Friday, November 24, 2017
Thoughts on Prayer. . .
I grew up thinking (despite what I was taught) that prayer was my chance to step into the arena with God and fight for my cause, prove my worthiness, and change God's mind over to my perspective on the thing for which I was praying. In other words, prayer, like salvation is to some, becomes a business transaction in which we give up what we think God wants in order to get from God what we want. Sure, it is couched in all the right pious and holy language to mask the abruptness of such a prideful posture but, in the end, that is pretty much what it ended up being.
I encountered the idea that prayer is a petition to God for the things befitting the faith and reflecting the promises of God from a devotional book (though I cannot recall which one). It has stuck with me. The name of "Jesus" is not a secret code word attached to a prayer that makes God do what we want. The agreement of two or three others to our prayers is not a way of forcing God to give us what we desire. The job of prayer is not to plead our cause before an unwilling and uncharitable God who must be cajoled and even hoodwinked into giving us something He does not wish to give.
What this means, if you think about it, is that prayer is really the test of our confidence in God's good and gracious will. We do not pray to change the mind of God but to plead the cause of our heart and our will all the while expressing our confidence in His good and gracious will. When we pray "Thy will be done" it is not the last resort of a people who want anything but God to decide what is good, right, and salutary for us but the first hope of a people who gladly admit we do not see things as they are nor do we know our hearts as He does. So our deference to His will is not some forced posture in which we regretfully defer to Him as the fearful do the powerful. No, indeed. It is because we know Jesus Christ and His saving will and purpose in His incarnation, obedient life, life-giving death, and triumphant resurrection that pray at all. He who did not spare His only Son, will He also not now give you all things in Him?
That is the key. Prayer is in Christ. It is the petition of a people whose hearts have been created new in baptism, in whom the Spirit has worked to break down the barriers of the heart to faith and the mind to understand, and for whom God's gracious will is our greatest hope and confidence. We pray in Christ, as a people to whom the saving will of the Father, manifested by the Son, and made known by the Spirit are the reason we pray at all.
The things we pray for, then, are the things in keeping with the faith, with the new and contrite hearts the Spirit has created within us, and with the revelation of God's perfect saving will. These fitting things are the things only newly created hearts know to pray for and the things for which only newly created hearts desire. When this is hard for us, the Spirit is there to intercede, to turn the groans of our fears and stresses into words of faith, and to remind us of the Our Father when our minds cannot find the words and our hearts the desire to pray at all.
Pray not for all things you want but for the things that befit the faith, the knowledge of God's will and saving work in Christ, and the things that only a new heart, created in baptism, knows to pray. You no longer need to convince God you are worthy for these nor do you need to wrestle with His will and change His mind. Then the Amen becomes not merely a signal that the prayer is over but the joyful and confident expression of a people who know that God's will is good and gracious and that God will give us all things fitting, all things good, all things right, and all things salutary to our survival as His child now and to achieving the outcome of our faith in the salvation of our souls.