Praying with Paul

Here is a post from Adam Phillips who will be starting as our pastoral apprentice in the fall.

For many of us, just thinking about prayer can be like gearing up for an awkward, dreaded phone call. Maybe you have to ask your friend for a huge favor. Or maybe you need to apologize for something. Or maybe you’ve been out of touch for a long time and know that making conversation will be like pulling teeth.

How often do we come to prayer and think to ourselves, “What will I say?” Or even better, “What can I say?” At times we wonder if God has time for our silly thoughts and requests. On the one hand, we know that prayer is part-and-parcel of the Christian life. The eternal God has pursued us in Jesus and has happily opened a 24/7 phone line with us. He never tires of hearing our prayers—just look at the Psalms. But on the other hand, prayer can be a really cumbersome thing for us.

The Scripture has a lot to show and tell us about prayer. All the different dimensions and aspects of prayer keep us learning for our entire lives! In the beginning of his letter to the Colossians, Paul makes a few comments about prayer that are encouraging for us as we cultivate a life of prayer.

1. God doesn’t grow tired of listening

Paul says “we have not ceased to pray for you” (Col 1:9). Paul is constantly in conversation with the Lord about the Colossians. Paul is saying his prayers for the Colossians literally have no end. If you’re a parent, there are days when you can’t handle the unceasing chatter from your child(ren). The Lord has no limit with Paul, nor with us. Of course, this is an encouragement for us to pray more than we do. But let it also be an encouragement that the Lord never tires of hearing your prayers, even if in your mind it just sounds like chatter.

2. Thanking

Paul also thanks God when he prays because “we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.” From a prison cell, Paul is marveling at the gospel fruit being born in Colossae. Paul’s thankfulness for this gospel fruit overflows into thanking God in prayer. Simply thanking God for who he is and what he has done, is doing, and will do—even the small things—is a perfectly acceptable prayer.

3. Asking

In his unceasing prayer, Paul asks the Lord to continue his work in the Colossians, that they would grow in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding and walk in good works (Col 1:9-10). God is in the process of transforming each of us into Christ’s likeness. Requesting that God would continue his work in us and those around us is another aspect of prayer that fits the biblical mold.

Let us remember that in Jesus Christ we meet the Lord who hears the cries of his people (Psalm 34:17). If you’re struggling with prayer, start simple by praying with Paul, thanking God for what he has done and asking that he will continue his work.

    Intelligent Mysticism

    I just started Tim Keller’s new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. In the first chapter, he quotes John Murray to the effect that the life of faith is one of “intelligent mysticism.”

    Intelligent mysticism is a fascinating phrase. Here is Keller’s explanation of it:

    [Intelligent mysticism] means an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together. I was not being called to leave behind my theology and launch out to look for “something more,” for experience. Rather, I was meant to ask the Holy Spirit to help me experience my theology.

    I looked up the section in Murray that Keller was referring to and found the following comments about intelligent mysticism:

    It is not the blurred confusion of rapturous ecstasy. It is faith solidly founded on the revelation deposited for us in the Scripture and it is faith actively receiving that revelation by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. But it is also faith that stirs the deepest springs of emotion in the raptures of holy love and joy.

    I like how “intelligent mysticism” highlights that prayer must embody both truth and experience, thinking and emotion. In prayer our theology and our hearts need to intersect.

      The Meaning of Grace

      I came across an interesting little story in the book Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace.

      The most well-known controversy in the early church is Arianism. Arius was a priest in the fourth century who came into conflict with the church because he denied that Jesus was divine. One of his arguments went like this: Jesus cannot be God because Jesus prays to God. He prays on the mountain, he prays at the last supper, he prays in Gesthemene, and he prays from the cross. What could be more obvious than the fact that Jesus cannot be God (who receives prayer) if he is a man (who offers prayer)?

      Athanasius, who opposed Arius, responded, “Arius, you don’t understand the meaning of grace!”

      Why did Athanasius immediately point to grace? James Torrance answers:

      The God to whom we pray and with whom we commune knows we want to pray, try to pray, but cannot pray. So God comes to us as man in Jesus Christ to stand in for us, pray for us, teach us to pray and lead our prayers. God in grace gives us what he seeks from us—a life of prayer—in giving us Jesus Christ and the Spirit. So Christ is very God, the God to whom we pray. And he is very man, the man who prays for us and with us.

      That is the nature of grace. Both the divine act and the human response are given to us in Christ, and we participate in what Christ has accomplished by faith.