The more observant among you may have noticed some changes at the front of the Free Church recently; the noticeboard has been replaced with a fresh one bearing our new logo, and a headstone commemorating a 19th century minister has been removed. In place of the headstone, a wooden cross has stood for some weeks, almost covered in colourful ribbons. The first ribbons were placed there by members of our congregation, and the subsequent ones by people in our village community as they passed by. It was an encouraging task to refill the ribbon bag as they got used up, for each ribbon represented a prayer.
Some people pray every day, some occasionally, and some never, but it is a rare person who does not cry out to God in life and death situations. Yet prayer is more than just asking God for things; it is a two way conversation that requires at least as much listening as talking. It is saying sorry, giving thanks, praising God just for being who He is, but yes, it is also asking for something for others or ourselves. We have no way of knowing what prayer each of those ribbons represents, but we can know that God will have heard and answered each one. However, that doesn’t mean each answer will have been ‘yes’.
Many of you will be familiar with the phrase, ‘be careful what you wish for’. The same applies to prayer. As a parent, one of the greatest joys is to be able to give good gifts to one’s child, maybe things that they have longed and yearned for. Yet any parent also knows that much as a crawling toddler earnestly desires to be allowed to explore the fireplace, the answer to that request has to be ‘no’ – not because you do not love the child, but because you do. Similarly, to the young teenager who begs for the latest smartphone, the answer may well be ‘wait awhile – not yet’.
It has been said that our lives are like the reverse side of a great tapestry. From the back, all we can see are the apparently random knots, the imperfections, the chaotic colours. Only from the front is it possible to see how it all fits together, see how every stitch and knot forms an integral part of an amazing picture. So do not be discouraged if you have prayed, and felt your prayer has gone unanswered. Trust in God – the artist who designed your life’s tapestry.