I was asked by the BBC to come down to Chewton Glen in Dorset to do Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show this morning. A number of very generous and interesting people have donated huge amounts of money in an auction and are involved this week in driving various Ferraris and other expensive cars as their reward. A number of these cars are parked on the lawn at the hotel here and yesterday evening there was an amazing dinner to which I was generously invited and before which I said grace.
It has been great fun – and I have been able to keep the reading, the work and the emails going while traveling and staying here. But, any Pause for Thought seems inadequate and clunky in such a context. Anyway, for what it is worth, this is what I offered:
“Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.”
Now, that's what I call a prayer! Why beat about the bush asking for a bike when your ambitions might run a little deeper?
I have no idea what was going through Janis Joplin's mind when she sang that song way back in October 1970, but it still makes me smile when I hear it today. And … she recorded it in a single take.
Now, I don't know what it says about the relative value of cars – frankly, if push comes to shove, I would be happy to settle for the poor old Porsche – but it does say something about what prayer is all about. For prayer is not an exercise in ethical cleansing, but a commitment to honesty. It involves telling God the truth and not pretending that we are actually holier than we are.
Go back several thousand years and you find the poets – the Psalmists – throwing their politeness to the wind and saying it as it is. “God, I am up to my neck in it and where are you?” “God, I wish you'd take my enemies and smash them to bits.” “God, why do the wicked prosper while the people who try hard to get it right just end up getting it in the neck?”
Of course, the awkward bit about this is that once we have put the question to God, he seems to turn it back to us to take responsibility for what we do with it ourselves. Prayer is never an escape from responsibility, but, rather, involves being thrust into the heart of it. Tell God the truth and you can't then duck the implications of what you have said to him.
So, this morning I am with Janis Joplin. Tell the truth and aim high. Expect generosity – but then you have to start being generous. It all hangs together. Expect love, then give it.
So, as our drivers set off for their long drive today, let me encourage you with the words of the ancient prophet Elijah: “Hitch up your chariot and get going before the rain stops you.”