Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Paradoxes of Prayer - Part 3

Prayer As A Practical Paradox

I'd like to take a brief look at paradox in the methodology of prayer. Knowing things about prayer is of little use if we fail to move on to the act of praying. With this in mind, we'll examine three Biblical prayers that contain elements of paradox in the very way they are verbalized. Then, I'll suggest a method of praying based on these examples.

Biblical Examples

Exodus 33:12-13 You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people."

Moses quotes God's own words back to Him. He makes a request on the basis of those words. And he asks for what he already has. In essence, it is a plea for more grace, because although grace is always all-sufficient, and is always fully available, we always need more and can never have enough.

I Kings 18:37 "Answer me, O lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again."

This comes from Elijah's prayer when he faced the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Elijah prays that the people may know what God has already done: that He has turned their hearts back again. The prophet does not pray that God will turn their hearts back. Rather, he prays for the people to know that God has turned their hearts back. Apparently, God has already turned them, but they do not yet know it. And it appears that they won't know it unless Elijah prays effectively for them.

Mark 9:24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief."

Calvin comments thus:

He declares that he believes, and yet acknowledges himself to have unbelief. These two statements may appear to contradict each other, but there is none of us that does not experience both of them in himself. As our faith is never perfect, it follows that we are partly unbelievers; but God forgives us, and exercises such forbearance towards us, as to reckon us believers on account of a small portion of faith. It is our duty, in the meantime, carefully to shake off the remains of infidelity which adhere to us, to strive against them, and to pray to God to correct them, and, as often as we are engaged in this conflict, to fly to him for aid.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary insightfully interprets the prayer as follows:

that is, "It is useless concealing from Thee, O Thou mysterious, mighty Healer, the unbelief that still struggles in this heart of mine; but that heart bears me witness that I do believe in Thee; and if distrust still remains, I disown it, I wrestle with it, I seek help from Thee against it." Two things are very remarkable here: First, the felt and owned presence of unbelief, which only the strength of the man’s faith could have so revealed to his own consciousness. Second, his appeal to Christ for help against his felt unbelief— a feature in the case quite unparalleled, and showing, more than all protestations could have done, the insight he had attained into the existence of a power in Christ more glorious them any he had besought for his poor child.

The Method

I suggest the following simple method of prayer, which is applicable to all sorts of needs and requests.

1. Confess what you know is true (e.g., "Lord, I was wrong to say what I said. That was selfish and arrogant.")
2. Give thanks for what God has done (e.g., "Lord, thank you for convicting me of my sin in this matter. Thank You that I didn't say more than I did. Your grace restrained me from committing worse sin.")
3. Conform your prayer to the Word (e.g. "Lord, You command me to repent and believe the good news. You tell me I must bridle my tongue.")
4. Declare your God-given intentions (e.g., "Lord, I repent of the unkind words I spoke.")
5. Ask God for help (e.g., "Lord, help me to repent of my sin. I can't do this without Your help. Apart from You, I will only fail.")
6. Thank God in advance for what He is doing (e.g., "Lord, thank You for forgiving me. I thank You that You are helping me to repent and change the way I speak to others. May You be glorified in my words.")

Based on the example given, it should become clear that making things right with the person who was treated badly is the next step. Biblical prayer will lead to the right kind of action.

In this way, faith is exercised as we obediently ask God for His help, while also acknowledging that He has given us what we ask for. Thus, we work for the Lord - all the while acknowledging that it is God Who works in us to will and to work according to His own will. And so He is glorified in us, and through us, and by us. Our prayers are at once confessions of weakness, applications of Scripture, declarations of faith, statements of intent, and grateful acknowledgements of God's sovereign grace. Our Father will respond to these cries of child-like dependence, Spirit-inspired honesty and tenacious trust as they are woven into our prayers.

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