Continuing our pattern of occasional mid-week reflecitions Anne Galbraith has written this reflection confidence and prayer.
Whenever I listen to the news at the moment, I hear discussion about building confidence to get things back to normal as we slowly emerge from the lockdown.   Everyone I talk to seems to have a different level of confidence about what they feel able to do.  A friend recently confided in me that she was very worried that she might have lost confidence in driving long distances, as she had so rarely been in her car in recent weeks.

All this talk of confidence reminded me that the word has several meanings.  In some contexts, it means firm trust, belief or faith, for example when we say “I am confident he will come”.  In other contexts, it could mean something secret, as for example in “I am sharing this confidence with you”.  And of course, it can mean something about our personal demeanour – our self belief or assuredness, as when we say “I am confident I can run a marathon”.

Every week, we are invited during our church services to “pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us”.  When this invitation is issued, we may never dwell on the many meanings of the word “confidence”.  Given the wording of the invitation we receive, to pray with confidence, it follows that confidence must be an important ingredient of praying, but which of the various senses of the word is meant in that invitation?
If we take the first meaning of the word, meaning firm trust, belief or faith, then that matches well with what we read in 1 John 5, 14 – 15;  “We can approach God with this confidence: if we make requests which accord with his will, He listens to us, and if we know that our requests are heard, we also know that all we ask of him is ours.”  These verses tell us that praying with confidence, God hears us.  However, there is a caveat – our requests must accord with his will.   This is a point on which we are certainly reminded in the Lord’s Prayer – THY will be done.  

We are also reminded in this passage from John that “all we ask of him is ours”.  At first sight, this reads as if our prayers will automatically be answered and our requests fulfilled.  However,  this  is a moment when you might feel your confidence waning – after all, in a recent prayer, you may be a farmer who asked for rain, and the weather has since delivered record sunshine and heat.  The farmer will certainly not feel that his prayer has been answered.  If you look at the advice about praying on the Church of England website, it does remind us that although God hears every prayer, not all are answered in the way we might expect or desire.  Put another way, looking to see if our prayers have been answered won’t yield success if our only criteria for judging success is that our OWN will should be done. 

I am reminded at this point of one of the books that was so loved by my grandson when he was younger – the Diary of the Wimpy Kid.  The kid is Greg, who is about 12 years old, an American, who sets down all his thoughts and actions in his diaries.  “Wednesday, Last night I prayed extra hard that I wouldn’t end up with Ruby as my dance partner.  Then I started worrying that maybe you only get a certain number of prayers answered in your lifetime, and I’m burning through mine too fast.  I’d hate to find out later on that I used up all my chits because I’ve been acting like I’ve got an unlimited supply.  For the record, I have about a 75% success rate with my prayers.  Anyway, I think I’ve got to be a lot more specific when I pray for something, because today in Phys Ed, my wish was granted but I ‘m not happy about the way things turned out.  At the beginning of the class, Mrs Moretta called out names for dance partners, and I held my breath when she got to Ruby Bird.  But Ruby got paired up with Fregley, and if you ask me, that’s a match made in heaven.  After the last girl’s name was read out, there was still a bunch of boys left over, including me.  Mrs Moretta then said that everyone had to dance, and she started pairing us boys up with ONE ANOTHER.  So the next thing I knew, I was dancing a waltz with Carlos Escalera”.

Praying with confidence clearly therefore does not mean in the expectation that our every wish will be granted, but if we engage in quiet reflection in prayer, that may give us time to realise that what we personally want cannot happen without hurt or sacrifice to others.  That may help us to come to a better reconciliation with the situations we face.  What it signifies for me is much more “sharing my confidences” with God.  That could be saying sorry for things I regret, it could be sharing anxieties about people I love, and it could be just sharing a conversation with God.  In one of the tube stations in London, there is regularly a Prayer for the Day on a board at the entrance.  On one occasion it said “Prayer at its highest is a two way conversation, and for me, the most important part is listening to God’s replies”.

If we have maintained that regular conversation with God through prayer, then that in turn could prove beneficial in respect of the third meaning of the word confidence.  We may well enjoy self belief and assurance – but always keep in mind another wise saying on the board at the Tube station – If you are swept off your feet, it’s time to get back on your knees”.