Practicing Prayer

“It must be said that the Church, when it prays, takes the place of the world which does not know any longer, or does not yet, know how to pray”[1]

During middle school youth group last Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, students were invited to write down questions they had about God. We collected their scribbles on slips of unevenly cut paper and will use them as a foundation to form the curriculum for the year. Their questions were surprising and thoughtful and encouraging. One of them, in particular, stuck out. Written in frustrated handwriting were two words, “Why pray?” What a question, a question that isn’t only being asked by one adolescent in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The world has forgotten how to pray.

The people of God are really good at forgetting. Adam and Eve forgot, humankind prior to the flood forgot, the wandering Israelites forgot, and the pattern continued. And the pattern continues. The world has forgotten who they are and whose they are. We have forgotten how to love and how to be loved. We have forgotten how to give praise to the only One who is most worthy of it. We have forgotten how to pray. So the people of God, we, the Church, must live into a lifestyle of prayer. We must intentionally pray for the world and on behalf of the world during Sunday morning worship and in every moment of our lives.

The world does not yet know how to pray.

God is in the business of restoring all of creation back to the way things are supposed to be. In the book of Revelation, we read the words spoken by a loud voice from the throne, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”[2] In the new heaven and the new earth, we will remember who we are and whose we are. In the new heaven and the new earth, we will remember how to pray because prayer will quite literally be the language we speak. Until that day comes, the Church must put prayer into practice by being a beacon of light in all the corners of the earth.

Consider again the question asked by the irritated, curious student, “Why pray?” Jean-Jacques von Allmen has a word for us. He writes, “When the Church prays, the Church is manifesting itself as the Church”[3]. What an answer. May we live out prayer seriously and vivaciously as we persevere to authentically be the Church today.

*An assignment submitted for Worship Foundations, a class for first-year students at Western Theological Seminary*

[1] The Theological Meaning of Common Prayer, Jean-Jacques von Allmen, 1974; pg. 128

[2] Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

[3] The Theological Meaning of Common Prayer, pg. 126

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One thought on “Practicing Prayer

  1. Great post, Jeremy. I would have added one possibility: we pray because we get to! God already knows all the questions and all the answers. The Spirit is already interceding for us “with sighs too deep for words.” But God promises to let us puny, limited, forgetful humans into the conversation, and then God promises to hear us–and that is “hear” in the Biblical Hebrew sense, where hearing changes what the hearer does, how the hearer thinks. God and Moses provide great examples of prayer conversations where the Holy One’s mind is changed by his most unholy friend (they had to be friends; a sane person only ever really moons friends that way). We pray because God really wants us in on the conversation, just because all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal God thinks it is cool to hang out and chat with us. We pray because we can.

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