Monday, September 21, 2009

Practical Theology for Women - Pt 7

Prayer (chapter 13)

It was a great to have the opportunity to look again at the Lord’s Prayer when reading Wendy’s book. I was pleased that she used it as the model for our own prayer. It is an uncomplicated model to follow, and yet so profound in what it says both about God and his work in this world and in us, and also what it says about us, and just how much we need God and need to pray.

Wendy chooses the Lord’s Prayer as a model for us because it is something that relates to us: Jesus taught his disciples to pray using this. So, rather than using an Old Testament prayer which might teach us some things, but would not be automatically applicable to us, Wendy correctly identifies that Jesus’ prayer is specifically there to help followers of Jesus learn how to pray. We can see that immediately by how Jesus teaches us to call God ‘Father’, something that only New Testament believers can do, and which implicitly teaches us to pray in Jesus‘ name (because it is only through Jesus that we can call God ‘Father’). It also shows us the kinds of priorities Jesus wants us to have as we pray. From being committed to God’s name being honoured and his kingdom being established in us and in the future, through to having the same kind of determination as Jesus himself had to wanting God’s wise will to prevail in our lives.

I think Wendy’s unpacking of the Lord’s Prayer whets our appetite for more. There is so much loaded into each clause that we could well spend a couple of weeks in our Bible reading time thinking about each clause and checking out a commentary to prompt our thinking and fuel our prayer life. And yet, it is a simple prayer, that we could say with a child each day and they would understand what they were praying.

The other thing about this prayer is that it demonstrates what is at the heart of prayer: faith. Everything being prayed for is an expression of our faith in God: from saying that he is true king and asking him to establish his kingdom (as only he can), through to asking for forgiveness, for basic necessities and from deliverance from evil. These requests are solid, tangible requests that are made by faith. Jesus is teaching that prayer is more than ‘lighting a candle’, but asking God for real things that only make sense if we trust him to respond and to act as the wise ruler of the universe.

I did feel that the link between faith and prayer was only implicit in the chapter, and that leaving it implicit cloaked the reason that we pray, which might almost leave a reader with a sense at times that prayer is about our self-expression. ‘Conversing with God’ as the title of the chapter begins this trend and I think highlights part of the problem. Because prayer is part of the way we relate to God, and because our relationship with God is unlike any relationship we have with a human being, the rules are different. So, in prayer we don’t converse with God: God does not choose to use prayer as his mode of communicating with us. He speaks to us through his Word in explicit, tangible words which are clear. In prayer, we don’t ‘talk to God’ in the same way that we might talk to our friends, or even to our national rulers.

It’s completely different because the relationship is so different. We are utterly dependent on God, and unlike our earthly relationships, there is no shame in that and no ‘neediness’ or dysfunction in expressing that to God. We can’t be too dependent on God. So, we don’t just talk to him in prayer, we pray. We articulate that dependence and demonstrate it: prayer is an act of faith. We call on God to act. We say to God that he is great and beyond all imaginings. We thank him over and over again for countless things. We cry out to God, telling him how we suffer or the deepest desires of our hearts. We pray because we believe God is our Father, he listens to us and that he will act for us, even if he answers our prayers in ways we could not imagine and would not choose. At the heart of prayer is not self expression or even communicating to God (although it is true that we communicate to God in prayer). At the heart of prayer is asking God by faith to act in his world. Prayer is not so much about developing a relationship (although it will do that) as it is about articulating faith.

As Wendy says in her chapter, it is true and wonderful that God blesses us with a sense of peace and calm sometimes when we pray. This is such a gift, if for no other reason than it demonstrates again that we pray to a personal God who knows us and can reach into our hearts and teach us to trust him (although, a sense of peace and calm when anxiety threatens is great in its own right as well). But I would want to add that this is not the key reason we pray. We don’t just pray to feel better or because we have so little faith and prayer is a great school to grow in faith. Instead, we pray because God is the powerful God of the universe who can and does act on our behalf. If prayer only made us feel better or was just a means to strengthen faith, we would only pray when we were suffering or struggling to trust God. Yet, as Wendy reminds us, God calls on us to pray at all times: to always be asking God to act, articulating our dependence on him. God’s kindness to us in teaching us to trust him rather than give in to unbridled anxiety is shown in his response to our prayers. God acts. He intervenes. God does not just help us and give us peace, he works in our world. He answers our prayers. We pray not so much because it relieves our anxiety, but because God is alive, good, powerful and sovereign and so can and does change things because we prayed. To entrust oneself to such a God is a great antidote to worry and anxiety. But that calm and peace is a penultimate reason for praying. First and foremost, we pray because God answers prayer.

Prayer is faith in action. Jesus taught us to pray, by praying himself and by giving us this great model in the Lord’s Prayer. Wendy’s chapter is a great discussion of many important things about prayer. Let’s keep thinking about it and let’s use it to sharpen our prayers to line up with God’s priorities more and more.

1. What do you pray about? Does the Lord’s Prayer reveal any holes in your prayers that you might need to change?

2. What do we learn about prayer from the apostle Paul’s prayers (often in the first chapter of his letters) and the prayers of the early church in Acts?

3. Often in the Bible, praise of God seems to be statements made to God about who he is and what he has done. How can we use our regular Bible reading to promote praise of God when we pray?

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