Being dependent: what the Catechism teaches about prayer.

A fact which most of us fail to recognize most of the time is how dependent we are on other human beings.

This is clearly true in the case of babies and young children, who are utterly dependent on their parents, or other older people, for their food, their clothing, their hygiene, their transportation, and so forth. It is also clearly true in the case of very many people in extreme old age, and of people with severe mental or physical disabilities. However, it also true for all of us in a variety of ways.

For example, are we dependent on other people for most, if not all, of the food that we eat, for the water we drink and wash with, for our electricity supply, for our communications networks and (as the Covid -19 pandemic has underlined) for our healthcare. We may like to think of ourselves as independent beings, but this is simply not the case. We need other people to survive and to thrive.

We are even dependent on other people for the very thoughts that we have. As human beings we think in words and these words have been passed on to us by other human beings, who had words passed on to them in their turn.

What we also fail to realise is that we are dependent not just on other human beings, but also upon God. This point is highlighted by the Prayer Book Catechism in relation to our calling to obey God’s commandments. After the Catechism has set out what these Commandments are and what it means to live in accordance with them, the Catechist then declares:

‘My good child, know this, that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.   Let me hear therefore if thou canst say the Lord’s Prayer.’

The point that is being made here is that we are kidding ourselves if we think we can live in the way we should without God’s grace enabling us to do so. We are as dependent on God’s help to live in obedience to him as a small child is on other people to enable him or her to walk. Furthermore, we do not receive this help automatically. We have to ask for it in prayer and the model for what this prayer should look like is the prayer given by Jesus to his first disciples (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4), what is commonly know as the Lord’s Prayer (which is why the Catechism introduces the Lord’s prayer in this connection).

The section of the Catechism on the Lord’s Prayer gives the words of the Lord’s prayer and then explains their meaning. It runs as follows:

‘Answer. Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Question. What desirest thou of God in this Prayer?

Answer. I desire my Lord God our heavenly Father, who is the giver of all goodness, to send his grace unto me, and to all people, that we may worship him, serve him, and obey him, as we ought to do. And I pray unto God, that he will send us all things that be needful both for our souls and bodies; and that he will be merciful unto us, and forgive us our sins; and that it will please him to save and defend us in all dangers ghostly and bodily; and that he will keep us from all sin and wickedness, and from our ghostly enemy, and from everlasting death. And this I trust he will do of his mercy and goodness, through our Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore I say, Amen, So be it.’

The first thing this section of the Catechism teaches us is that the primary thing we should desire for ourselves and for all other human beings is that we should worship, serve, and obey God. This is what human beings were created to do, and so we and others will never find true joy and fulfilment unless this is what we do.

The Catechism then goes on to say that what we also need to pray for what is necessary for our souls and bodies (so ordinary food and drink, but also the spiritual sustenance given to us through the Bible and other forms of spiritual nourishment), the forgiveness of our sins,  protection from spiritual and physical danger, protection from sin and the Devil, and finally protection from ‘everlasting death’ (that is, being cut off from God and all good for ever).

All the specific things we might ever need to pray for are covered by this list of topics for prayer. All of our bodily needs are covered, and so are all our spiritual needs, both in this world and the next.

Returning to the issue of dependence, the fact that we need to  pray for these things shows just how radically dependent upon God we are. If we pray it means we ask God for something. If we ask God for something it means that we need God to provide it because we cannot provide it for ourselves.

The fact that according to the pattern set out in Lord’s Prayer we need to pray for all the things we need for the wellbeing of our bodies and souls, both in this this world and in the world to come, therefore tells that we cannot provide these things for ourselves. Even though the things we need may often be passed on to us through the agency of other people, ultimately they all come to us from the hand of God. They all have their origin in him.

The truth that we need to pray for all these things also means that we need to take prayer seriously. In our day to day lives, all of us take the steps that are necessary to obtain the things that we need from other people, whether food, or drink, or clothes, or housing, or whatever else it is we require. Recognising our radical dependence upon God means recognising that we likewise need to do what is necessary to obtain the things we need from God, and what that means is praying.

As the Catechism reminds us, God is good and merciful, and because this is the case, he will answer our prayers. As Jesus taught:

‘Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.’ (Matthew 7:7-8)

We need the good things that come from God. When we pray he has promised to give them to us. So, let’s get praying.