Pause for Thought

Prayer, a Perspective
“Oh Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be this day, if I forget
Thee, do not Thou forget me.”

I had all but forgotten this prayer until recently and recalled that it used to be said in school assembly on those occasions when the assembly had to be cut short! The teacher taking assembly would introduce it as “The Sir Jacob Astley Prayer” and I always used to think what excellent sentiments it contained. Of course, my impression was that the prayer was an acknowledgment that in our busy lives, when Christian behaviour could falter, Jesus would remain our constant, forgiving friend and not punish us for any lapses. Since then, I have made a re-appraisal and now wonder if the prayer was anything to do with forgiveness and may not be strictly Christian in any case!

The prayer is attributed to the 17th century Royalist baronet, Sir Jacob Astley, a professional soldier. He allegedly intoned it in front of his troops just prior to the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. His “busy ness” would be the maiming and killing of opponents, (not a particularly “Christian activity”), and presumably he hoped God would protect the baronet’s own skin until the battle was concluded, a somewhat selfish motive.
Christian prayer is set out by Jesus in the Bible and we recognise it as “The Lord’s Prayer”. It is clear, straightforward and espouses the Christian values. While forgiveness and the pursuit of goodness is at its heart, it does have other focuses. Material wellbeing receives short consideration. While we pray for food, we do not pray for shelter or possessions. Indeed, materialism receives short shrift in the gospels, a wealthy man must give up his ‘surplus’ possessions to follow Christ, but reluctance means the Kingdom of Heaven is more attainable for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for those possessing wealth. The boundary of satisfactory possession is set high, even a second coat is an unnecessary luxury. Likewise, implicit trust in God implies over-planning for the future should be avoided.

The main focus of the prayer is, however, the manner in which it  is expressed. I have not seen direct translations from the Greek or Latin texts but the prayer is not couched in a personal format. It is “Our Father”, not “My Father”, “Give Us Our daily bread,” Forgive Us Our trespasses.” The Lord’s Prayer is in fact a prayer of community, and not only a Christian community but for all Mankind. This is another reason why Sir Jacob Astley’s Prayer may not meet a Christian sentiment in its selfish motive. We all, of course, make prayers seeking help for ourselves and other individuals. Prayers of intercession figure in most church services. But when such prayers do not seem to be answered, is it because our focus is wrong? In realising in recent times that prayer is for community, I always pray for God’s intercession to help ALL those facing life threatening situations, chronic illness and/or starvation. His means may well be by acting through
medical discovery or human compassion but humanity is worldwide and the Lord’s Prayer reflects this. Perhaps a truly
Christian version of Sir Jacob Astley’s Prayer should read,
“Oh Lord You knowest how busy we must be this day, if we forget
You, dear Lord, do not You forget Us.

Andrew Gannon

You can read more about Sir Jacob Astley at,_1st_Baron_Astley_o