Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Praying as If God Is Working

When I was in high school, our church youth group would sit every week and talk about the Bible. It was a small church and usually we only had four or five people in our youth meetings. At the end of our discussions our youth pastor would ask something like: What does this mean for your life?

I distinctly remember one night when we all responded with "Pray and read the Bible." But in my mind I thought, "We always say that. Is that all there is?"

I've come to see that there is nothing beyond prayer.

At the same time, I've also realized that that everything lies beyond prayer.

Communion with God is the ultimate of life. It's the reason that God created. We were made for communion. Our lives are true to the extent that we live in unity with God.

Our lives are out of sorts to the degree that we are not living in communion with God. Prayer makes or breaks our souls.

However, there is far more than prayer. Prayer itself is not the goal, the end game. God is the goal. Living in the love who God is the aim. Prayer I can do. Prayer I can make happen. That is, I can do the kind of prayer where I feel like I've done my spiritual duty for the day after I say Amen and get back the rest of life. This is the kind of prayer which I have come to call "Praying as if God is not at work."

In this kind of prayer, I feel the need to rise up to some kind of spiritual level where God is. If I follow the right plan, if I work at it hard enough, if I pray long enough, if ..., if ..., if... Then I will rise to the realm of God's life and I will see God work.

It's as if we are trying to twist God's arm to do something. And if God does not do it, then we need to look for a different "If ..." formulas that supposedly will unlock God's work in the world.

And there are a ton of different "ifs" out there on the market. I've prayed through ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), through the Lord's Prayer, through the Tabernacle. I've written my prayers. I've done lectio divina. I've practiced the presence. And I've done the Jesus prayer. Then there is fasting, enduring prayer, praying out loud, praying in tongues, and praying the promises of God. And of course there was the ever popular "prayer of Jabez." All of these can be helpful, but if they are used as an "if ..." in order to get God to do something, then we miss the point.

We pray as if God is not working, as if God's work starts with us. Prayer, then becomes a means for us to rise to a spiritual plain, to enter into the realm where God is at work. It's as if we look at this world as less than real, as less than the place where God works and our job is to find that real space of God.

Then prayer becomes a way that we try to transform ourselves so that we can do spiritual things.

But the surprising revelation of God, the Incarnation, reveals that God comes to us. We don't go to God. Jesus came and "pitched a tent" in the midst of the real world (John 1:14 MSG). He did not create a formula to help us rise above the world. He entered the world and established the mess of this world as the realm in which God works.

Prayer is not a means for us to somehow rise up a spiritual latter to unlock spiritual secrets. Prayer is a way of communing with the God who is already present with us, already working all around us.

God initiates the conversation in prayer. We don't. God leads the conversation. We don't. Jesus is the great high priest before the Father, offering continual intercession on our behalf (Heb 9). the Spirit prays through us in our weakness (Rom 8:26).

God comes and meets us right where we are and he takes our weak, feeble, honest prayers and redeems them. God works with reality, not with our religious wishdreams and formulas.

God is working right where we are. That's where prayer is prayer.

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