British comedian Russell Brand often posts spiritual musings on his social media accounts, but his recent ten minute video on prayer is particularly poignant and worth making time to watch.
Brand begins by saying that he’s made it a custom in his own life to pray daily. While he admits he’s not a theologian (although he did recently take an online course by Bart Ehrman), he has some really helpful insights into prayer.
“In a way they say that we pray all the time. Have you not heard that rather wonderful phrase, ‘worrying is praying for what you don’t want’? And many of us that would benefit from prayer are people that usually fall prey to anxiety and neuroticism.”
Some Christians may dismiss Brand’s thoughts on prayer as being misconceived if they don’t have Christ at the centre. However, this misses the point that prayer is a universal phenomenon.
When people pray, even to an unknown God, they are doing what Paul describes in Acts 17 to the Athenian philosophers: “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” There are things we can affirm in people’s journeys of faith, which may yet point them towards the source of their searching.
In a world that feels fraught with fear, violence and confusion, a video about why and how we should pray, even from someone who may not think of himself as a Christian, can still contain helpful truths.
Brand admits that he likes simple prayers, “many of which have come from 12 step programmes” and he offers a helpful pattern for prayer built around five points.
Again, some will dismiss methodology as New Age ‘woo’, but I think his points are helpful in many respects, and actually remind me of the pattern of prayer we were given 2,000 years ago by Jesus in the form of the Lord’s Prayer.
Brand believes the starting point for all of our prayers should be thankfulness. I agree. This is an entirely biblical position – the Psalms, for example, are saturated with the call to be thankful – and one of the first things we do in the Lord’s Prayer is to look up and acknowledge our “hallowed” God.
2. Be awake
I envisage the day ahead of me. And I ask to be useful in the encounters that I have and to stay awake…not to disappear into my own desires…My prayer is ‘God, make me ready. Awaken me, Creator.’”
Again, Brand’s call to look around us rather than selfishly navel gaze has its roots in the Bible (Philippians 2:3-4, for example) and is reflected in the Lord’s Prayer.
Brand then prays for healing for those who are suffering. Again, an entirely biblical instinct (for example James 5:14). While asking for healing doesn’t explicitly feature in the Lord’s Prayer, we are told to pray for physical and spiritual needs – daily bread, forgiveness of sins and our own forgiveness of others. These are all important parts of what it means to be a healthy human being.
Brand prays “to be awakened to the signs”. This is reminiscent of the Lord’s Prayer’s call for God’s Kingdom to be revealed here on earth – ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done‘. The prayer is that we too, by recognising the signs, may join in that Kingdom work.
5. Be in alignment
Finally, Brand prays “to be useful, to be in alignment with the deep intelligence that is present in the world”.
I think this deep intelligence in the world is also deeply personal. And it’s how we start the Lord’s Prayer – we say “Our Father in heaven”. The Aramaic word Jesus uses here for ‘father’ is ‘Abba’, which is similar to our word ‘daddy’ (although ‘abba’ was also used by both adults and children). This is the starting point of all of our prayers, a heavenly Daddy, who loves us unconditionally, completely, recklessly even.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever.
Brand also seems to understand the power of prayer:
“I believe that through prayer, we can construct an entirely new reality…We don’t need to be limited to who we believe ourselves to be, who we have been taught we are…Prayer has shown me that really we can be anyone, we can move anywhere because we operate ultimately not within limit but within the limitless.”
I agree, though perhaps for different reasons. It’s not that prayer gives me the power to do and be anything I wish. But it connects me with the one who is able to accomplish his great purposes through me. Through prayer, we begin to learn that we are seen, known and deeply loved. Again, to quote Paul (himself quoting the pagan poets): ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17v 28).
In prayer we acknowledge that, through a humble, dependent walk with God, we are able to be and do immeasurably more than we could do in our own strength.
As we pray, we draw close to the person who can give us hope in what can often seem a really hopeless world. As Russell Brand says: “Through prayer we see a way through.” My prayer for Russell is that he will find his way to the one who first taught us how to pray with that hope of a new Kingdom.