Prayer; On Which Side to Begin?

Prayer is not just an act of talking to God in any manner or form that I fancy.  I do not mean by this that prayer, if it is to be effective, must take the form of some carefully prescribed liturgy; you do not have to pray the same way your great-grandmother prayed in order to be heard by God.  But I would argue that prayer, if it is to maintain distinctively Christian contours and thus Christian meaning, must be practiced in such a way that it fits with what we have been told about God by the prophets.  His approach to us should determine our approach to Him in both its pattern and its spirit.  And this is so, because every prayer of ours, rightly understood, is always a response to some initiative of His. 

Prayer, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, finds its origin in God and not in man.  We see a pattern of response—always response—from the side of man.  We pray having heard His voice in the words of the prophets.  Apart from these words our prayer has no context.  We do not know where to begin.  We are too much in the dark and being in the dark our efforts at prayer can go badly astray even to the point of deluding ourselves.

The spirit of our age resists this truth.  We desire the supposed freedom of self-determination.  Inherited truths and inherited patterns of response are despised by us.  Too stilted, we would argue.  Too much dependence upon others.  Inauthentic.  But what we do not see is that our rejection of these things enslaves us to our own limitations and the shallowness of our own untutored perspectives.  Are we enough, in and of ourselves, to craft an approach to the living God, or will we end up, in stubborn self-dependence, praying to a parody of that God, or even worse to a false god?  We cannot begin with ourselves if we would be drawn upwards, if we would be ennobled by our prayers.  We must begin with Him and from Him.

Neither should we always be expecting a “personal” word from God as the basis of our prayers.  Very few in history had the privilege of speaking with God face to face.  While it is true, that at times He brings some truth right home to our hearts in a way that is very personal, we do much better by immersing ourselves in the words of the prophets as the catalyst of all that we pray.  Let His words shape you and then you will come to pray aright.  This is what I am trying to say.

So, by all means pray.  Pray as apprenticed, allowing Him the first word, the shaping word in your life.

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