Our church journeyed through January with a focus on prayer. Our preaching series was “Questions of Prayer,” which aimed to be honest about questions we share about prayer and give us orientation points for our praying. An optional step past Sunday morning is working through Steve Harper’s book, Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.
After Steve’s beginning reflection on the difference between thinking as a “self” versus thinking as a “person” (see previous post), he moves into the practical application of that point in how the Lord’s Prayer can shape our praying. He says, “To be a person is to be like God, who is a Person. And this likeness to God (imago dei) is the starting point for praying for ourselves.” (p. 102)
When we conceive of ourselves as a “self” we are considering ourselves isolated individuals. But when recognize that we are persons, we see that we are in relationship—first, to God, and second, to others. Steve witnesses to this insight’s effect on his praying: “Therefore, I will pray for myself with the spirit that says, ‘God, I ask only those things for myself that will glorify you and make me a fuller and finer member of the human family.’”
Praying in a relational act, not a transactional one. It is family conversation with the God who is the parent any good father or mother strives to be like and any poor father or mother should have been. Good parents work for what is best for the child, whether the child understands and agrees to that or not. “The One to whom we pray is the one who made us, loves us, and wants to do more for us than we can ask or imagine” (p. 103).
This does not mean that “God is distant or aloof” (p. 104). Rather, “when I prayer for myself, I pray against the backdrop of the eternal and unchanging.” We can depend on God, and our praying can lean into God’s dependability in the face of our immediate reality.
Thy kingdom come / Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven
There is a realm in which God’s reign is perfectly followed and lived out. We want our world to be more like that. I once heard Dallas Willard say something to this effect: the point is not merely about getting us to heaven when we die; the point is getting heaven into us while we’re alive on earth. Amen. Praying the Lord’s Prayer this way asks for God to get heaven into us—individually and collectively—while we are on earth. “Rather than being egocentric selves, we are persons abandoned to God—people who want God’s will to be done, not their own. We pray for ourselves as consecrated and yielded selves.” (p. 105)
In the next post, we’ll take up the second half of the Lord’s Prayer.