Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On prayer

Prayer begins in silence. This is because we do not know God unless he speaks first. There can only be a conversation because he has taken the initiative. Left to ourselves, we invent gods of our own wishes and fears, but the good news is that God has spoken to us in his Son. We are not left in the dark, but can respond to his gracious invitation to relationship with him as our heavenly Father. If he had not reached out to us in our need, then we would be ignorant of both the true nature and depth of our need and the identity of the one whom we might call upon to help.

Of course, sometimes our needs are so pressing that all we can do is cry that most basic of prayers: ‘Save me, Lord!’ And the Scriptures promise that ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Joel 2.32; Acts 2.21; Romans 10.13). Yet it is not just any lord to whom we fly in our distress, but to the God and Father of Jesus. As we come to know him, we also grow in our understanding of ourselves and the depth of our dependence upon him.

Our prayers are profoundly shaped by our conception of God. If God is a cosmic Santa Claus, we will bring our shopping list. If he is a harsh and distant judge, then our pleas will be fearful, brief and infrequent. And so to grow in prayer, it is important to remember again the good news about Jesus and allow our prayers to be moulded by God as he truly is.

First, God is the creator to whom we owe our existence and all we have. Every good thing comes from him, and so it is right that our prayers be filled with adoration. And not just when things are good. The Psalms are filled with examples of David and others continuing to praise God in the midst of danger and suffering (Psalms 5, 73, 77, 86 and many others).

When we face our own strife and failure it is usually partially self-caused and partially the result of circumstances outside our control. To the extent that we are at fault for our own pain, it is God whom we have ultimately offended and so it is also right that we confess our errors in our prayers: whether large or small, public or private, in word or deed – or even through not doing what we ought to have done. At this point, knowing the heart of God to whom we confess makes all the difference. This is the one who is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Exodus 34.6), the one whose Son lived, died and rose to secure our forgiveness.

Not only has God given us life and all the good things we enjoy, but in Jesus he has also brought new life to all of us living in the shadow of death. This includes both release from guilt and the gift of the Spirit to set us free from the compulsion to do evil. In Christ, we are adopted as God’s children and let in on God’s plan to set everything right through Christ. We have so much for which to give thanks in our prayers and so it is no surprise that Paul tells the Thessalonians to ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18)

Yet we know that everything is not yet right. Jesus has risen from the dead and we follow his path with the help of the Spirit, but death still interrupts, sins still entangle. Paul told the Christians in Rome that the whole world groans for the day when what was begun at Easter for Jesus is finished for all creation (Romans 8.18-23). And we also groan, yearning for the day when Jesus will return to bring life and peace once and for all to his dying and war-torn world. Such prayers might consist of ‘sighs too deep for words’ (Romans 8.26-27) or they might simply cry ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22.20)

And so that leaves us today, cleansed from our past, eagerly waiting for the future, and living each day relying on God for all our needs. Consequently, we ask for daily bread from the one who fed Israel in the wilderness and who gives good things abundantly even to those who ignore him (Matthew 5.45). We need not be embarrassed about asking from one who loves to give. But neither ought we fear asking: ‘Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.’ (Psalm 37.4) If our delight is in God, the desires of our heart will be shaped to be his desires and so he will satisfy them with more than we can ask or imagine.

There is power in prayer, but it is not ours; it is God’s. Prayer is not a magic formula giving us access to a secret and mysterious force. Prayer is an admission of our impotence and need, and of God’s generosity and strength. The more we know him as we hear and obey the good news about Jesus, the more our prayers will be filled with adoration, confession, thanksgiving, groaning and requests.

And the more we will pray.
Twelve points for the first to correctly name the location of the each photo.

16 comments:

antman said...

So we could say then that prayer is an invitation rather than an obligation.

Anthony Douglas said...

I don't know about the first one - though I'm guessing Scotland - but what a terrible location! The congregation has absolutely nowhere to park!

Is the second from Notre Dame (again)?

It's a shame so many of us are lousy conversationalists...

Annette said...

That first picture looks stunning against the background colour of your blog.

Hecta said...

St Denis, Paris

byron smith said...

Antman - indeed, it is an invitation, but given that it is also an admission of our need, I don't think it wrong to also speak of obligation.

Anthony - not Scotland. I don't think parking would have been an issue for the 11thC congregation. The 'bell tower' at the western end of the church was, when the church was built, already as old to them as the church is to us now.

Not Notre Dame...

Hecta - ...nor St Denis. There seems to be a feeling that it is in Paris. Go with that feeling.

Annette - thanks. I like that picture. I have another one very similar that also looks good. It has an extra feature that provides another clue. If no one gets it for a while, I might also post that one.

drew said...

very encouraging.

Poncho said...

Sainte-Chapelle in Paris for photo 2.

byron smith said...

Poncho - bingo, twelve points and welcome to the scoreboard. And, it seems, to Blogger. I was the first person to view your profile!

Poncho said...

Not a very interesting profile...! Capetonian currently study theology by correspondence, while trying to manage an IT Dept.

Having spent the weekend contemplating the first photo, I'm going to suggest it is the church next to Dover Castle?

byron smith said...

Poncho - Bingo once more. Well done, have another twelve points. It is the Saxon church St Mary de Castro, with a Roman lighthouse as its bell tower.

byron smith said...

You've hit the lead for August on 24 points.

byron smith said...

Nice to meet you, by the way. Where do you correspond for the your theology studies?

Macha said...

Prayer can be so many things.

I understand it as a dialogue between the deepest human intuition and the boundless presence of God.

Craig Bennett said...

Byron I hesitate with your use of the word obligated. To me that sounds more like a person has to do something against their will...

I wrote about the Character and Nature of Prayer
http://trinitariandance.wordpress.com/category/prayer/

Though I suspect that you use the word obligated in the way that a married couple are obligated to help each other and therefore it means love...in action.

byron smith said...

Perhaps at the time, I was thinking more of it being like our 'obligation' to eat.

byron smith said...

Ben Myers: A little anthology on prayer.