The reason why I began to write about learning to pray from the Bible began with a discovery I made back in the 1980’s. I was preaching for a church in Aberdeen, Maryland, and needed to put together a thirteen-week-long adult class for our Wednesday night service. I wanted to learn more about prayer. I decided to teach about prayer. As I prepared for the class, I reviewed the passages that I had heard most frequently when others preached or taught about prayer. But I also noticed passages that had largely been ignored, actual prayers by men and women of faith. My class about learning to pray focused on the historical and personal contexts as well as the content of those biblical prayers. After having taught the class, with some improvements, to churches in Tennessee and Arizona, I deployed to Afghanistan, where for the first time, I taught the class to Soldiers under the title “Call for Fire Seminar,” having had a moment of insight during preparation for that deployment, that the function of prayer in the Christian’s “Armor of God” in Ephesians 6:10-18 is what the modern American military describes as a “call for fire,” a request to a higher headquarters for support when under attack by the enemy. After returning to the United States, I taught the newly revised class to a church, while also beginning the Call for Fire Seminar Facebook page, and a few months later, this blog.
In recent months, as I reviewed how others had described the ingredients of biblical prayer, I developed my own descriptions of what happens when we pray:
Celebrate. When we pray, we celebrate. We praise our Creator and worship him. We thank him for the “good and perfect gifts” that come to us from above (James 1:17). We join with the rest of Creation in rejoicing in awe of his glory:
“Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant and every in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge earth. He will judge the word in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness” (Psalm 96:11-13).
Advocate. That is the verb form of advocate, to speak on behalf of someone or something. That is what we do when we ask God to heal the sick or to forgive us or others, when we ask God to correct injustice.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offiered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:14-16)
Lament. Advocating sometimes runs over into lamenting, perhaps the most overlooked aspect of biblical prayers despite its frequency. When we pray in horror after a school shooting, when we sink to our knees in grief after the death of a beloved family member or personal hero, when we shrink back in shock from the experience of divorce, bankruptcy, diagnosis of a terminal illness, or an invasion of one country by another, lament enters our prayers. Jeremiah prayed,
“Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails” (Jeremiah 16:18).
Jeremiah spoke in his prayers about his pain, about the loneliness he felt in his embattled prophetic ministry. Jesus, in Matthew 23, lamented his rejection by the people of Jerusalem.
Listen. If prayer truly is to be a conversation with God, we must pause and let him speak from time to time. We listen when we meditate on the meaning of Scripture, when we reflect on the significance of the environment that God created around humanity, when we open ourselves up to the possibility that what we want may not be what God wills or what we need. With Jesus, we pray
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Prayer then is a CALL to God for his support, but also a celebration of that support. I write as I pray that I may listen better to God. I have read recently suggestions that people need to read the Bible less. While I suspect the intent of the writers was that people should act on their faith, and not just read about it, reading the Bible systematically again and again instills more firmly within us a sense of God’s plan for humanity, what he intended for us when he designed us. Reading the prayers of other believers in the Bible has enriched my own conversation with God. I write because I learn when I prepare to write. I write in the hope that my discoveries may encourage others.
- Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version.
Pingback: Listening to God when You Cannot Pray | Call for Fire Seminar