Hey Siri!

I heard that Chris Evans got caught out this week on his Breakfast Show on Radio 2. He was talking about the voice activated devices like Siri on the iPhone. Whilst talking to a listener, he unintentionally affected the national grid. Evans asked Siri to turn the heating up by 2 degrees. He soon received a lot of calls to say that he had inadvertently raised the heating in hundreds of homes across the United Kingdom! This is because Siri comes alive if you call his name. All I need to do to wake my phone up is call out, “Hey Siri!” Once awake, I can ask my phone to do a whole host of tasks like sending an email, finding a route, or recording Dr Who. If it is connected, Siri will also control the heating in your house and even get the robot to mow the lawn – it’s all possible but you need to ask.

Jesus’ declared:

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7  / Luke 11:9)

This is a different kind of asking than the aforementioned type. I ask Siri because I want this non-feeling, non-reflective computer to achieve a goal, solve a problem, and help me out. The type of asking, searching and knocking at doors that Jesus described is a very different way of approaching a need. Prayer is more than about getting a job done. We can so easily fall into the trap of dedicating our prayer experience into a series of “I want this,” “please do that,” and “sorry about the other!” We can become quite well versed in trying to manipulate God to ‘doing.’ We are skilled at bargaining too, “If you do this; I’ll do that.” So we are prone to develop a “Hey God!” prayer life in which we ask in order that God gets life sorted. We seek to ask God to raise the temperature in our house so that we might feel more comfortable.

Siri is helpful but cannot, ultimately, answer our deepest needs

God does not act like Siri, or Alexa, or any of the other voice activated digital angels. Although petitionary prayer is part of the Christian tradition – Jesus asked of his Father for many graces – prayer is not for our soul benefit. Petitions are best made for others and for the benefit of humankind. Asking in this way, the way Jesus intended, is for the good of God’s kingdom. It also enables the petitioner to relate with God in a self-less sense. This type of prayer builds relationship, it demands trust and a deep humility. Jesus declares that this prayer is hope-filled. However, unlike my Siri experience, the ‘answer’ is not always instantaneous. More importantly, I do not always receive ‘an answer’ because, more often than not, the response is surprisingly at odds with my petition. In real time, this is difficult to accept but, with hindsight, I can see the wisdom and mercy, the work of God, which has taken place.

We don’t always receive what we are expecting in prayer!

I wonder if it would be helpful to develop, as part of our prayer life, time to simply be open towards God. This openness does not require words, requests or confessions. This type of asking is about giving ourselves to God, like basking in the sunshine, listening to the notes of the waves upon the shore. God knows what is in our hearts – that doesn’t mean that we should not articulate any of these deeply help requests – it just means that the all-compassionate God knows more than we can fully imagine, the things that we need and the things that his world is searching for. God is awake to our call, we don’t need to somehow activate God to produce a response. God already knows what is on our hearts. But ask Siri, “who is God?” and he will instantaneously reply with an encyclopaedic definition – very helpful, but less than imaginative. I’ll continue basking.

Gavin: “Hey Siri, thanks for helping with my diary and contacts but let’s leave God to be God!”

Siri: “Humans have religion. I just have silicon!”

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Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.