So begins some thoughts on prayer which is probably best understood by doing it rather than talking too much about it but since there are so many questions surrounding the idea of prayer some conversation is needed. This arises from speaking with my son, Josh, about praying for a friend of his who has cancer. Many people are praying for this young man and many are wondering what kind of prayer and how many people are needed to pray effectively.
One of the first questions surrounding prayer is the nature of the One to whom we are praying whether in praise or in petition. If I am talking with someone I want to get to know them, know about them and know how best we can communicate together. And in the case of God I want to know God which means intimately understanding God and how it is that God communes with his creation and how God relates to his people. There are thousands of books on prayer. Right now I am reading Calvin, Foster, Bounds and C.S. Lewis as well as understanding more about Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. I would like my better understanding of prayer to be dialectic by which I mean a dialogue, a conversation, and an investigation if you will of the matter of prayer.
To the issue at hand. First of all I begin by the assumption that God is good, that God’s mercy, love, and kindness are everlasting. I believe that God’s love for us is at best revealed on the cross where Jesus died for us because ‘God so loved the world.’ I believe that God is sovereign which means that God’s reign, or rule extends to wherever God wants it to throughout God’s creation for his will and pleasure and for our good. So we have a sovereign and loving heavenly Father whom Jesus himself said cares infinitely for his children. How did the old song go? “His eye is on the sparrow”. (see Matthew 10)
So when I commune, communicate, converse or just talk with God I believe the above to best describe the One to whom I am praying. Am I making contact? How should I feel? How does God view me? What is God up to in my life and in his creation and how do I join God in that work? I believe that when Jesus prayed to his Father it was concerning the will of his Father. That’s what I want to know. What is the will of God? In my life and in this world. See there is much to know about prayer.
You might not know this but the longest section on any one topic in John Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ is on prayer.
On my mind as I write is the story Jesus tells of the Pharisee (religious ruler) and the Tax Collector (publican and thief) who go before God to pray. The ‘religious’ one prays to God so self-righteously and the tax man simply says, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’ You can read this story in Luke 18. Jesus concludes by saying that when the two guys were finished praying it was the tax collector who was in ‘right relationship’ with God. All this helps me to know that I need to be in a right relationship with God before I think to really plumb the depths of prayer. And being in a right relationship doesn’t mean I have it all together. By no means. It is Jesus who has it all together and it is Jesus who by his love and sacrifice and resurrection makes a way for me to God. Even if I feel far away from God I know that through my confession of my sins and my distance from God that God is as ready to wrap his arms around me as the Father was in the story of the Prodigal Son, which you can read in Luke 15.
I read that story and realize that the Son had to come back to the Father to receive that love. While the Father was looking ‘for’ the Son, he did not go after the Son but waited for him to come back home.(perhaps I am reading too much into this parable) In prayer that is what I am doing, hopefully, coming home to God, my Father. And I may come tentatively like the ‘prodigal’ but come home nonetheless. And for me to return home is to know that I have a Father who, as I said in the beginning, is loving and sovereign. The God whom I worship is forgiving; removing my sin away from me and from God as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103) And the great thing is that God is looking for the ‘lost’ like those parables indicate in Luke 15. Jesus said that his mission on earth was, among other things, to ‘seek and save the lost’. So there is no doubt in my mind that I can come to God in prayer.
I know that some people say in reference to the healing of the blind man in John 9, that God doesn’t hear the prayer of sinners, which I think might mean people who are obstinately opposed to being faithful to God but using God more as a vending machine. However I do think that God listens to sinners and people of various religious persuasions who want to draw closer to God in the best way they know how. They too are coming humbly to God as that tax collector and as that ‘prodigal’ son.
So in conclusion for this time I should like to say that the God of the Bible is One who wants a relationship with us, so much that he paid the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile the world to God’s self. He loves us. While we don’t understand God’s mind we understand God’s heart and it is towards that heart that we draw when we pray. And as we draw closer, practicing this discipline of prayer we will more fully understand “our Father” as Jesus refers to God in the Lord’s Prayer.
I said to my son that as we talk ‘about’ prayer, one of the things we have to do together is pray. Good place to begin. And then write the questions you have. Let’s have a dialogue for I too am trying to understand how we go about this.
A Blessed Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday to all.