As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

You've got to pray just to make it today...

It might be time for a change of pace. It seems like we've reached an impasse on the issues addressed and there's little movement toward a common position. I thought we'd talk about something more constructive. What is the nature and purpose of prayer?

My personal beliefs can be summarized thusly:
  • Prayer is for us more than God. It changes us.
  • Prayer is commanded by God, especially for one another.
The latter is self-explanatory. The former I will unpack a bit. I'll warn you now, this connects to my idea of God as dispassionate fire. Before I begin, I'd like to give my own struggle with prayer. My family used to all pray together every night. Our prayers were, naturally, somewhat childish and conversational: help us with this and that, make Grandma feel better, thanks for letting us go to Chuck E. Cheese, etc.

Always, as a child, I had the belief that talking to God was like talking to an adult. Don't offend Him. Show respect. If you're disrespectful, He'll be mad. Later, I added things (not sure where I got them), like God doesn't want to talk to me if I have unconfessed sin (meaning I have to be moving in the right direction at least) and thinking of my relationship to Him as a marriage. For instance, if I was cheating (and God knows when I'm cheating on Him), it would be bad to talk to my wife as if nothing was happening.

Then, I began to look into Catholicism, especially the Rosary and other devotions as well as the liturgy. I began to see a new dimension to prayer. I learned, through the RCC, of both the corporate and the contemplative types of prayer (this is a WONDERFUL website for rosaries and chaplets). The former seemed more dutiful and the latter more deep. Yet, I still had my hangups, especially the marriage thing.

Finally, I learned about meditative prayer through Orthodoxy in addition to more about contemplative prayer by reading Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. In addition, through Orthodoxy, I began to believe (or understand) that prayer did not affect God in any way. Neglecting it did not anger or sadden Him and practicing it did not make Him happy. Prayer was for me, it changed me, it made me in His image.

So, as you may have guessed, I compartmentalize prayer into four categories:
  • Conversational: We talk to God in a manner similar to other humans. We tell Him our worries, thank Him for His blessings, and intercede for others. The entire process makes us feel closer to God and, especially with intercession, we learn to care for others.
  • Corporate: Corporate prayer is kind of like conversational in that it has the same goals. The main difference is that we do it together. We pray with one voice with those around us, with those who have died and with those yet to be born.
  • Contemplative: This prayer encourages us to contemplate God. In the Rosary we reflect on the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. In the Divine Mercy chaplet we contemplate the Blood of Christ. Brother Lawrence, at all times of the day, deliberately imagined himself in the God's presence.
  • Meditative: This form of prayer is much like Buddhist meditation. However, where Buddhists seek to lose themselves in the cosmos (achieving unity with all by having no self), Christians seek deeper union with God. My three favorite prayers in this vein are:
Ultimately, I now believe that I should pray all the time, especially when I am sinning, because it will give me the strength to live a more holy life.


Blogger fra edwin said...

Poor Bro wrote:
My personal beliefs can be summarized thusly:

Prayer is for us more than God. It changes us.
Prayer is commanded by God, especially for one another.

Edwin asks:
Have you ever studied the effects of gravity? Did you know that, mathematically speaking, we excert EXACTLY the same influence on the earth as the whole earth excerts on us? In my case that's about 300 pounds (I'm a big guy).

I like think that prayer is similar to gravity in that way. It affects the infinite as much as the infinite affects us. I don't want to think that my prayers are "more for me than for God." For one thing, it makes me seem more selfish somehow. Also, I like to think that is why God made me: to know and to love through prayer and communion. God loved me so much he sent his son to die for me. I like to thing my prayers mean much to God.

My second question, and I ask this carefully: If God commands us to pray, what are the consequences if we don't?

You have said that God does not punish. So I would expect the consistent response to be that if we do not pray we do not partake of the life that is God. And I believe this is true. However, for this God could simply have warned and requested us to pray. But you say he commanded.

To command, one must have discipline. To have discipline one must enforce discipline. Enforcement suggests rewards and punishments. So, if God commanded, then what are the rewards and punishments? How does God enforce his mastery of the universe?

To follow this up, why was there a "war" in heaven? The fallen angels did not seem to want to quietly quit heaven, but were "cast out." If we do not pray or commune with God, do we ask for the same fate?

4:43 PM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

Yes. It's one of the Newton's laws. But God is not Earth. Still, I should qualify my statements. I believe God listens. I believe God acts. I believe the prayers of a righteous man availeth much. But I don't believe He gets upset when we don't pray, or that He only wants us to when we're on the right path.

You correctly assess my stance on why we are commanded to pray. But I think all God does is a command. He doesn't suggest or warn ever. He tells us what to do and the way to be and we choose to obey or ignore. That doesn't mean that He will punish or become angry if we don't.

Your a priori statement and logical conclusion don't have Scriptural basis, I think.

A) To command one must have discipline,
B) To have discipline one must enforce discipline,
C) Thus, God must discipline because He commands.

I offer this in response:

A) To command one must have Authority.
B) God has all authority.
C) Thus, every statement of God is a command.

Men must back up their commands with threats of power and punishment. Not so with God.

Regarding the war, I find it interesting that God did not throw Satan out Himself. St. Michael did it. My opinion is that Satan, were he able to repent, would be welcomed back to the Father.

Put another way, there is the verse that says once you know God and reject Him (or something like that), there is no return. I don't think this is because God wouldn't take you back, but because if you know Him AS HE IS (as Lucifer did) and reject Him, what other decision is there to make? Lucifer knew what he was doing. A few millenia aren't going to change that.

8:49 AM  
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