Bumbling Together Through the School of Prayer
If we are honest, we will admit readily that our talk often outflanks our walk—that we have a hard time living up to what we have spoken out.
For me, and I’m guessing many others, this applies to the practice of my life of prayer. Prayer is our life line, the staple of our existence, the oxygen we breathe, our living communication with the living God. Yet we can struggle with maintaining regularity in this discipline and concentration even in the midst of it. I can recall Pastor Ken Shigematsu saying it feels like there are always fourteen monkeys dancing inside his head. If that is the case for him—one of the most focused individuals I’ve ever met—what hope is there for the rest of us? For me, it’s not monkeys, it’s squirrels—dozens of them, everywhere. My focus in taking time to pray and my focus while I’m praying seems fleeting and flighty as best (squirrel!).
What to do? I find myself echoing the request of Jesus’ disciples when they say, “Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1a).” Jesus will answer that request just as he did for his first disciples.
Learning to pray
Part of that answer for me was the re-reading of a book on prayer I had not picked up in years. It is a book written by a theologian, no less—Stan Grenz’s Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom.
The title gives away his point (spoiler alert). He says, “Christian prayer is a cry for the kingdom.” What does he mean? Prayer is our mutual relationship with the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nothing new there. Much of what he says about prayer can be found elsewhere. What hit me again with particular force is what I would call the eschatology of prayer, if you will excuse my amateur theologizing. You may not find another stained glass phrase to be helpful, so let me try to explain what I mean.
We serve a God who has created all things and longs to have it all back, redeemed and restored back to its original condition, only better. This is his will, his desire to have everything on earth as it is in heaven. Does that sound familiar? It should. This God has invited us to participate in his grand desire to restore all things in his time and in his way. So, prayer becomes that vital communication link where we respond to God’s prior action in bringing about his kingdom.
We praise and adore God for all he is and has done in the prospect of being able to share in all God wants for our world—when his kingdom comes in its fullness.
We confess our sins in light of what we can see as our future in the fullness of the kingdom where any pull or temptation of this world will be powerless.
We thank God for the many ways he showers us with his grace, giving us little foretastes of his coming kingdom right here, right now.
And we are free to ask him for direct answers to our prayers for the world, the needs of others, and ourselves, knowing “that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14b).
As we have seen, his will is that things on earth will be as they are in heaven. This is the eschatology of prayer.
Crying for the Kingdom
As our heart begins to echo that of God’s, our prayers focus on how our loving God is moving toward that day when his kingdom comes fully. Some of the answers to our prayers come immediately as they sync with God’s loving providence in bringing about his kingdom. Some answers are delayed in light of this same grace. But even as we cry for the kingdom to come, we do so fully assured of God’s care for his children and his creation.
We are praying to a God who is bringing about his loving purposes for his creation and is not aloof and disconnected from us at all. He is not Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover—if anything, he’s a Moved Mover. He is moved by his own loving and holy intentions to bring about a new heaven and new earth. He hears our cries for the kingdom. As a loving Father, he will not give us a stone instead of bread or a scorpion instead of an egg, but he also may tell us strength may be found in our weakness and his loving plans may be beyond what our squirrel-infested minds can conceive.
Crying for the kingdom—that is prayer. Sometimes those cries are laced with lament and we cry, “How long, O Lord?” Other cries are filled with hopeful longing, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” But these cries are not captivated by the past or overwhelmed by the present but offered in the living hope of seeing and tasting the day when all on earth is as it is in heaven.
And that will be worth all the squirrel wrestling we will need to do in the meantime.