If you happened to wander down the High Street at 3pm one night last week, you may have been surprised to see a light on in Portswood Church. The cross shaped window of the upstairs room glowed into the night as someone was there inside praying. In fact every hour of every day and night last week, at least one member of the church family was in the ‘Prayer Room’ for our 24/7 Week of Prayer.
So why do we do this? Is there anything special about praying for a whole week, in one particular room? In one sense, not really – we know we can talk to God at any time and in any place... But anyone who spent time in the Prayer Room will tell you that there was something very special about being part of the week.
In our busy lives, sometimes we need to make a decision to stop and give God our full attention. Setting apart time this week was a way of recognising that talking to and listening to God, or just being with him, is often really hard, but so important - something we can’t live without as followers of Jesus. Coming to the prayer room provided a wonderful space to do this, away from many of the distractions of life.
Although the church came to the room as individuals or small groups, we were able to share in the experience as a whole. Many visitors to the room left their words, prayers, and reflections written on walls or created as artwork, which then encouraged and inspired others.
The prayer room was for anyone whatever their age, and whether prayer was something new to them or they’d be praying for years. The feel of the room certainly varied throughout the week – some sessions were quiet times of listening and reflecting in the candle light after a tiring day at work. At other times the room was full of noisy singing, drumming, colouring and playing with Lego as younger families had fun doing something different at church and exploring what prayer is all about.
Our theme for the week was the Psalms – the Bible’s book of songs and poems. Despite being written thousands of years ago, the words really resonated with many of us. The writers of the Psalms express the same emotions and experiences we feel today; from celebration, gratitude and joy to doubt, anxiety and confusion.
The Psalms show us that the heart of real prayer is honest conversation between us and God. Not trying to say the ‘right’ thing, praying religious words out of duty, or trying to make ourselves acceptable to God. But because Jesus has already opened up the way for us to freely be accepted into a relationship as God’s children, we can be ourselves before God, coming to him as we are. Praying with the Psalms as a starting point encouraged us that we could be open with our Heavenly Father about our struggles and questions, but also find hope and a way forward as we grow to understand who He is. The more we see of what God is like and what He’s done, the more we come to see that He is with us in all situations in life and ultimately, we can trust Him.
We realise that prayer is more than just wishful thinking, but there is real hope and purpose as we talk to him because he is a God who is involved, he is listening, and he is working as we pray, even when we can’t see the answers. It was great to see that people were able to bring all sorts of things to God during the Week of Prayer. Dozens of name tags filled a Prayer Wall, where people wrote the names of friends or family members they were concerned for. Post it notes were dotted on maps of the city and the world as people shared the situations locally and globally that were on their hearts. And there were personal prayers about our own everyday lives – I think many of the children’s prayers in particular were great at teaching us how to talk to God about our immediate needs or problems, however big or small.
We also see that prayer is a two way conversation and God has so much to say to us; learning to listen is something we all want to grow in, and the Prayer Room was really helpful in providing somewhere to focus on God. It was encouraging to hear the things that people had discovered as God had spoken to them through particular verses from the Bible or other thoughts and words.
The Psalms are full of praise songs to God. They show that knowing God can give a different outlook on life; we can know a deeper joy in the good things we appreciate in our lives; they’re not just good in themselves but they point us to a good, generous Heavenly Father. And it means that we have something to hold on to and hope in, a reason to praise even when things aren’t going so well in life. The Prayer Room was a place to align our hearts and minds with that perspective. Groups joined to worship together with music, songs and words to tell God, and remind each other, how great He is.
The Week of Prayer may have come to an end, but hopefully the things we’ve that have helped and encouraged us will stay with us as we continue our journey of growing in prayer as individuals and together as a church.