The Soul in Paraphrase
Ordinary prayer often feels clumsy to me. The words and postures feel awkward. Sometimes I peek when my eyes are supposed to be shut and I am struck with the strangeness of this exercise, especially when shared with a group of people.
Yet, I would like to pray more and pray better. Partly because there is stuff that I need – hurts to be healed, bills to be paid, wisdom and courage and grace to be sought. Also because I believe that prayer has the power to transform ordinary time into sacred time. And my life is full of the ordinary.
But even if God didn’t answer a single prayer, I still feel the urge to pray. As P.T. Forsyth states, “by prayer we acquire our true selves. If my prayer is not answered, I am. If my petition is not fulfilled, my person, my soul is; as the artist comes to himself and his happiness in the exercise of the talent he was made for, in spite of the delay and difficulty of turning his work to money.”
Evidently, the disciples of Jesus also wanted to improve their prayer lives. One day they observed him praying and, in a rare teachable moment, they said, ‘teach us to pray’.
The answer Jesus gave was the topic of my message last Sunday and a couple of people asked me for a re-post. So, here is the basic idea along with the great poem that I quoted from George Herbert.
1. The Context of Prayer – ‘Father’
The focus of the introduction to this famous prayer is not gender designation, but rather an expression of intimacy. ‘Father’ is a tender, intimate expression of a trusting child to a loving parent. This is the context of all our prayers. In prayer, we affirm our true identity as children of God.
2. The Content of Prayer – ‘Give us, forgive us, lead us’
There is a boldness to these requests; a respectful, but almost demanding, tone. In prayer, we lift up our natural appetites to our Father. Our most basic needs and concerns are fair game. Go ahead, pray your shopping list.
3. The Courage of Prayer – ‘keep on asking, seeking, knocking’
The argument is from lesser to greater. Even a bad friend, one who ignores the most basic rules of hospitality, will eventually give in to a request. Even a human father, perhaps even an evil one, knows not to give a scorpion to his child when an egg is requested. How much more, then, will your good, loving Friend and Father answer your requests.
May this encourage us to keep on praying, even when the exercise feels clumsy – or ineffective.
By George Herbert 1593–1633
Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.