Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Thoughts on prayer

As I have been dealing with the current sermon series on prayer, I have had to learn some things that I hadn't known before. I have had to evaluate some things that I have held close over time. And I have found some comfortable assurance regarding what I believe about prayer. I felt that putting some of those thoughts down (the ones that I have made the effort to make note of) would help me move into the deeper understanding I have of prayer. So, in no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on prayer.

Speak from the heart
When I enter prayer, it is with a very clear assumption that God knows everything about me. The seeds of my thoughts, long before they become the fruit of my action, are known to God. God has already watched me hatch thoughts and conceive plans and execute deeds. So when I come to prayer, there is no reason to hide behind anything. Justification is hollow. Reason is noise. Speaking from the honest places in my life is the only authentic prayer to bring.

I also find that when I pray, I speak differently. My everyday speech is more colloquial. I speak with a diminished vocabulary. I don't dig into the side of me that is natural, but the side of me that is adapted. When I pray, though, my speech becomes more formal. I use the vocabulary that is more natural to the academic and intellectual pursuit of knowledge I desire. That isn't to say that I talk down to people and up to God. I have just found, over time and experience, that the language that is natural to me sometimes builds a wall when I use it around others. I temper my vocabulary to make sense to as many people as possible.

God knows who I am talking to
When I enter into conversation with a person, one-on-one, they know I am speaking with them directly. When I enter into prayer, God knows who I am talking to. I may use God's name as a means to acknowledge God. I use God's name to pay tribute to what God has done or how God works in/through/around my life. I do not need to repeatedly speak God's name to God.

I do have a bit of a pet peeve with the repetitive use of God's name in prayer. It bugs me. And I know that for the people praying that way it is authentic communication with God. I just keep dropping back to the image of a conversation with someone, though. If I were having a conversation with someone and repeatedly used their name in the conversation, I can only imagine how annoying that is. If you don't believe me, ask any mother who hears, "Momma. Momma. Momma. Momma. Momma. Momma," all day long.

Trinity Praying
There are many people who put much stock in praying in the name of Jesus. And I am not saying that is wrong. I prefer to see prayer as communicating through all three revealed persons of the Godhead. God has been revealed to us through three distinct persons who work in complete unity. God the Father, God in Flesh Jesus Christ, and God in presence Holy Spirit. I also all three at work in our individual prayers. When we pray, the Holy Spirit is at work on/in our spirit to bring all that God offers to us. But the Holy Spirit also brings our prayers before God. Romans 8:26: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.The Holy Spirit takes our infantile mumbling and turns it into something deep and significant. The Holy Spirit brings our prayers before Jesus Christ, who stands in the presence of God and intercedes on our behalf. Romans 8:34: It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. In that passage, the intercession pointed to is our greater need for forgiveness and redemption. But Christ continues at the right hand of God beyond the one time sacrifice to remain and intercede on our behalf. The Holy Spirit brings our prayers before God and offers them to Christ. Christ, in the role of the Highest Priest, then offers our prayers to God as an offering and sacrifice. Revelation 5: 8, 8:3-4  
When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
God, who reigns from the throne of heaven, receives and hears the prayers that we have prayed. Those prayers and heard and answered. And I don't believe that it is too far fetched to believe that our prayers are answered in a method that returns via the same course in which they were offered.

When I pray, it is with the Trinity in mind. It may be a prayer addressed to all three in union as one. It may be to individual persons in their roles or purposes that are fulfilled in/through/around our lives. It may be specifically to one person of the Trinity, but the other two are acknowledged. And sometimes I pray knowing that "God knows who I am praying to." (see previous point above)

Prayer is focused on God
It would be so easy to say "my prayers" and mean it. But "my prayers" become MY prayers too easily. They can become about me without any conscious thought. I have to remind myself constantly that my prayers are God's prayers. God is the subject. I am just present within them by the invitation of God. God wants to hear from me. God wants to be part of what is happening in my life. But I am still aware that if God is not the focus of my time of prayer, I am just thinking. That is what makes the power of prayer and the power of positive thinking two separate experiences.

Praying with God as the focus is faith. It is putting first the idea that we are not alone in the universe, that there is a god who is exists, and that God is at work in our lives. The power of positive thinking is important. Maintaining a positive mental image of results is necessary for our mental and emotional health with some benefit to our physical existence. Prayer is maintaining a positive faith that there is something more than this life that intersects with daily living. Our life is shaped around that "something more" and it is God.

Prayers should be specific as possible
As a worship leader, I understand the necessity of a time within our worship when prayers of joy and concern are expressed. As a theologian, I look at those times of prayer and know that they miss the mark. Prayer should be specific. When speaking the power of God into someone's life, our requests should zero in on the needs that can be addressed to fulfill the will of God the most. In many of our requests, they are a name with a circumstance. But people are unique beings encountering unique circumstances with a multitude of different reactions and resources. By just speaking the name of someone and the vague circumstance that they have encountered, we miss the power of prayer.

The will of God should be the outline of our intercessions. In the back of our mind, when we lift another and their circumstance to God, we should remember how God wants to approach this. How is this circumstance contrary to the good that God desires? How is this contrary to the life God provides? How is this destructive of God's image within that person? How would the power of God best be used to reveal God in/through/around the person? What sin stands in the way of God's power being realized fully in/through/around the person's life? What part of the person's life does God need to bring the glory of God to realization? Based on what you understand of what is happening, what could God do to transform the person's life? What role does Jesus or Holy Spirit play in making this prayer known to God? How are you going to be part of the answer to this prayer for the person? What will you do to bring God's good will to pass?

Praying for someone is a heavy burden to bear. It requires the full responsibility of taking up another person's life and bringing it before the Creating/Redeeming/Sustaining God. When we enter God's throne room, it may be as a beloved child redeemed by Christ and emboldened through the Spirit, but this is still THE God who was and is and shall always be. It is a weighty venture we carry out.

Pastors are not professional pray-ers
I refuse to be the only person who prays in a gathering of people. There is nothing in our faith or systems of theology that requires that when two or more are gathered together, the pastor always prays. The same Holy Spirit that dwells within me dwells within all people. Jesus Christ died, was raised, ascended, and intercedes on your behalf just as much as my behalf. When the pastor does the praying, it isn't healthy.

It isn't healthy because it is allowing fear to rule. Some feel that in speaking out loud they will say something wrong. God will always get the prayer right. Fear is an unhealthy reason to let the pastor pray.

It isn't healthy because others do not see your example. We are each responsible for training up other believers. We are responsible for allowing them to grow through watching our example of what we are supposed to be in Christ. It isn't healthy to "hide our lamp under a basket".

It isn't healthy because we are hiding our true spiritual gift. Some are powerful prayer people. They have been granted this gift by the Holy Spirit to be used in the body of Christ. They are better than others at this because God wants to use them. It is unhealthy to allow false modesty step in the way of the power God has given you.

It isn't healthy because the pastor isn't in this alone. The body of Christ does the work of Christ in the world. The pastor was ordained by God by the Holy Spirit to empower and train up those in the church to do the work. It is unhealthy because expecting the pastor to do the work of the church goes against God's will for the Church.

Those are some of my thoughts on how I approach prayer. I am still learning. I am still faulty in some arenas and by no means an expert. But this is some of the ways that shape my way of prayer.