Why do Christians bother to pray?
It’s a good question to be asking at the start of Lent, a time traditionally set aside for contemplation and prayer. For many of us, prayer is something we know that we ought to be doing as Christians, but it can be surprisingly difficult to motivate ourselves to get on and do it. So why should we bother?
At the heart of the Bible’s answer to that question is the fundamental relationship that we enjoy with God. For the Christian is someone who has been adopted – by rights we are far from God and deserve absolutely nothing from him, but by his lavish grace, through Jesus, not because of anything we’ve done, we can be called God’s own children. What a remarkable truth that is – if only we would really grasp it!
As God’s children, it’s only natural that we should want to talk to our heavenly father. Prayer, then, is an expression of our complete dependence on him, our helplessness to do things by our own strength. No wonder, then, that straight after giving his disciples that most famous of prayers, the “Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus turns to this relationship we enjoy with God to motivate them to pray:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
If you then, who are evil, will give your children good things when they ask for them, how much more will our gracious God! Of course God will be gracious to us if we ask him – it’s in his very nature. He’s hardly going to be less generous than a human father is towards his children!
That’s the motivation that Jesus gives for his exhortation to pray:
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Ask, because you know that God wants to give it to you. It’s not saying that absolutely everything I ask for will be given immediately in exactly the way I was hoping for – this isn’t a promise for the gift of a new laptop just because I fancy one. The specific example that Jesus gives here is “the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” – so this is in the context of God-centred prayer that is described to us in the Lord’s Prayer itself, praying for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. But we shouldn’t let that diminish the force of this promise – God will answer our prayers, if only we’ll get on and pray!
A little extra help
Even given this wonderful encouragement to pray, there are still many distractions and temptations in the world. Personally, I find I need all the help I can get, so that’s why I built the PrayerMate mobile app, now on iOS and Android. This Lent, I am going to be running a series of blog posts under the title of PrayerMate Amnesty Week. I know that getting going with PrayerMate takes a bit of an investment of time, and I’m hearing from a lot of people that they have downloaded the app and are full of good intentions, but just haven’t quite got around to setting it up yet. PrayerMate Amnesty Week is an opportunity to put that right. Starting from Monday 10th March, I’ll be posting a new blog post each day, with a bit of encouragement to pray, along with some practical tips on getting going with the app. At the end of each post I’ll give you some homework to go away and do by yourself with the app.
I’ve been developing iOS apps since the end of 2010, so have only ever seen the world of Android from a distance. Where I’m from, you hear a lot of talk about the problem of fragmentation on Android. Whereas the adoption stats for new versions of iOS are pretty impressive (apparently iOS7 hit 33% iOS market share in just 24 hours, and 58% after one week) the situation on Android looks very different, with the second most popular Android version remaining Gingerbread, released in 2010.
With my iOS hat on, when PrayerMate launched on Android earlier this year, I assumed it would be far too much hassle for one independent developer working in his spare time to take on this fragmentation issue, so I decided to support only Honeycomb upwards – a major OS update which introduced some significant new changes to the core Android UI.
But what they don’t tell you over in iOS developer world is that the Android ecosystem provides some pretty impressive tools to make supporting older Android versions really easy. Let me give you a quick overview of just three reasons why adding support for older phones isn’t nearly as hard as you might imagine:
1. Compatibility-aware compiler
When you set up your Android project (I use Eclipse) you specify the minimum version your app supports. Out of the box, the compiler knows exactly which API level each feature was introduced at, and will throw a compiler error if you try to use functions that are too modern for the versions you claim to support. If you use conditional statements to alter behaviour by Android version, then you can use attributes in your code to say what API level a given function is designed to run against, to disable these compiler errors on just those bits of code. It also warns about deprecated APIs so that you can use more modern alternatives where appropriate.
This makes the situation so much easier than the native state-of-affairs on iOS. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some way to figure out how to make XCode throw such compatibility errors, but out of the box you get no warning whatsoever if you use functions introduced in an iOS version later than the minimum one you hope to support, and the only way to discover this is through thorough testing and waiting for the crashes to happen (which needless to say is not very scalable!)
