The Very Rev Martyn Percy
Dean of Christ Church, Oxford

LIKE many parents, I suspect, I was recently awaiting exam results. Not mine, but my son’s.

Was I anxious? Well, just a little, to be honest.

Despite this being the holiday season, many people spend August biting their fingernails.

Woody Allen has a nice line for all of us beginning a new job or challenge.

How do we make God laugh? The answer: tell him our future plans.

One of the best-known Psalms (23) captures the essence of assurance.

God will be with us – through whatever shadows or valleys we walk through.

But we are not offered a detour.

There is no way around the difficulties we face in life. Rather, faith offers a way through these things.

There is some wisdom in the so-called ‘Serenity Prayer’: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”.

The habitual and mysterious nature of prayer is part of its fascination. And occasionally the quirky: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, help me find a parking space” is a prayer that not only rhymes, but also seems to work – for some. (But not often in Oxford, I fear).

Prayer is not about success, or even about winning. It is about attuning our hearts and minds to God, no matter what life throws at us.

Today, across the world, there will be tragedy and triumph, joy and pain, bereavement and birth. Prayer doesn’t change these realities; but it can transform how we face them.

As one philosopher says, the motto of bad religion runs something like this: “Fear not; trust in God and he will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.”

But the motto of good religion is different: “Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you – but they are nothing to be afraid of.”

That’s why I like this prayer, in this, and indeed any season: Lord, teach us to pray not for what we want, but for what we need.

Not for what we desire, but for what is wise.

And not for what we crave, but for what you can create. Amen.