The Privilege of Prayer

The great science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, whose most famous work is 2001: A Space Odyssey Isaac Asimov, whose manifold works include I, Robot, wrote a powerful short story that has stuck with me for the thirty-plus years since I first read it: “Nightfall.” What if, he asked as his premise, the stars came out only once every thousand years? How would we react to, and value, such an occurrence?

The Stackhouse family recently celebrated two birthdays, those of our younger two sons. Coincidentally, we read through several books of the Torah this past summer in family Bible reading, with many chapters dealing with ancient Israel’s tabernacle and its elaborate system of worship. Such chapters are full of restrictions about who can do what, where, and when–and yet they describe the amazing opportunity for at least the representative of the people to actually meet with God, with no intermediaries, in direct communication.

I found myself wondering: What if every year on your birthday you yourself–and not just a high priest–were allowed to dress in special robes and go to a special room in your local temple and there, for five precious minutes, you could say anything you wanted to the God of the universe and be guaranteed that he would hear you?

What would you say? What list of petitions would you bring, knowing you had only five minutes, but you did have those five minutes? What praise would you bring, what thanksgiving? How would you make the most of it?

I’m reading a splendid collection of sermons by James S. Stewart, late professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, and he writes: “It is a great thing to know, it is indeed an epoch in a man’s life, when he discovers that at any moment of the day or night, in any sort of surroundings, his heart can wing its way to God, and touch the power that sways the world” (Walking with God, ed. Gordon Grant [Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2006 (1996)], 45).

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving here in Canada this weekend. Thanks be to God for the stupendous privilege of praying not just once a year in some holy place, but anywhere, anytime. Yes, thanks be to God.

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