(An attachment to the Summer 2018 News Letter)
I don’t often get distracted from listening to the pastor’s sermon while sitting in the church service. I take notes and engage as an active listener to hear what God has for me as the Word is preached. However, this week it was the congregational prayer that got me thinking. As I listened to Pastor Sheila bringing forth specific needs and then leading us to the throne of grace, thoughts began to coalesce and take shape in my mind about the nature of prayer. In my recent devotions I have been reading the collected works of Andrew Murray on prayer. According to him prayer is every Christian’s responsibility and that regular, routine prayer is both the sign of a healthy spiritual life and the source of a believer’s power.
Meditation for me is the process by which I take information gathered from various sources and my life’s experience and organize them into a coherent form by which I can understand a topic by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to incorporate the concepts into my life. As the concepts came to me I jotted them down in the back cover of my sermon notebook. They came in no particular order and as with all meditations have needed some time to organize and flesh out from bullet points to complete statements. My initial meditation lasted only 20 minutes and while it was very productive in laying out my thoughts, I know it is nothing compared to those like Andrew Murray who are far wiser than I and have spent their lives contemplating prayer. But I share it as an exercise to stimulate your own contemplation on what prayer means to you.
As I wrote my reflections I identified 3 major aspects that describe the relational nature of prayer as I’ve experienced it. Prayer is often intercessory, it is an act of two-way communication, and incorporates both the attributes of humanity and divinity. For each of these aspects I identified characteristics to describe them. I am not talking about the actual parts of a prayer, the mechanics of how to pray, or the different types of prayers. Rather this is a look at the relational aspects of prayer between us and God, us and man, and God and man.
We pray to God on behalf of others (and ourselves), God speaks/acts towards us, and God also speaks/acts towards others. We have concerns for others and others often ask us to pray on their behalf. This reflects the way Jesus taught the Disciples in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.
A. An Intercessory Act that encompasses the:
- International, national, and local communities we live in.
- Public and private aspects of life.
- Secular and sacred circles in which we interact.
- Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of individuals.
- Expression of both spoken and unspoken needs, wants, and desires.
- Time frame for actions that are both contemporary and eternal in scope.
- First act of hope and the last act of desperation in times of trouble.
- Passionate desire and compassionate intent to see God’s kingdom.
- Action of man in reaction to situations beyond our control both in the reality of today and our expectations for tomorrow.
B. Two-way Communication:
- Between humans and the Divine.
- Involving a call and response.
- Whether it is cried out loud, spoken in a whisper, or uttered in silence.
- That is occasionally eloquent but frequently tongue-tied.
- Regarding things asked for and received.
- Often asking questions and seeking answers.
- In which we remember the past and envision the future.
- Of ideas hidden in our hearts and yet already known to God.
- Best described as a child speaking to a parent and a parent speaking back to a child.
- Acknowledging our weakness and God’s strength.
- Expresses our heart broken condition and our heart-felt plea.
C. The intersection between Man’s attributes and God’s character:
- Man is broken and downtrodden by the cares of the world. God’s joyful response heals and uplifts us.
- Man’s desperate cry for help is heard by God whose peaceful Spirit comforts us.
- Man is powerless in his situation and reaches out to an all-powerful God for assistance.
- Frequently faithless man needs the reassurance of a faithful God.
- Man’s foolishness is often the source of his trouble and wisdom from God is the solution.
- Finite man is impatient for answers from the infinite God who is perseverant in responding.
- Uncertainty is the way of life for man while God is confident in all his ways.
- Man’s ignorance is far from blissful and only God’s knowledge can bring a state of contentment.
- Isolated and lonely man craves God’s familial relationship.
- Man’s sinful nature can communicate with a perfect God only by His grace.
Prayer is a personal experience, no two people will have exactly the same encounter with God. Our own experiences change over time as our spiritual health and maturity are not static. Only God never changes. Periods of spiritual dryness and silence in response to our prayers is a well-documented fact for even the most devote believers. But Scripture is clear that this is only our perspective. God will never leave us or forsake us. We just need to trust and obey the admonition to pray without ceasing.