Rev Dr Timothy Bradshaw,

Oxford University department of theology

Praying is a vital part of the life of faith, and how we pray reveals what we think God is like.

William Blake rejected the power God who issues diktats and expects total submission and obedience, a God who is not empathetic or supportive at all.

He called this deity Nobodaddy – nobody’s daddy – not a caring father figure at all, simply to be obeyed because of his power and control.

Blake was right to put aside such a divine being as in any sense Christian.

Theologians and believers today understand God as both transcendent and also deeply present in and through the creation, and ‘personally’ present to those who put their trust in him.

As Archbishop Michael Ramsey put it: God is Christlike and there is no unchristlikeness in God.

The strange Christian view of God enshrined in the idea of the Trinity is basically stating this fact, that God is complex in his being of love, he is both beyond all understanding and also at work in the world in his spirit.

God is able to enter suffering and to detoxify human sin. God cares even for the sparrow that falls, we hear from Jesus.

Such a multi-dimensional God is implied in ordinary prayer life, he is ‘our Father in heaven’ the almighty king of the universe is at the same time the empathetic father who cares, that is how Jesus teaches us to pray.

When we are too distressed to pray, St Paul tells us that the Spirit prays for us, quite an extraordinary idea – God enables us to pray to God!

Another paradoxical prayer we are taught to pray is ‘thy will be done’ - we are told to pray to God for his own will to be done, as if God desires to use our prayers as a way of achieving his will.

This might be a good way of thinking about praying for things, intercession or petitionary prayer.

Such prayers are prayed in faith and in Christ, praying along the line of the Christlike God and his Christlike desires.

This means that when we ask God for something we are not trying to prod God to what he should do, to beg a rather grumpy and uncaring deity, in fact Blake’s Nobodaddy.

Rather we can envisage our prayers as our small human wills seeking to be open to the will and purposes of God, assisting his will to be done on earth as in heaven.

We are not ringing the doorbell of a very reluctant and resentful deity, trying to get him to do the right thing!

Prayer takes all sorts of forms. We pray as we go to sleep and in waking hours, bringing to God issues on our hearts, as we hear the Pslamist did. We pray in formal services of worship together. We can pray using our imaginations to picture people we are praying for.

We praise and thank God for all sorts of good things. We can pray at work and out shopping.

No field of human activity need fall outside of our praying.

This is the vital way in which we cooperate with God in his will being done, including bringing to God the wrong things we do – no area of our life need be God-free.