As we kick off 2015 we are going to spend the month in prayer. There is so much going on in the world, in churches and in our personal lives that need prayed over that we are devoting this month’s theme to prayer. We will be writing about prayer and helping equip you in your prayer life but more than that…this month’s issue is a call to pray.
One of the things that draws me to the Restorative Movement is our affinity for the Bible. I am an information junkie. Raw data thrills me as does the desire to know things as completely as possible. We are such a cognitive movement…we want the facts…and so we should. But we cannot be satisfied with information for information’s sake. Often our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. As we lean into our greatest characteristics imbalance often occurs leaving us lopsided and incomplete.
We must seek God. We must know, not just who God is, but actually know God. Stated more directly, we need both knowledge and experience with God just as we would with a spouse or a child. If you are anything like me, the trap that we can too easily find ourselves is that the search for information can become an end unto itself. It becomes our heart’s desire rather than the God behind the information. It is like knowing your spouse solely based on their facebook profile…it doesn’t make for a happy or healthy marriage. Living with your spouse day in and day out…sacrificing for them, loving them and being present with them is essential for a meaningful relationship. The same is true with God…facts alone won’t cut it. The all out pursuit of information often results in people discounting experience and elevating rationality and cerebrality to the point of being the end all, be all of faith. Our prayers can become just as impersonal as our study and our spiritual lives ultimately run dry. We must know God, through His word, and we must know God on a personal (even experiential) level.
That is where prayer comes in. Prayer is by its very nature experiential. It is something that must be done and it must be done in concert with a God who listens. That means prayer is not just experiential in the sense of someone experiencing something apart from any and everyone else. Prayer is experiential and relational because we pray to a God who hears us.
In Tim Keller’s new book on prayer he addresses the need for balancing truth from scripture with a real by pointing us to the writing of John Owen,
“Where light leaves the affections behind, it ends in formality and or atheism; where affections outrun light they sink into the bog of superstition, doting on images and pictures or the like.” – John Owen
By ‘light’ Owen means our knowledge of right teaching or doctrine. Our doctrinal and biblical knowledge cannot ‘leave the affections behind.’ If we believe with our minds that God is holy, we must also come to find his holiness enjoyable and satisfying just to praise it. If we believe the great God of the universe really loves us, it should make us emotionally unshakable in the face of criticism, suffering and death. In short, we must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will lead eventually to nominal Christianity-that is, in name only-and eventually to non-belief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine. Owen believes that Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.
Still, there is a danger in the other direction. ‘Affections can outrun light,’…It is possible to use techniques of meditation and imagination to create changes in consciousness that are not tied at all to the reality of who God is…you can imagine [Jesus] coming into some past incident in your life, intervening, defending you, and embracing you. In such an exercise it would be easy to put words in Jesus’ mouth that directly contradict his teaching in the Bible.”
Keller’s point is that ignoring scripture for the sake of experience has big problems as does ignoring experience and clinging solely to mastering the facts. Experience cannot be put on the same truth level as scripture and neither can scripture be put in a vaccuum so that experience is never able to intersect with the truths found in it. Extreme progressivism and extreme conservatism can both result in leaving God behind. We must find balance.
Prayer is an essential component of meaningful experience with God. It must be a priority in the life of the child of God. It is essential to maintaining our relationship with God. Don’t just study the Word…pray over the Word and let the Word speak over your prayers and be spoken in your prayers.
Prayer is essential to repentance and to character formation. Later in Keller’s book he states, “if the affections of the heart are not engaged in prayer, real character change and growth in Christ-likeness is impossible. We cannot settle for less.” If you asked around to find out Christians’ opinion on what it takes to bring about real change and growth in our lives I suspect many people would put Bible reading ahead of prayer but maybe we missed something in giving 90% of our attention to the text and 10% to most everything else (or however you think those numbers should be). Again, the call is for balance.
Last, a word about prayer in social media and personal conversations. As we engage in theological discussions both online and in person and I often wonder how many of us take a moment to pray things over before we talk things over. Prayer forces us to slow down. Prayer requires us to focus beyond ourselves and consider what it is God has in mind. Prayer should be at the core of our relationship with God and others because prayer centers us and founds us in the reality that we are not the ultimate authority but we know the One who is and he is freely approached by every last one of us when we take the time to pray.
So let us set our minds and our thoughts on God and let the result of that focus lead us to pray. Let us pray for each other…for those we agree with and those we do not. Let us pray for our own inner transformation and growth, that God might transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ. Let us pray for wisdom and understanding. Let us pray for unity and for peace.
I want to close praying over all of you who are reading this article the prayer Paul prayed over the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 1:15-23,
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.