About Belief
notes on the 5th series—


held in May/June 2017, 6pm Sundays, at the United Reformed Church on the High Street Newport Pagnell 

The sessions encouraged thought about prayer in a wide rangng and interactive way; challenging our thinking and sharing our experiences

May 21st: WHAT IS PRAYER? led by Dr Robert Ellis, Principal, Regent's Park College, Oxford

May 28th: DIFFERENT TYPES OF PRAYER; quotes around them and discussion


June 11th: OUR EXPERIENCES OF PRAYER; an opportunity to share


June 25th: Follow up: discussion and sharing;

All ages were welcome—all meetings held at


The more we understand each others faiths and beliefs, the more we can understand ourselves and the more tolerant of differences we may become. These sorts of discussions also help us to clarify our own beliefs and thinking.

For more information on the URC see the United Reformed Church

For some other thoughts on prayer on this website,
have a look at Prayer is for everyone


May 21st—What is Prayer?

Dr Robert Ellis, Principal, Regent Park College, Oxford

started by reflecting that you do not need to answer this question!

Prayer is a mystery; not an incantation (like a spell from Harry Potter) or a charm or a technique to be mastered or learning the 'right' things to say and prayer will 'work'. It is more like a relationship—a personal relationship that is always developing.

The mysterious God mad Godself known to us through Jesus. Jesus's prayer life was that of an orthodox Jew---he prayed like Jews of his time. He used the word Abba. This has been translated as 'Daddy', to portray an intimate relationship. But it is more mature than that---perhaps 'Dad' is the closest? Jesus would have prayed the set prayers and set times the Jews prayed.

If we want to know what to say in prayer, we need go no further than the Lord’s Prayer. In 100CA (AD) the early Christians were expected to pray the Lord’s Prayer 3 times each day: morning, afternoon and evening

The disciples would have known the Jewish prayers but ask Jesus for more information and he gives them the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew’s Gospel gives us some good teaching about prayer: do not show off in praying, it isn’t about boasting but humility. Jesus warns against formalization of prayer and about just ‘going through the motions’. Prayer must come from the heart. Prayer should involve the habit of forgiveness and the seeking of God’s kingdom. We are urged by Jesus to be persistent in prayer, keep going with it. Jesus in Gethsemane prays: 'not my will but yours'---Prayer involves discernment---not about us but about God’s will. We seek what God wants us to do, not what we want.

Old Testament and prayer: Jacob wrestles with God in prayer and whilst he wins a victory, her gains a limp. Prayer changes us. If we are seriously engaged in prayer it can change us. The prophets in the Old Testament urge us to pray BUT say we must live well too. Match how you live and how you pray.

The Psalms contain many different types of prayer. Psalms of Lament are common. Most modern songs do not do lament….we ‘always have to be happy’.

Exodus 32: Moses bargains with God. God repented and changes his mind and does as Moses asks---food for thought.

Praying regularly forms us as Christians. It is not just because we pray that we are changed, but the words we use in prayer and the sentiments we express influence how we behave and live. They change us. Saying the same prayer on a regular basis ‘forms grooves in your heart’.

17th century Baptists refused to use books as the book would get in the way of the pray-er and God. Now we may think that is a bit extreme!

Rob asked what the difference was between reading and saying a prayer?And then looked at different ways of praying:

  • extempore (from the heart),
  • free prayer (prepared but spoken freely),
  • own written words read out,
  • produced words read aloud. The Spirit is in all prayers.

All styles of prayer are in common with each other now- Iona, Northumbria, Taize, Anglican….We have managed to combine traditions and bring the richness of texts together. There is less suspicion than previously! We find the style of praying that is comfortable for us.

