Let us remember the people of France as they come to terms with the terror attacks in Paris last night, and for all those who were killed or injured. Let us pray for an end to war and terrorism and may peace reign in the hearts and minds of all people.
One of my favourite sci-fi films is a spoof of the Star Trek series called ‘Galaxy Quest’. One of the memorable lines in the film is ‘Never give in, never surrender!’ Whenever I watch that film and hear those words I’m reminded of how, during the Second World War, the Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was asked to speak at the graduation ceremony of students at Harrow School. Though inundated with the responsibilities of a nation at war, he agreed to speak. Churchill rose from his seat, approached the podium and said: “Never, never, never, never, never give up!” With that he sat down, his speech concluded.
We know what that attitude produced in this country during a particularly dark time in our history. We can be sure that Churchill’s short speech also influenced the lives of at least some of his listeners that day. Our Lord expressed the same philosophy to his disciples with the story of the persistent woman and the judge who ignored her repeated requests for justice.
The story reminds us to pray always and to do so without losing heart. We are to continue to pray even if the evidence seems discouraging. We are not to lose heart even if failure seems imminent. Our prayer doesn’t change God, though in the story the woman’s pleading did change the mind of the judge. God is always the same, he always wants what is best for us. And sometimes what is best in the long run is shrouded in mystery from our understanding at the moment. We might ask why, after so many prayers, God has not changed the hearts of people to love one another. But then, maybe since war and violence is a human invention, it’s up to us to sort it out and change ourselves rather than asking God to change us.
We need to remember that prayer is not an end in itself. Rather prayer is the beginning of change in us. Persistent prayer brings us into a closer relationship with God. Praying without ceasing focuses our attention on God rather than on our own predicament or need. Prayer is the instrument of conversion. And conversion is described as metamorphosis, as when the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Conversion is similar to baptism or rebirth in which we come alive again in a more perfect way. It has been said of prayer that it takes no time yet occupies all our time. Prayer can require little time if we weave it into all aspects of our daily lives. We can pray while we iron the laundry or rake leaves or walk the aisles of the supermarket. We can praise God as we carry out the rubbish each week simply because we have such abundance that we have something to discard. Conversion through prayer eventually becomes complete when our lives become prayers in themselves for other people to witness.