes, self-checkouts, 3 for 2, thanks for daily bread says what we have is from God. If you’re known as a pray-er, at work, in neighbourhood, amongst friends, that's when illness, anxiety, life gone wrong, others will find you and ask your prayers. When own life goes wrong, we default to the one place where we know we are welcome, loved and safe, even if it doesn;t feel like that. Social media from texts, FaceBook, email, phone call - our promise to pray is the gift of grace, time and thought – loving others in the presence of God. How widely known is it that we think prayer is normal, and we pray? Daniel was caught out doing what he was known to do – if prayer was illegal would I be arrested, would they know I was a secret pray-er?
Prayer and Politics. This week I prayed a lot. Torture was on the political agenda. I found myself embroiled in a Facebook exchange around the US President's public refusal to exclude its use. In thinking it through, and praying out of a deep inner resistance to torture in principle, I asked why Christians cannot ever approve torture. Briefly, this was my argument:
The Romans were experts in torture, its psychology and pathology. Crucifixion was one of the most effective instruments of torture ever used to secure political power - it silences the dissenter, executes the terrorist, uses fear as a weapon and deterrent, and dehumanises both the torturer and those deemed disposable. The Passion Story is an account of state power unleashed on a victim, all within the legal framework, and approved by the religious authorities. That's enough for me - I can't follow Jesus and consent to torture in my name, in the name of freedom, or in the name of supposed security.
Prayer and Our Relationship to God – prayer is conversation – contemplation – pouring out our heart – keeping company with God – learning to listen. Daniel was shaped and supported by time with God. For us, to love God is to know the meaning of love, we love because he first loved us. Prayer is a stewardship of friendship, sunbathing in the light of God, being rooted in the deep places of the soul where wildest hopes are born and worst fears lurk – and God is there – as in Ps 139, there is no place where God is not, even in the lion’s den, God is there.