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Facing the world with our eyes open

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To explore our understanding of why people pray.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and three readers.

  • This assembly is based on the experiences of the Grammy-Award-winning singer Sam Smith when he spent time in the city of Mosul in Iraq with the charity War Child.

    Note: Sam Smith’s song ‘Pray’ contains a swear word near the beginning, so this assembly uses excerpts from the song rather than the actual musical version. You may prefer to read the lyrics of the song, missing out the appropriate word. The song lyrics are available at:


Leader: I’d like to run through a checklist with you. How many of these characteristics apply to you?

Give a suitable pause between each of the following.

Reader 1: Are you young?

Reader 2: Are you foolish?

Reader 3: Do you make bad decisions?

Reader 1: Do you ignore the national and international news?

Reader 2: Have you turned your back on religion?

Reader 3:  Do you have a university degree?

Reader 1: Are you naive?

Reader 2: Would you be found in a church or some other religious establishment?

Reader 3: Do you read the Bible?

Leader: Would you call yourself a saint or a sinner?

Some of you might recognize those questions: they are taken from the song ‘Pray’ by Sam Smith, a Grammy-Award-winning soul singer. A couple of years ago, he spent time in the city of Mosul in Iraq with the charity War Child. While in Mosul, he became increasingly aware of how self-centred his view of life was. He describes how he spent five days in Mosul and came back embarrassed that he knew so little about the world and other people’s lives. He felt that all he personally had achieved was to write a bunch of songs about love. It was an eye-opening experience for him that changed his life.

The problem with opening our eyes to what is really going on in the world locally, nationally and internationally is that it can easily lead us into dread, fear and ultimately, paralysis. We can feel that people as insignificant as ourselves can do little or even nothing about the injustice, inequality and despair that exists in so many places. We can feel helpless. We might even think that it is almost better not to know. This was the dilemma that Sam Smith faced.

So, how did he handle it? He began to pray. He describes his journey into prayer in the single ‘Pray’, which he issued late last year. In the song, rather than positively deciding to pray, he uses the words ‘maybe I’ll pray’. He sings about how he doesn’t fit the image of a believer and how he’s ‘broken, alone and afraid’. However, he eventually comes to the conclusion that, in a time of crisis, when the chips are down, ‘everyone prays in the end’.

What does he pray for? He prays for freedom, whether that’s for himself or for those he now knows about. Tellingly, he also prays for a glimmer of hope and a one-to-one meeting with one who can provide that hope. It’s a song born of desperation and frustration, yet with the possibility that there is someone who can make a difference.

Time for reflection

Leader: How did you do on the checklist we considered earlier?

You may wish to read the list again.

The biggest question is: do you have the courage to face the world with your eyes open in the way that Sam Smith did?

- It might mean acknowledging the tensions that we have with friends and family, the role that we could play in their lives and the difference that this might make to us and to them.
- It might mean learning about the issues that are current in our country, issues that may divide us, but can bring a greater understanding and acceptance of our differences.
- It might mean accepting that we have a role to play in some of the global concerns like poverty, the environment and peace.

Does this all seem far too much for people like us? Would we rather close our eyes to these things because they seem too complex and too far gone for us to make a difference?

The final question is: What would it mean for us to pray? In the song, Sam Smith sings about getting down on his knees, about begging the one he’s praying to. That’s one way of doing it. It demonstrates how desperate someone is for something to change. However, praying doesn’t need to be so dramatic all the time. It may mean sitting somewhere quiet and listening for what the Bible describes as ‘a still, small voice’. It may be an idea that pops into our head, often about something that we could do. Another way to pray is to read slowly through some of the traditional prayers of the Church. These are easily accessible on the Internet and they help us to tap into resources that have helped people over the centuries. It doesn’t even matter if we ask God questions about what is happening in the world, or get cross about things that are going wrong. This is what happened with many praying people in the Bible. However, let’s all remember that we could even be the answer to our own prayers. We can make a difference to the world in which we live.

Let’s also remember that as Sam Smith requested, prayer can turn into a one-to-one conversation.

Dear God,
Thank you for the opportunity to pray.
Please remind us that we are never alone.
Teach us to listen and to speak with our eyes open.


Optional: you may wish to play the song ‘Pray’ by Sam Smith, but please note that it contains a swear word near the beginning.

You may prefer to read the lyrics of the song, missing out the appropriate word. The song lyrics are available at:

Publication date: September 2018   (Vol.20 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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