Starting with Prayer

Folks, I want what I do to be for the village… the community… the place where the spiritual unites with the physical.

So, for me, taking classes at George Fox Seminary to get my certificate in spiritual formation is about more than just me. I am doing it because it is what I must do… for the community and for God.

I recently finished my semester paper for my class on prayer and as I wrote it with the community in mind it is important for me to share it here. I will be posting it up in sections over the next week or so.

Before I begin, it is very important for me to note the context of my ministry setting. I am involved in building and connecting people into more sustainable and mature community within the city of Bend, OR. Bend is overall 85% non-Christian and my direct community is 98% non-Christian. Many are extremely spiritual and committed to their path, but are much more likely to practice their spirituality in the yoga studio or the woods. That being said, most of them know me as a follower of Christ, and so my thoughts in this paper will come from a perspective of Christian foundation, but I may use words that are not commonly used in traditional churches. I will also use scripture strongly, but not quote the specific verse reference, as my audience, an “ordinary person who comes seeking God in my ministry environment” probably would not benefit from the verse citing that would happen in a church context.

Biblical and Theological Prayer and its place in Christian life

Prayer is the interaction and conversation with the divine presence or mystery who exists in infinite relational love, revelation, and transcendence and who has been in relation with humanity since our entrance into the cosmic creation. For the follower of Christ, prayer is essential in our journey to grow into the divine likeness and the image of Christ (Peter and Paul) and to better understand the God whom we worship and serve as we also understand God’s presence through the spirit in us.

In the scriptures, we learn that God, who expresses God’s self in relationship (the Trinity), has created us in his likeness, therefore designing us inherently to be fulfilled in relationship, with him and with each other. Because of this, humanity is on a perpetual quest for fulfillment in relationship, an eternal journey to love and be loved, to know and be known. Prayer, while an interaction with the self and the divine, is to be balanced in solitude and the community.

We have seen in the Hebrew scriptures, and continue to see in the history of global humanity, a constant desire to commune and connect with this divine other who continually makes his presence known through human beings, the natural world, and other mysterious and unexplainable occurrences. The entire Jewish story of promise, covenant, politics, and persecution is one of a people trying to understand, explain, and follow (or not follow) Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God. Prayer was very much a conversation with a God who was very much a mystery, often wrathful towards sin, and jealous towards those who were in his service. At the same time, Yahweh was merciful to those who followed his commands, very present amongst his people (specifically in the tabernacle), and who could indeed change his mind or be persuaded through intense prayer and service. Prayer was extremely important in the Jewish spiritual life as they sought the will and direction, or to influence, the one true God.

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3 thoughts on “Starting with Prayer”

  1. “Prayer was very much a conversation with a God who was very much a mystery, often wrathful towards sin, and jealous towards those who were in his service. At the same time, Yahweh was merciful to those who followed his commands, very present amongst his people (specifically in the tabernacle), and who could indeed change his mind or be persuaded through intense prayer and service. Prayer was extremely important in the Jewish spiritual life as they sought the will and direction, or to influence, the one true God.”

    Nate – I’m trying to find a place in scripture where it says God was jealous towards those who were in his service, and where it says he could change his mind or be persuaded. I’ve got the mystery part covered.

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  2. Aunt Cheryl, thanks so much for the good questions. Before quoting scripture I should say that I believe the Hebrew people experienced Yahweh and wrote about Yahweh from a pre-Jesus understanding. Their experience and description of God often is not consistent with Jesus and is often more consistent with other Ancient Near Eastern cultures of that time. This only makes sense as they lived in a very distinct culture and time and place.

    So a few examples…
    Jealous God

    “You shall have no other gods before me. Deut 5:7, Ex 20:3
    “for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” Ex 20:5 (Not consistent with Christ, who forgives his enemies)
    “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Ex 34:14 (Whoa! They even called him Jealous by name… not really consistent with Christ…)

    You can see many, many more here:
    http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=jealous+god&x=0&y=0

    As far as God changing his mind, one very clear example is his interchange with Abraham over Sodom and Gomorrah. There are other examples of God seeming to change his plans because of the prayers or his frustration with people. The flood is another good example.

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  3. Familiar with those passages on jealousy. I may have misread your intention – “jealous toward those who were in his service”. Absolutely, God is jealous – towards all who do not worship or serve him as he deserves, all who turn from him to worship pagans/pagan images/pagan practices – all of which we still do today, not just in the early Eastern church. We need to take care to avoid making anything more important than the worship/service of the One True God, it could be music, certain spiritual leaders, our selves and our personal practices – all these could be worshipped/served when God is the one who deserves it all.

    Changing his mind – God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present. There is nothing he has not known or will not know, even as we exercise our own free wills and make choices which cause him sadness and heartache. These are not surprises for him. He has known them before the creation of the world. There should be nothing, then, that we can do to change his mind. We should still go to him with our prayers, petitions, supplications, to share our heart’s desires with him, but not to think in any way we have the ability to change his mind. His mind was made up long before our existance. Do we think that if we petition God long enough, longer still, that eventually he will change his mind and answer in the way we desire? No, I think we pray in humility, laying our desires at his feet, praying until we grasp the heart of God and his will/desire for us in acceptance of whatever answer he has provided for us. Then we are in true communion/relationship with him when we have allowed our hearts to be molded by him, when we come to a closer understanding of who he is, how he works, what he truly wants from us, and what he has planned for our lives.

    Always interesting to read your perspective….causes me to question my own, even after so many year of being in communion with God, knowing this is where I need to be.

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