Prayer is most simply defined as talking to God. Since we believe that God hears every thought, it can happen silently, just between you and Him, or it can happen in groups, when we pray aloud so that others can share in our prayers - and we in theirs. Not everyone feels comfortable praying aloud, although the more one prays, the more it becomes like having a conversation with another person, and just as we share in group conversations everyday, it can become quite natural to talk to God in a group too.
At church we pray about all kinds of things - from personal needs, to expressing thanks for happy news, to asking God to help out with problems we've noticed in the community, or even the world at large, that seem too big for anyone to fix. It's an enormous comfort to know that the God who we believe created the whole universe, is just waiting for us to ask for His help to figure out how to live in it.
Prayer takes place in our services within our worship times, but we strongly encourage our members to make prayer a natural part of their daily goings on too. God is there when we're brushing our teeth just as much as when we're sitting in a service, so why not talk to Him and get to know Him? For some, it starts a bit like having an imaginary friend - not because God isn't real, but because we can't see Him. It can help to imagine Him in the room with you, perhaps sitting on a chair, or leaning against the wall listening to you. Chat to Him, like you would anyone else. Then invite Him to talk back.
That last part may mean stopping what you're doing and focussing on Him for a bit. Don't overthink it, just allow thoughts to come to mind. You might wonder if they're from Him, but a good indicator that they're not your own thoughts will be if they're not the kind of thing you would normally think. Sometimes you'll get a strange, excited feeling along with the thought. It's a good idea to read a chapter or two from the bible each day too because that gives an idea of the kinds of things God says. For example, if He starts telling you it's time to invest your life savings in an endless supply of chocolate bars, you'll know that's probably not Him because He's never told anyone else that (alas...). However, He has told people that He loves them, and that He's in control, and that He is going to sort things out if they let Him. He's also told them on many occasions to get their act together, so, to be fair, we don't always hear what we want to hear! But always if it's from Him, it what we're hearing will bring us closer to Him and help us to live lives that are more fulfilling than anything we were achieving on our own. It takes a bit of practice, but it helps a lot to know that God really wants to talk to you - He's just waiting for you to ask Him!
Needless to say, it can be very helpful to pray with people who've been doing it for a while. They might tell you about different kinds of prayer - like "intercession" (praying for other people), or "thanksgiving" (literally just thanking God for all the good things you can think of), or "supplication" (praying for your own needs), or "listening". That last one is probably the hardest for everybody - but it's also one of the most important.
If you ever want to give it a go with someone, why not ask one of our leaders to pray with you after service one Sunday morning, or join us on a Sunday evening at 7pm? This is an open time of prayer when whoever wants to pop along can do so and we pray as we feel led by God - for our church, the world, one another, or we just listen (contact Ian and Jan to get the address and directions as we usually meet at their home: 02392 648699).
My husband and I grew up, met, married and settled in Johannesburg, South Africa. One morning, as we were finishing off our usual bible reading and prayer time together, I had a feeling that we should make time to listen to God. As we sat there quietly I got the strangest impression that God had a big adventure in store for us and I said to my husband, "I think you're going to get offered a job in another city today".
He called me up that afternoon: "You'll never believe it, but I've just been offered a job near Cape Town by one of our clients!"
"We'll know it's the Lord if they're prepared to pay for the move," I said.
Sure enough, they were, and so began an adventure that brought many new friends, experiences and opportunities for growth into our lives.
Soon after moving there, while trying to take in the breathtaking beauty of the sea and the mountains God was sharing with us, I sensed this would not be a "forever" move for us, but was rather part of a bigger journey. Sure enough, 8 years later, we found ourselves thrust into a completely unexpected new adventure that landed us on far more distant shores.
But that's another story...