The Heart Stuff
A lot of people have in their mind the stuff of faith. But how can you move from that 'head stuff' to a living faith? Prayer, before anything else. In prayer we go from thinking about or talking about God or even talking to God, to talking with God and listening when God calls. It's a trust commitment in one whom we cannot see and cannot hear, who we cannot by normal earthly means even know is there. We pray trusting, or maybe just hoping, that God will act on what we pray about. We respond to the Lord's proven love by depending on God to respond within our daily lives. The life of faith is a life of trusting that God is at work on your concerns, or is at least working on you.
When you rediscover that the world around you is both natural and supernatural, then it makes sense that communicating with God is of great value. You begin to want to pray, and look forward to private or group time in prayer.
Praying in the Spirit
Traditionally, when Christians have prayed involving the Holy Spirit, we've prayed an epiclesis. That's fancy God-talk for saying that the prayers are a plea to the Father to fill us with the Spirit. In liturgical churches, the key epiclesis is found in the thanksgiving prayer before Holy Communion is given out. In some charismatic churches, an important epiclesis happens right before the sermon. The worshippers will come forward to make a huddle around the preacher, praying that the Spirit moves through the preacher and sermon. Every once in a while, a song will give praise to the Spirit, but most churches only do that once we've already said praises to the Father and to the Son. Almost no other churchly prayers or songs directly address the Spirit. This gives many people the impression that the Spirit is somehow third-rate. Today's liturgists and worship leaders still have a distance to go to change that picture.
Christians don't pray to the Spirit to confess their sins nor do they plea to the Spirit for forgiveness. As Jesus taught in the Lord's Prayer, such prayers go to the Father, so that the Son may step in for us now as He did when on earth. The different persons of the Trinity are most involved in different things. The Spirit moves you to turn to God in prayer and repentance, brings to your mind that there is hope in doing so, and makes you aware of the truth and the need. The Spirit prays with you, and when you reach the point where your praying becomes too much for you, the Spirit picks it up and keeps it running, "with sighs too deep for words". But don't think rigidly about these roles. All of the triune God is at work in your prayers. If you pray to the Spirit, God responds just as well as if you prayed to the Father. The pattern is there not for God, but for us and our own feeble grasp of the mysteries of how God works in prayer.
There is a difference between praying to the Spirit and praying in the Spirit. Both have their place. Praying in the Spirit is, in traditionalist terms, what happens after you pray to the Father who then sends the Spirit into you. If that sounds like a splitting of hairs to you, well, it has sounded like that to many praying believers over the centuries, and especially so today to Charismatics. They believe that the Spirit is already present in believers in such a way that praying in the Spirit is more a matter of opening up and letting that already-present Spirit get a good grip on you while you pray, so that the Spirit can pray with you.
Prayer and Charismatics
The early years of the charismatic renewal were especially prayer-packed. An outsider could easily have seen the charismatic movement as a prayer movement. The prayer meeting was the charismatic renewal's beehive, the main activity for their gathering, their nurture, and for their spreading around. Several people would gather, often at someone's home, on their own accord, just to pray. Eventually, the groups got larger as more people came, and the scene shifted to churches. In the movement's heyday, there was a group praying somewhere in many major cities, at any time, every day. Even on the overnight shift! (Shades of the vigils of the Herrnhut of Zinzendorf's followers!) After many years of quieting down, once again young Christians from all over the world are holding every moment in prayer in the Lord's presence. There aren't as many of them as some published reports would lead us to believe, but then it has always been the work of the few. They've just returned to work.
The charismatic movement is prayerful before it is anything else. However, they're finding it harder to keep it up nowadays, because there's so much more to do: prayer conferences and prayer books and videos and web sites and teaching-programs and classes and church activities and stadium meetings and worship music CDs and visiting preachers and politics and warfare strategizing, bracelets and jewelry. Oh yes -- with all sorts of stuff about prayer, and about someone else's powerful prayer ministry.
The Devil will do anything to get our mind off of our really praying or really serving.
Praying vs. Wishing
Some think praying is a form of wishing. A wish is a desire or longing for some specific thing. Wishful thinking is expressed almost like a petition: I wish I could have it. It's sometimes said aloud so that the wish can be fulfilled by someone -- anyone -- who hears it. A wish is not rooted in reality, but fantasy; it is, as often as not, something the wish-er knows they can't or shouldn't have. You want your wish to come true because it's something that would please you. A wish is not entirely a bad thing; it may be the way you start to dream of what is to come. But if the dream is stuck at the level of being a wish, it will not become anything more than a wish. You have to be part of making it happen. It is merely a 'wish' when you ask God to send you a woman to love, yet you rarely leave your apartment and even more rarely meet anyone new. It is merely a 'wish' if you ask to be healthy, but then chain-smoke, lounge on the couch, and pig out on nachos and queso. God does not honor that. God honors it when you start exercising and dieting -- that is, when you take responsibility for your part in it.
When you pray, you specifically trust God with the matter. You're calling on God to act, trusting that God will do what is ultimately best. It is a "thy will be done" way of being. You're asking God to expand your understanding and insight, to give guidance, to grant forgiveness, to show you what gifts have been given to you, or to act for the sake of someone else. This is not about longings or fleeting concerns or self-puffery. Prayer is a crucial step in your doing your part of what God is doing in this world. For in it, you discover what your part is. Your will may not be done; something better may well be done instead. God makes what is prayed for become real, by working in you and in others to make it happen.
There's nothing wrong with asking God to let you know if and when what you pray for will be done. Just understand that you might never know. God is under no obligation to you, nor do you have any 'right' to know.
on the difference between praying and thinking.
There is this very pious Jew named Goldberg who always dreamed of winning the lottery. Every Sabbath, he'd go to synagogue and pray: "God, I have been such a pious Jew all my life. What would be so bad if I won the lottery?" But the lottery would come and Goldberg wouldn't win. Week after week, Goldberg would pray to win the lottery, but the lottery would come and Goldberg wouldn't win. Finally, one Sabbath, Goldberg wails to the heavens and says: "God, I have been so pious for so long, what do I have to do to win the lottery?"
And the heavens parted and the voice of God came down: "Goldberg, give me a chance! Buy a ticket!"
-- as told by Thomas L. Friedman, in the *New York Times* op-ed, 03 June 2009
There's No Star System
Prayer heros are all around us
Throughout Christian history, there have been stories of people whose prayers are astoundingly effective, lead to amazing insight, and bring about the smaller turning points that make up the meat of history. In the Book of Kings, Elijah prays and God makes incredible things happen. Revivals were started by believers who prayed, whether it be the renewal ministry of Francis of Assisi, or the start of Luther's Reformation, or the first Great Awakening of Jonathan Edwards, or the birth of the Charismatic movement. Today, there are some leaders whom many people look up to as powerful "prayer warriors". Yet, the star syndrome is not what any true pray-er is about. In his letter, James (5:16-17) writes in praise of Elijah's powerful prayers, but then says that Elijah had "a nature like us". Nothing was essentially different about him, save that Elijah was a righteous man living his calling, who passionately prayed to the God he served and loved. When I think of modern-day prayer heroes, I sometimes think of the grandmothers of Russia who, since their youth, had kept their nation in prayer and quietly tended to the fires of the church while the Communists oppressed and tried to kill the church's public life. These women had little else but faithful prayer, but they kept it up. And won. Anyone can be a mighty prayer warrior. You can be one. But you can't hear that and just say, 'That's what I want to be right now'. It takes hard work to be God's. You don't name it and claim it, you grow and mature into it.
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