Reorienting our Vision of Prayer—From Religious Activism to Transcendent Activity

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February 28, 2022

1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

CONSIDER THIS

What is prayer and how does prayer work? 

Is prayer the sincere and fervent pleadings of an otherwise helpless people who have become desperate because they have no other solutions? Or is prayer the inspired, authorized, and empowered intercession of a chosen people so bonded to and bound up in the presence of God that they have awakened to their gifted identity as a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession?

There is a common and almost prevailing mentality around prayer that centers its authority in its sincerity, fervency and collectivist spirit (how many people we can get to join in). This feels to me like religious activism, like a spiritual protest movement. If we can just get God’s attention, . . . giving ourselves no rest and giving God no rest (marshaling the precedent of Isaiah) . . . God will be forced to do act. Though it has a seductive allure to it, this just doesn’t strike me as the prayer life of the New Testament people of God. The New Testament vision of prayer at the center of the Church Jesus is building looks like transcendent activity. It is the presence and power of God moving in lock step with a community of people. Look how Paul instructs the church concerning prayer:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

What are the implications of this text?

  1. Prayer does not begin with a people in one place crying out to a God who is somewhere else, hoping God will do something in yet another place. Prayer is active, direct, war-like engagement. 
  2. Prayer does not begin with people but with God. Prayer is the initiative of God to share the burden of his love for the world with his image bearers (i.e. us) and prayer is the Spirit infused responsiveness of his people to share in and supernaturally carry this burden to the end of his Kingdom manifesting itself on earth as it is in heaven. (i.e. blind see, deaf hear, lame walk, lepers cleansed, dead are raised, poor hear good news). 
  3. In prayer we always come against the kingdom of darkness and death, making prayer is a very dangerous activity. In prayer we are engaging with powers, authorities, rulers and principalities; indeed the realms of darkness and evil, against which we are no match. Hence we are instructed to “put on the full armor of God.” 
  4. Prayer is the mysterious and holy union of God indwelling his people in a divine-human collaborative agency, inextricably bound together in an abiding fellowship coursing with an uncontainable strength and mighty power. Remember, the leader of this movement, the head of the Church (not to mention the victorious Lord of Heaven and Earth) is fully God and fully human. 

Prayer is not nor can ever be reduced to religious or even spiritual activism. It is instead the transcendent activity of God in the midst of the Church Jesus is building for the sake of the world. Seventeenth century priest and poet, George Herbert, called it, “The Church’s Banquet.” Let’s allow his poem, entitled Prayer (I) serve as fodder for our prayer today. 

THE PRAYER

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

THE QUESTION

What are the implications of today’s post for the Church in a time of war—especially as it relates to prayer? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

P.S. Join Us For An Ash Wednesday Gathering Online

I want to invite you to join us for our upcoming gathering, A Night With New Room: Ash Wednesday. It will be online on Wednesday, March 2, 6:30pm CST and will run just over an hour. It will be available to see on demand following. We will be led by Steve Cordle (author of our Lent Resource The Jesus Shaped Life), Jessica Lagrone, Lo Alaman, Mark Swayze, and I will be there too. It is a free event but you will need to register to participate. Do that here. 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This post on prayer is for me a reminder that we are one extended family in Christ: Our Father who art in heaven…. As to the part of the post referring to the spiritual war that we are in; When Jesus commissioned his disciples upon his ascension to heaven, this was a clear declaration of war against the evil forces of this world. Jesus gave us the authority to reclaim the creation for its rightful owner. He redeemed it with his blood. Our role is to embrace this authority, proclaim it, and demonstrate it by faith expressing itself in love. The enemy, though defeated, will not give up his claim without a fight. Prayer is the means by which we maintain contact with our Commander and Chief.

  2. As I started sorting through the wreckage that was left in the aftermath of my estranged Dad’s death, resuscitation, death and simultaneous financial collapse that left his widow homeless, I struggled with the fact I had never sat down and prayed for guidance in navigating the hellish mess he left behind. It took me a long time to realize I had done something better: the whole time I was driven by the command to “honor your father”. At one point I struggled with what that might mean; but when everything was said and done, that is exactly what had happened. I had even helped create a space for others to honor him, even when I could not. Another lesson was, although I was appreciative that the church had me on their prayer list, I was most appreciative of those who actually showed up and entered into the fray.

  3. The implications are that physical weapons won’t work. A Christ-follower’s warfare isn’t physical combat: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” Prayer is a weapon to be used against the devil and his demonic forces. It’s not a tool to manipulate God. Full and unconditional surrender to the risen Jesus is the greatest victory any person can ever have. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ-followers are not living to cope and just get by. We’re here to be more than conquerors by abiding in Christ and being steadfast in showing His love to everyone, even to our enemies.

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