Types of prayers:

  • Praise- Ps 34: 1-3,
  • Thanksgiving- Eph 5: 19-20,
  • Confession- 1 John 1:9,
  • Intercession-Col 4: 12,
  • Petition- Ps 5:3,
  • Listening- 1 Sam 3: 10.
Mother Teresa when interviewed about praying said: I don’t say anything I just listen. And the interviewer said: what does God say? She replied: he listens too!
All types of prayer are needed to enable us to be rounded. Rob used a CS Lewis quote about the Trinity and prayer: An ordinary Christian kneels down to say his prayers. (This was what Rob sent afterwards: One of your folks asked for the source of the C S Lewis quotation. As I said, Mere Christianity is available on the internet in various forms: QUOTE: ‘What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God---that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying---the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on---the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.’

We can easily feel guilty about prayer. Prayer can feel like hard work and we put pressure on ourselves. Prayer can feel like no one is listening. But our prayers don’t begin with us- they begin with God. God is already praying inside us. It is only through God’s Spirit that we are even able to pray at all. Prayer is not something we do ourselves- we allow God to move in us as we pray. Prayer is not about us making the effort but about God working in and through us.

Quote: I recited the alphabet and God rearranged the letters. (Rabbi asked a man who got lost how he said his prayers without the text to refer to). It is God using what we have to offer- however big or small that is.

You are a windsock through which prayer can be offered and heard……!!


May28th—Different Types of Prayer

For this session various relevant quotes were printed on different sheets of paper and distributed around a set of tables; the first task was to look over these, and pick one or two which caught our individual attention; then everyone came together for sharing and discussion, where each person took a few minutes to explain why they had chosen their quotes;

It is not very easy or even useful to reproduce the interesting resulting discussion;


on your own, or in a small group, please take a few quiet minutes to look at the following quotes and explore your own responses and thoughts;

and after that, perhaps find a few more quotes of your own;


“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul.

It is daily admission of one's weakness. It is

better in prayer to have a heart without words

than words without a heart.”

― Mahatma Gandhi


“The function of prayer is not to influence God,

but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

― Søren Kierkegaard


 “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in

the hands of God, at His disposition, and

listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”

― Mother Teresa


“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

― Meister Eckhart


“You pray in your distress and in your need;

would that you might pray also in the fullness of

your joy and in your days of abundance.”

― Kahlil Gibran


“The more you pray, the less you'll panic. The

more you worship, the less you worry. You'll feel

more patient and less pressured.”

― Rick Warren


“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I'd do. I'd go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I'd look up into the sky—up— up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I'd just feel a prayer.”

― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables


“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there's nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.

Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don't want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of 'good time' is seldom in sync with ours.”

― Oswald Chambers


“Prayer is not an old woman's idle amusement.

Properly understood and applied, it is the most

potent instrument of action.”

― Mahatma Gandhi


“Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to.”

― Terry Pratchett


“I don't pray because it doesn't work. Prayer

doesn't fix anything. Bad things happen anyway.”

― Nicholas Sparks


“Your prayer for someone may or may not

change them, but it always changes YOU.”

― Craig Groeschel


“Help" is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn't matter how you pray--with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, "Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.”

― Anne Lamott


“God will answer your prayers better than you

think. Of course, one will not always get exactly

what he has asked for....We all have sorrows

and disappointments, but one must never forget

that, if commended to God, they will issue in

good....His own solution is far better than any

we could conceive.”

― Fanny J. Crosby


“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a

simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of

recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

― Thérèse de Lisieux


“We should seek not so much to pray but to become prayer.”

― Francis of Assisi


 “When man is with God in awe and love, then he is praying.”

― Karl Rahner


“I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.”

― Ravi Zacharias


 “the real "work" of prayer is to become silent

and listen to the voice that says good things about me.

To gently push aside and silence the many

voices that question my goodness and to trust

that I will hear the voice of blessing-- that demands real effort. ”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen


 “If you want to protect me, prayer is just as

powerful a weapon as that gun you carry.”

― Karen Witemeyer 


“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words

than words without a heart. ”

― John Bunyan


June4th—Styles of Prayer

This was principally a Christian look at different styles of prayer, particularly as they are expressed in the different church traditions


June11th—Our Experiences of Prayer


June18th—Multi-faith Praying 


June25th—Follow up, Discussion, and Sharing