From the Shelf 2: Lee Abbey Prayer Requests


A second bookmark to fall out of this week’s shelf-sorting is a Lee Abbey Prayer Paper, dated April 1962. Prayer requests include the ‘Special Council Meeting’ held on 3rd April, a Sixth Formers’ Conference planned for the 10th, the Easter House Party on the 18th and a Clergy Recess the following month. These are all submitted for heaven’s consideration. Further requests include wisdom, ‘Geoffrey and Dora’s Visit’ and people coming over from various countries.

I don’t know Lee Abbey very well. It has a thriving website and seems a busy organisation, though it’s probably more ecumenically minded than me. Yet here’s an intriguing thought- what if I were to pray for these requests on the bookmark? "That’s daft", I hear you retort. "These requests were for the year 1962. The past is beyond our control, it is fixed, and our prayers cannot alter that".

If you did think or say that, I would in part agree. The past cannot be changed. Christ redeems us from Adam's Fall, but He does not rewind the clock and simply make it unhappen. Yet God exists outside of time and is not subject to its progression like His creation. The early Christian philosopher Boethius argued that an eternal God does not occupy a ‘present’ as we do, for He is outside of time, a concept He created and is therefore unbound by its passage:

“Thus, if you will think about the foreknowledge by which God distinguishes all things, you will rightly consider it to be not a foreknowledge of future events, but knowledge of a never changing present.”

In other words, that which we describe as the ‘past’, or we anticipate as ‘future’, is for God a single continuum called ‘present’. Rather than peering ahead into the forthcoming, God is fully aware all events and actions simultaneously. So what about the Lee Abbey prayer requests? God beheld Geoffrey and Dora's visit before the universe was created. He beholds it just as clearly right now. Perchance God blessed the Sixth Formers’ Conference of 10-17th April 1962 because He knew that a certain Head of Sixth Form (me) with a fondness for that age group, would look back and pray, albeit retrospectively. So not only would God have answered my prayer before I asked it, He would have answered it 17 years before I was born.

Imagine this. You receive news that a loved one has been involved in an accident. You instantly fall on your knees and pray that God will help him. Unbeknownst to you, the critical stage of the loved one’s treatment occurred several hours before you received the news. Might not a timeless God have heard your ‘future’ prayers and answered them? He is not bound by your time-keeping or memory. Now here’s a confession. I sometimes forget to pray for people when they’ve asked me to. I guiltily pray after the event, relying on a heavenly grace more reliable and compassionate than my frail human remembrance. On such occasions I pray knowing that ‘your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.’

Those times when God provides for us unexpectedly might well be His responding to future prayers yet unspoken, or old prayers uttered generations back. I sometimes marvel at some families’ faithfulness to the gospel, spanning 4-5 generations. I wonder if some Victorian patriarch commended his descendants to God; the prayer of the righteous man availing much, even after his tongue lies buried in the earth.

I do not understand prayer nor the economy of sovereign grace in which it operates. For the record, I didn’t pray over the Lee Abbey requests. Faint echoes of Mormons baptising the dead did not sit comfortably with me. Yet I do believe God answers prayers before we are even old enough to speak them, or knowledgeable enough to understand we need His help. Even more amazingly, He graciously provides for us those things for which we are too ignorant or proud to ask.

Blessed be the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness.

Ps 31:21