Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Who Are You Talking To? (The Lord's Prayer, Part I)

"Abba, Father, all things are possible for Thee. Take away this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou will." Mark 14:36

Can you hear me now?
I have found that there is nothing on earth harder to do well than prayer. The potential for it to slide into pointless formality or mind-numbing list-checking is enormous. How often have we felt like we're talking to the air? To ourselves? We hear tales of prayer that is this wondrous, intimate thing with God, a time for real-life conversation with the Divine. Then we get to it (perhaps full of enthusiasm) and by the end we feel as if we've wasted everyone's time. Maybe moments do come where we "find the right words" and the communication and communion feel sweet and real, but those moments seem rare and fleeting at best, and we are unprophetic to both their comings and goings as well as the mechanisms that actualize them. Another clumsy session, immediately following a successful venture, makes the frustration even more acute.

There are many good books on prayer, but something must be said first over and against all books: there is no such thing as a singular "right way" to pray anymore than there is a singular "right way" to talk to your lover or best friend. Yes, there are things you ought to avoid in either case, like making the whole conversation about yourself (something Jesus spoke against in Luke 18:9-14); but to claim a singular "right way" to pray is the fastest way to make the whole thing empty and formulaic. Prayer is having a conversation with God, and it is built on the relationship you have with Him, and nothing kills conversation and stunts relationships better than sticking to formula every single time.

"I'm the map!"
So there is no one "right way" to pray, but that does not mean that there are no guidelines to help us out. Not having a "right way" to pray can be as big a problem as sticking to the same stale formula forever. Thus is our dilemma: we want our prayers to be sincere and organic, and yet we find articulation difficult: we hardly know what we really want, much less how to put it into words. A formula is no good, but some pointers would still be nice, and I think Jesus provides some good ones in His own prayer to God. There's a lot going on in this passage, but there are at least three practical things we can take away for our own prayer life.

The first thing Jesus does is acknowledge who God is. He calls Him "Abba, Father" and says, "all things are possible" with Him. The nature of God's Fatherhood and Omnipotence are topics in and of themselves, but the point here is that Jesus knows and recognizes God as those things. Again, this is not to be formulaic. This is not about picking a random divine attribute or two out of a hat and prefacing yourself with it. It is not about acknowledging who God is in general, but rather acknowledging who He is to you specifically. How has He made Himself known to you, in your actual life and experience? Remember: conversations are built on relationships, so what has your relationship with Him revealed Him to be?

"I see you as no one else does."
This is not about uncritical subjectivism. Who God truly is to anybody will never go against who He has revealed Himself to be in His word. However, that does not mean that everyone will truly know or understand God the exact same way as everybody else, because we are all different. Personality and temperament and history and culture and other intangibles make no two people the same, and thus no two people ever like the same thing the same exact way. Thus, how you view God, what and who you understand Him to be, though it ought not to contradict His word (which is His authoritative declaration of Himself), it may very well contradict other people.

What relationship is at work here?
Who God is to us specifically will shape our prayer life, because it shapes who we think we're talking to. In day-to-day conversation, who you're talking to shapes how you talk to them, whether they're a friend, family, stranger, or enemy. Who they are to you shapes your conversation, even your initial acknowledgement ("Hey, you." "Hey, babe." "Hello. Can I help you?" "What do you want?" etc.). So who is God to you? Who has He revealed Himself to be in your life, in your daily relationship with and experience of Him? If you know, then you can begin by acknowledging Him as such. In a way, you're reminding yourself who you're talking to, which can help shape the conversation to what it ought to be. On the other hand, if you don't know who He is to you yet, or you're not quite sure, then that's a perfect thing to start praying for.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

1 comment:

  1. I would also say that when we view God in different ways, it is because he is so much bigger and higher than us and has so many different facets. No one person (or group of people) can ever hope to fully know or understand him. Thus we each see different aspects of him. The danger comes in assuming that those aspects are the only ones that are valid and/or true. Such as, "Oh, I've never experienced God that way, so He can't possibly be that way", etc.

    Anyway. Good points all. I enjoyed this one.