Summary: What is prayer and more specifically, what is prayer for us? There are guide posts that the Church has provided for us,forms of prayer known as adoration, confession, intercession, confession, thanksgiving and petition.
Ways of Prayer - "Who is like you, O Lord?"
Some time ago, a former Prime minister of our nation got into a bit of trouble when he was overheard to utter the name of our Lord as some said "in vain". He retorted that he was actually offering an involuntary prayer. His detractors found it hard to believe, perhaps impossible to believe. But how do we judge? How much do any of us understand about our own prayer lives let alone the prayer life of another? Jesus in the midst of the pressure of his ministry put lines through his diary and headed for the hills for some time in prayer. "He went away to a quiet place to pray." Apparently he did not go far enough away. His disciples found him and told him to tell him that his appointment book was full. Enough of this solitary escapism, time to get back into the real world. People were in need of Jesus teaching, healing presence.
This relationship between prayer and action is a tension for me and I suspect for many of us. What is prayer and more specifically, what is prayer for us? Each of us will have our own answers for this question. There are guide posts that the Church has provided for us, beginning with Scripture and enriched by centuries of faithful tradition. We would be much the poorer to leave the development of our prayer life either to those times when we hit our thumbs with hammers, or when tragedy strikes. Though these times are times for prayer too, an ever deepening relationship with God demands a more sustained approach. Those sign posts I mentioned are adoration, confession, intercession, petition and thanksgiving.
"Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendour, doing wonders?" Exodus 15:11 NRSV
Though we may sometimes talk of adoring a loved one, adoration properly belongs to God alone. To adore means to be caught up with the reality of God’s nature. No matter how intensely we know, feel or discern God’s presence the reality is that God is greater than our thoughts, emotions or intuitions. God’s love is greater than any love that we could experience. God’s compassion is greater than any care we could be shown. God’s providence is greater than any generosity we could receive. In the face of such reality the only true response is that of adoration.
In times of true adoration words fall short. There are other languages we use to communicate for example, body language or gesture. When lost in adoration people use gesture as well as or instead of words in response. Luke records Peter’s early encounter with Jesus. After hauling in the miraculous catch of fish Peter falls at Jesus feet with words ’Depart from me master for I am a sinful man.’ And Matthew writes of the disciples as they met their resurrected Lord: ’Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.’ (Mat 28:9 NRSV). Other forms of gesture indicating adoration are bowing, kneeling, genuflecting and making the sign of the cross. That is one reason we offer the gestures we do in worship - prayer is more than words.
Adoration is about losing oneself in the awe and wonder of God, but this response does not mean that we become insignificant as a result. the New Testament tells us that in losing ourselves we find ourselves. This is the way to find one’s self - beginning in a relationship of adoration of God.
"You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." Matt. 5:43-45 NRSV
No one could deny the reality of sin. Some might try to call it by another name, some times we avoid responsibility for our sins as we delve into our genetic make up and our environmental influences but as Christians who have glimpsed God in adoration we could not deny that we fall short of God’s hopes for us. We even fall short of our hopes and dreams for ourselves and each other! We cannot bear the guilt of this reality in its entirety, and we are not meant to! as one writer puts it:
"Yet if I am forever hag ridden by guilt, I shall be tormented into the grave, and shall be useless as a human being. What is more, I may sink into even worse sin, for it is often the person overwhelmed by a sense of guilt who commits the crime." (Gordon S. Wakefield)