I was approached by a rather hesitant shop assistant who looked rather concerned at my behaviour. I was in the kitchen section of Barbours – the delightful department store in Dumfries, Scotland. The sale had drawn us in, and I was appreciating the robust and chunky properties of the Le Crusset tableware, whilst Sam was ten feet away, crouching down at a low shelf examining some enamel cooking pans. I chatted to Sam about something or other for probably a minute or two and then noticed that the female shop assistant was coming my way. She had a strange look in her eye. A kind of inquisitive look, like something wasn’t quite right. As she got close Sam stood up, having completed her analysis of the enamel pans. And then the shop assistants spoke, in her lovely Borders accent:
‘Och! I thought you were mad!’ she said.
It wasn’t the most encouraging greeting I’ve ever received, but it certainly got my attention.
‘Now I see who you were talking to. I couldn’t see the lady whilst she was crouching down. I thought you were talking to yourself!!! I thought you were on your own… talking to yourself like a madman!’
‘Uh, no’ I replied, ‘I really was talking to my wife.’
‘I can see that now!’ she said, ‘but I couldn’t see that before. All I could see was this strange man talking to himself!!!’
She obviously found the whole thing very funny, and I suppose it was. I smiled and tried to share her hysterics although I have to admit that I didn’t find it quite so funny as she did. Maybe I just don’t like being thought of as mad!
I guess that prayer could be viewed in a similar way. Prayer is talking to God. Talking to someone who some think isn’t there. And if they’re right, then prayer is the act of an unstable and disturbed person. If there is no God, then I am mad. Absolutely. Totally. Because I pray every day – in fact many times each day – as do billions of people across the world.
So praying people are either mad, or they’re mature. They’re either batty, or brilliant. They’re either weird, or they’re wise. It’s either one or the other, but not something inbetween. Praying is either a good thing to do, or not. What it’s not is quite a good thing to do. Or a good thing to do for someone’s who’s religious. Because if there is a God – and he’s been revealed to us in Jesus Christ – then he’s worth praying to and getting to know whether you’re religious or not. And if there isn’t a God, then all these praying people down the centuries have been deluded and those continuing to do so today need to realise how silly they are. That they’re mad.
Maybe we need more people to investigate prayer like the shop assistant at Barbours. Rather than leaving me to my strange mutterings, she took the initiative and investigated. She sought to discover if I really was mad, or whether there was someone there. I’m hoping that millions of people in the North of England will do the same about the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m praying they’ll discover that he’s not only real and present and worth praying to, but that he’s good, close, amazing and awesome. Were that to happen, that would be something worth laughing about and celebrating, don’t you think?