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Visions Of Hope: Petition

... 'Do you see what really happened Bill? Naaman wanted something dramatic to happen—perhaps a great victory so he would have earned his healing. In the end it was a simple act of faith that did it. That's what healed him.'...

William Sykes presents quotations extolling the efficacy of prayer.

Petition—asking, supplication, request; ask humbly (for thing, to be allowed to do, etc.)

I had only been ordained a short time when the senior curate in the clergy house stopped me one morning outside his room, and said, 'Bill, come into my room for a moment. I've made an exciting discovery.' I went in and he told me he'd been reading the Old Testament story of Naaman the leper. Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Syria, a mighty man of valour. Naturally he wanted to be cured of his leprosy, so he went to see the prophet Elisha. He was told to wash himself in the Jordan seven times and he would be healed. Naaman was angry. He declined to take Elisha's advice, and his leprosy remained. Eventually he went and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, and was healed.

'Do you see what really happened Bill? Naaman wanted something dramatic to happen—perhaps a great victory so he would have earned his healing. In the end it was a simple act of faith that did it. That's what healed him.' He looked at me excitedly.

I'm afraid I wasn't as impressed as I should have been, but that afternoon I was hospital visiting and came across a man reading his Bible. That was unusual. He was reading about Naaman the leper. He needed help with the passage. I proudly shared with him my newly-acquired knowledge. He was impressed and it did the trick. 'Now listen,' he said, 'you won't believe this but yesterday I was in Austria. I had a terrific pain in my side. Stones in the kidneys were diagnosed by the doctor. I came straight back to England. Here I am, just about to go down for an X-ray, prior to an operation. Please lay hands on me and pray that I may be healed.' I did as requested.

Next week he was not on the ward. The Charge Nurse said there was no trace of the stones on the X-ray and no need for an operation. Had these passed through his system naturally, or was this an answer to petitionary prayer? The coincidence of Naaman the leper leads me to believe that when we engage in this form of prayer 'things happen'.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right! Thou hast given me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
Psalm 4:1

The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear him, he also hears their cry, and saves them.
Psalm 145:17-19

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:7-11

If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Matthew 18:19-20

Prayer is properly not petition, but simply an attention to God which is a form of love. With it goes the idea of grace, of a supernatural assistance to human endeavour which overcomes empirical limitations of personality.
Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970, page 55

The prayer of petition is the reaction of a love that is needing and needy to the revelation of a love that is all-sufficing. The vocation of life is always making demands upon us which we cannot possibly meet in our own strength. We look up to God, as the poor man by the pool looked up to Jesus. Our need, the needs of others, our spiritual conflicts, our troubles, our temptations, all these form the prayer of petition that silently or vocally we bring to the presence of our God. It is a comfort to think we may know S. Paul's experience, and that as we find our weakness in ourselves so we may find our strength in our Lord.
Father Andrew, SDC, In the Silence, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1947, page 84

Prayer is speaking to God; so the first necessity is that you should be directing your mind towards God. That is the best part and the most important part of prayer anyhow, and without it all the rest is useless... Our Lord says that when you come into the presence of God you should forget all about yourself and your needs, even your sins; you should be so filled with the thought of God that what you want above all things is that God's Name may be hallowed—reverenced—throughout the world. You are to ask for that first, because you ought to want it most. And next, that He may be effectively King of the world He has made, so that all men obey His law; and then, that His whole purpose of love shall be carried out unspoiled by the self¬ishness of men.
William Temple, Christian Faith and Life, SCM Press, 1963, page 113

Many of our prayers are prayers of petition, and people seem to think that petition is the lowest level of prayer; then comes gratitude, then praise. But in fact it is gratitude and praise that are expressions of a lower relationship. On our level of half-belief it is easier to sing hymns of praise or to thank God than to trust him enough to ask something with faith. Even people who believe half-heartedly can turn to thank God when something nice comes their way; and there are moments of elation when everyone can sing to God. But it is much more difficult to have such undivided faith as to ask with one's whole heart and whole mind with complete confidence. No one should look askance at petition, because the ability to say prayers of petition is a test of the reality of our faith.
Anthony Bloom, The Essence of Prayer, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1989, page 80

The prayers of petition and intercession give voice to the confident trust in the power and willingness of God to intervene helpfully in human life. There is a naivety, a childlike quality, about petition which is apt to shock the sophisticated. But below the level of adult consciousness there exists a well of primitive feeling which resembles a child. Petitionary prayer awakens this childlike thing and involves it in prayer. Further, it seems that there are healing forces at work within us which the doubt and mistrust fostered by a sceptical society repress. Confident petition helps to break down the imprisoning wall of mistrust and so enables the life-renewing energy to flow out. The mysterious fact of telepathy which seems to imply that mind unconsciously touches and flows into mind independently of spacial proximity illuminates the corporate nature of private prayer. For it seems probable that the confident petition which opens the personality to its depths causes either distress
signals or impulses of healing and encouragement to be sent out below the level of consciousness. This would shed light on some of the extraordinarily detailed answers to prayer which those who pray with confidence sometimes record.
Christopher Bryant, SSJE., in Gordon S. Wakefield, editor, The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, SCM Press, 1986,
page 318

Petition is the prayer of asking. It is often regarded as a 'low level' of prayer like the mewing of a cat for milk, and it may be selfish. Some spiritual writers feel that we should grow out of petition and not expect answers, that if we do we may become frantic with disappointment and torture ourselves with guilt like the prophets of Baal cutting themselves with knives to call down fire from heaven. We have to learn that prayer is communion with God, perhaps even a support for him in his cause against evil, rather than a demand for ourselves and the satisfaction of our wants.
Those who take this view are embarrassed by the teaching of Jesus—'Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and you shall find; Knock and it shall be opened unto you' (Luke 11:9). The Lord's Prayer is petitionary and Jesus holds before his hearers human importunity, persistent and discourteous, as an example of prayer (Luke ll:5ff.; 18:1-8).
Petition means that we recognize our entire dependence on God and that the earth is his and we should ask his permission before we take anything, even a crust of bread. It demands the recognition that we are not lone individuals but members of a family and that my request may have to be denied for the sake of others. It is the prayer of faith and may not be the simplest and easiest stage of prayer, but one which requires great spiritual maturity. Fundamental is the belief that God waits for us to ask not only to try our faith, but because he wants the whole of our life to be in relation to him, every need, hope and fear binding us to himself. We must not become absorbed in our own needs but in God and his unbounded mercy, love and generosity.
Jesus promised that God would do for us all that we ask in Christ's name. This means more than adding 'through Jesus Christ' at the end of each prayer. It means praying as Christ himself would pray, asking only for the things for which he would pray. In John 15 Jesus puts it in another way: 'If you abide in me and I in you, ask what you will and it shall be done unto you.' This is an even stiffer condition, if we allow him to pray in us in our name. Yet with our asking there is the assurance that God is always more ready to hear than we deserve or desire. It is easy enough to believe that God gives more than we desire. Jesus assured us that God our Father is more generous than human parents: 'If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?' (Matthew 7:11). Luke in his version in 11:13 has 'How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?' Our greatest need, perhaps our ultimate need, is as Luke suggests, God; so our funda¬mental prayer should be, 'O God, give us Yourself.'...
The distinction between petition and intercession—which is petition for others—is not always easy to draw. But the two should be kept separate. Petition concerns our straight course to God; intercession our placing of ourselves between him and the world.
George Appleton, in Gordon S. Wakefield, editor, A Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, SCM Press, 1986, page 311


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