Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Our Struggles with Prayer

This post is the first in a series of three that I am posting consecutively. I have wanted to write on this issue for some time. Today, reading a wonderful post entitled A Mystical View of Prayer, I offered the following response which I include here as the first of this three post series:


Dear friends,

Prayer truly is an issue with which we struggle. What does it really mean to pray? What is the real purpose of prayer? Why does God command it?

The disciples asked these questions, and the Lord Jesus gave them the Our Father. When we examine our prayer given to us by the Lord Himself, (we often call it the Lord’s prayer, but it is OUR prayer), when we examine this prayer we learn what prayer really is. When in doubt, we should pray this prayer. Luther also suggested the Psalms and hymns and the Creed and the Commandments. If we spent our time with these, we would not have time for challenging the validity or purpose of prayer.

But we don’t and then we do challenge. We don’t trust God, and so we challenge His faithfulness. Then we spend our time pondering prayer rather than praying.

Nevertheless, some pondering is itself Prayer. True prayer leads us to hear God. True prayer is submitting to the Holy Spirit who leads us to the Scriptures which tell us of Christ, who is the glory and image of God.

God commands prayer because we need it. WE need it. God knows what we need. In fact, He has answered our prayers from eternity. He does not need for us to pray in order to know our needs. He does not need for us to pray in order to hear us. As St. Paul explains, the Holy Spirit searches our hearts and prays for us even when we don’t know what to pray.

Prayer is to answer OUR need to hear God, not to answer a need on God’s part to know us. We need to hear that He hears us. So He commands us to pray, even though He already knows what we will pray. Prayer is for US. We NEED to pray.

St. James speaks of the effective prayer of a righteous man and then holds up Elijah’s prayer for drought and then for rain as the example. But when we examine Elijah’s prayer, we learn that the Lord told His servant of the Word exactly what to pray and exactly when to pray it. Then both Elijah and the Church and then also the world saw the faithfulness of God. God commanded Elijah to pray God to withhold the rain so that the people would learn to know the one on whom they depend. Then He commanded Elijah to pray God to send the rain to show the people that God is indeed the one who sends His rain on both the just and the unjust. God answered the prayers that He commanded His servant to pray.

Intercessory prayer is the same way. God already knows what He will do for our neighbor. In fact, He has already provided for our neighbor, in part, by commanding us to love and pray for our neighbor and for our enemy. Yet as the Our Father teaches us, when we pray for neighbor and enemy, we are really praying to our mutual Father on behalf of us all. When we pray for neighbor, we also pray for us. What we learn is that God wants us to love neighbor as He loves all the world. Then we do not hoard our possessions, especially our most precious possession, the Gospel. Then also, we do not abuse the Gospel by making ourselves lords over it and the Church. Then we view the Church not as our church, but Christ’s Church. Then we are more concerned about forgiveness than we are about being right. Then we rely solely upon the purity of the Word and Sacraments rather than our own attempts at doing what is right. Then we direct others to leave anyplace where the Word and Sacraments are mingled with worldly things, and we do whatever is necessary to make the means of grace the sole purpose of the Church.

This is the purpose of prayer. Reliance upon God and His means of grace. Examine the Our Father and see if this is not what Jesus teaches His disciples of all time.

The reason that prayer ends in questions of doubt is because we think that prayer is about what we do rather than what God does for us and among us through the pure administration of the means of grace. And so we remain in church bodies where prayer is mingled with idolatry and the Sacraments are perverted into the works of men. Then we wonder why we don’t understand. We ask God why we don’t see the purity that He promised.

Thanks be to God that He does not deal with us according to our folly, but continues to come to us and command us to pray.

When in doubt, pray the Our Father. Pray it until He leads you to various Scriptures and the Creed and the Commandments and faithful Hymns and Psalms. Guess where you’ll find yourself: on your knees at His altar communing with the Holy Trinity and with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and all the saints of all times and places. This is where all your doubts and all your questions are answered.

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