Matthew Scott — Prayer as Connection — Sunday, February 27th
Second in our Discipleship series, we consider prayer as connection to our personal God.
During our current discipleship focus, you may want to meet with one or two others each week to talk and to pray. Included here is a resource to help you, drawing on the message from last Sunday, and free for you to adapt and use. You can equally use this at home, with others or alone.
GOING DEEPER: PRAYER AS CONNECTION WITH GOD
As defined at the outset of our series, prayer is the practice of attending and responding to the personal presence of God. For the next two weeks, our focus is on how that practice deepens our sense of intimate connection with the Lord, which makes life profoundly worth living. In what follows we’ll look at the implications for the practice of prayer, and for the experience of connection, of knowing God as a person.
Consider: when you pray, how do you imagine the One you’re praying to? What is God like when you are praying?
In theory, most of us assent to the idea that God is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In some strange way we figure they are all distinctive but all present whenever we pray: in theory. In practice, most of us can’t translate the theory into anything very meaningful, so we relate to God as though he were something else. We relate to the Father as a source of warmth and security; to Jesus as a source of forgiveness and acceptance; to the Spirit as a source of strength and peace. Prayer then becomes an exercise in resourcing ourselves with all the good things God can provide. We come to God and we remind him – and ourselves – that he is good, and loving, and powerful. Then we ask him to give us what we experience as our need. In practice, our ways of praying figure God as a quartermaster: someone we go to for provisions.
The biggest clue to all of this is our tendency to fill every time of prayer with our own words. You don’t go to the quartermaster for conversation. You come when you’re in need of provisions. You tell him clearly what you need, and he gets it for you.
Many of us complain that we do not feel a close connection with God; but if we pray as though he were the quartermaster, we shouldn’t really be surprised.
Consider: what if God really is a personal presence in prayer? What would change in our ways of praying?
Let’s ponder three images of personal connection from Scripture. First, the finale to the journey of Cleopas and friend to the village of Emmaus. Read Luke 24:28–30. Jesus makes as if to leave; the disciples have to invite him to stay. When he comes in, he eats and drinks with them, acting as the host. It’s a beautiful scene, a close meeting of persons. But note the role of the disciples: invitation, and then response as Jesus leads.
Second image, from the letter to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14–22). They are wayward compromisers with society around them, and have the “taste” of the local water: so disgusting it makes you want to vomit. But Jesus stands at their door and knocks. If the Laodiceans let him in they will eat together, again an image of a close and intimate meeting of persons, where – of course – Jesus will take the lead, reforming them in love.
Third image, from an ancient near eastern love poem (Song of Songs, in 2:9–11). The Lord is a Lover, running swift and strong over the hills, looking in at us behind our walled and gated property, calling us to join him in his adventure. The image is almost unbearably intimate, but has been held by interpreters over many centuries to reflect the kind of relationship we have with the Lord, not least in prayer.
Consider: which image strikes home for you, and why? Which awakes longing in you?
Alone or with others, practice the personal presence of God in prayer. First, close your eyes and imagine the Lord present as a person. (Perhaps set up an empty chair, where you can imagine him sitting.) Have a go at describing what you imagine in prayer: “As I look at you, Lord, I see you as …”. Then make an invitation to the Lord to “come in” to the meeting, and to the “house” of your own self, then wait to see what he will say and do. At the end, share about the experience together, or journal if by yourself.