[In the light of recent tragic events, there is a “Prayer for the Nation” (video) below.]
[This is part 2 of Lessons in Prayer. Part 1 is here.]
When we speak to God a certain awareness of our relationship with God is pressed upon our minds and hearts. It begins to happen the moment prayer begins. It is rooted in the profound fact that we are actually speaking to and listening to Almighty God. Slowly, incrementally, with each passing day, with each sincere prayer, we are rehearsing certain truths about our relationship with God, not just because the truths are verbalized, but because they are enacted. Through the progressive soul-shaping dialogue with God we gain a spiritual consciousness that we are under God, we are with God, we are in God, and we are for God.
Prayer As Position: “We are Under God”
Every prayer is a reinforcement of the truth that we are under God. We pray in order to position ourselves properly in the world and before God. We are under God, and that is why we sometimes bow in prayer, or lift faces and hands toward God in receptivity, or lie down in complete submission (the repeated image of the twenty-four elders of Revelation). This is why we are conscious of our posture when we pray. We have an instinct that tells us that when we pray we are positioning ourselves before God with deliberate consciousness of who he is and who we are in relation to him.
Prayer can and should humble a worship team about to go out and lead a congregation in worship. The musicians, the preacher, the readers, the audio technician come with all the natural distractions and peculiar priorities of the world, but in a moment of prayer—quiet, reverent, genuine—they can realize that they are under the majesty and grace of the Lord of the universe. A few minutes of prayer has the power to shape their disposition for that all-important hour and in turn to shape the worship experience of the whole congregation.
In a small group there may be people who have friction or out and out animosity toward each other. Others are not sure of their standing in the group. But in a time of prayer the hearts of all involved can be humbled and raised by the very posture of prayer.
People who are leveled by suffering will often throw themselves down in prayer, if not physically, at least in attitude. Consider Jesus who fell face down in Gethsemane. The people who pray for the suffering can minister to them by simply submitting to the mercies of God. People prayed for in such ways often feel lifted up in that moment and for that day, are able to dry their tears and take the next steps that lie before them.
A preacher preparing the Sunday message must speak from under the looming authority of the Word, and it is prayer which can produce the appropriate emotional and mental posture for preaching. It begins with the prayers surrounding the preparation of the message during the week, and continues when the preacher prays with quietness and brevity just before speaking.
And so we could extend the examples to every venue of life. Prayer is position.
Prayer As Presence: “We are With God”
Prayer shapes our conviction that God is “with us.” The moment we begin to vocalize a prayer, unless we believe we are speaking to the open air, this truth is impressed on our minds and hearts: there is a God, he is within earshot, he does care to listen, he has invited us to speak, we are, amazingly, with God and he is with us. It is indeed one of the truths that God speaks so frequently that it is practically on every page in the Bible. It is the reality of the garden in Genesis and the new Jerusalem in Revelation. It is the great truth God broadcast to the patriarchs, to the exodus generation, to the exiles in Babylon, to the nation’s rebuilders. It is the truth of Jesus’ words in the upper room and at his ascension.
When we pray, we are confessing this truth and we are bolstering it in our minds.
Prayer As Power: “We are In God”
When we pray, what are we subconsciously thinking about our proximity to God? Sometimes prayers are cast out as across a vast distance (as one person put it in a church where volume in prayer is an outstanding characteristic: “we think here that the Almighty is hard of hearing”). Sometimes we pray as if there is a person right next to us. Then again sometimes our prayers show a spiritual awareness that we are in God and God is in us, not in the mistaken notions of extreme mysticism, but in the biblical sense of Christ in us, we in Christ; praying in the Spirit, the Spirit being in us, etc. And if we are in God then prayer does not need to be “sent” to God, the act of praying is a direct communion with God. A belief in divine transcendence ensures that we will not confuse ourselves with God, and a belief in divine immanence assures us that there is no chasm that prayer needs to cross except for the gaps within us by our sin.
If, in prayer, we grow in our consciousness that we are in God (i.e. “in Christ,” “in the Spirit”), then we grow also in the awareness that the power of God is at hand—in any circumstance, for any reason. “Power in prayer” is a safe slogan only if we understand that it is not prayer itself that has the power, but God. The story of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 is so sobering, and Simon became in the mind of the early church one of the arch-heretics, because it is about a man who wanted to acquire and possess the power of God, presumably to do his bidding. This is the danger inherent in separating power from the God who is the source of the power. In prayer there is power because in prayer we know we are in God.
Prayer As Purpose: “We are For God”
Mission and prayer go together. Whether it is Jesus praying to the Father as a part of the divine mission which was the incarnation, or the disciples’ going out two by two to preach, or the modern missionary or businessman seeking to bring the message of the kingdom to people in the world, prayer is the supply-line whereby we acquire divine wisdom and strength. When we pray about the concerns of being in the world, but not of the world and being sent to the world, we are rehearsing the truth that we are here for God. Prayer shapes our consciousness of what it means to be ambassadors for Christ; it forms our fundamental sense of identity as believers.
As in all aspects of spiritual development no one on the outside may be able to measure what is growing on the inside, but what we can and must believe is that with a daily bowing before God in attitude and disposition, people are shaped. Prayer transforms us.
A PRAYER FOR THE NATION, from Prayers for Our Lives: 95 Lifelines to God for Everyday Circumstances.