2. Compatibility support libraries
Another seriously impressive feature of the Android SDK is the compatibility support libraries. In many situations, where a new API has been introduced, the SDK then goes and adds an alternative implementation that conforms to the same method signatures but which ports the new functionality back so that it also works on older OS versions. This avoids the need to have lots and lots of conditional branches running separate codepaths on separate Android versions, and instead means you can just write one lot of code that works everywhere.
Ok, so this one isn’t native to the Android SDK (although a very similar library is) but there’s a great open source project out there called ActionBarSherlock which lets you add the “action bar” UI paradigm introduced in Honeycomb even when running on older Android versions. It requires a minimal amount of setup, and works almost identically to the real action bar. So, again, rather than having to invent two separate user interfaces depending on the Android version, you can have the same functionality running everywhere.
In conclusion, the Android fragmentation problem doesn’t seem nearly so scary to me as it once did. I managed to get PrayerMate to support Android versions all the way back to Froyo (v2.2) in a single (pretty relaxed) weekend, and because of support from the compiler I can be pretty confident of not having missed anything.
I know that every time I release a new update to PrayerMate, I always say it’s the most exciting version ever. But today’s update to PrayerMate for Android makes me really extra excited!
New downloadable “Prayer gallery”
Firstly, it adds the downloadable prayer gallery that iOS users received earlier in the week. It’s very small for now, but it includes a small selection of Bible prayers (including the traditional form of the Lord’s Prayer that many of you have asked for) and some tips from OMF UK on how to pray for missionaries. You can download the prayers into PrayerMate, and then feel free to customise them, e.g. by inserting the personal names of your particular friends.
It also includes some extracts from a forthcoming book published by 10ofthose called “Water on the Word” by Andrew Case, designed to help husbands pray biblically for their wives. If you find these helpful, let me know, and I can add more to the gallery.
Support for older Android versions
Several of you expressed disappointment that PrayerMate wasn’t able to run on your particular phone, because it only supported the newer Android versions. I’m pleased to announce that as of today, it will now run on Android versions back to Froyo (v2.2.0). If you’re running a version of Android older than that then may I politely suggest that it’s really time you treated yourself to a new phone. I can’t necessarily promise that absolutely every feature will work perfectly, but the basics are all there and I can always release incremental fixes over time if you report specific problems to me.
Improved Dropbox support
As well as a little bug fix that was preventing Dropbox imports from updating your card details, you can now also import individual text files from your Dropbox folder. Add a “.txt” file to your “Apps/PrayerMate” Dropbox folder, fill it with the contents of your prayer, and you can then load that in as a subject.
Enter a list of names
One of the biggest factors that stops people getting started with PrayerMate is the challenge of actually setting up your prayer points. The new “create from list” feature aims to make this a little easier, by allowing you to enter a whole list of names, and PrayerMate will go away and create a subject for each one.
Download it today
Today there is a small yet important new update to PrayerMate for iOS. It addresses three very long-standing feature requests:
- It includes a new “prayer gallery” of downloadable content. This is very small and simple at the moment, but I can add it to gradually over time without requiring further app updates. It includes some links to various Bible prayers that you can copy and paste, and I’ll be sure to add many more over the coming weeks and months. If you have any prayers that you would like to share with other PrayerMate users, do hit the “Get in touch” button inside the app.
- Multiple reminder alarms. Where previously you could only have one reminder per day, you can now add as many as you like through the day. If you decide you don’t want one any more, just swipe that row to the left to delete.
- You must now explicitly ask for a new set of cards to pray for on any given day. If you like to pray for same things all day long, now you can! Once you’ve prayed, your cards will stay the same until the following day. If you prefer to pray for new things every time, there’s a button you can press to ask for a new set of cards.
The update also includes some other minor updates:
- You can now create a bunch of subjects by entering a simple list of names
- Subject ordering should now be respected properly in prayer mode
- The date that you last contacted somebody is now tracked, so you know how long it’s been
- New “Help” gallery, which will be gradually expanded over time
P.S. Bonus points if you spot the glaring typo in this update. I’ll try to fix it soon!
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