The Hermitage Way is a group of folks who commit to keep ten practices for a year at a time. This article is one of a series of articles on these practices.
Practice 1: Those who choose to keep the Way commit to engage in a daily prayer practice. This practice will include silence, meditation on scripture, intercession and affirmation. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer liturgies from The Hermitage or other sources may be used.
Supplication: “God is Enough”
There are many words used for prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, pleading, etc. Some of our prayer, perhaps the greater part, should be simply acknowledging God. These kinds of prayers are adoration and thanksgiving; wonder-filled expressions of our awareness of God at work in the world. But, we often think of prayer as asking. That is understandable since the original meaning of the root of the word “prayer” (precarius is Latin meaning to obtain by entreaty or earnest asking) is to beg, to ask. So, it is appropriate that we pray for others or ourselves. We ask God to act in some way to benefit those we love and serve. This is called intercession or supplication.
Supplication is a prayer of deep trust and awareness. The stories of Elijah in I Kings help us when we think on this deep kind of prayer. Elijah the prophet of the Lord, lives during a particularly troubled time in Israel’s history. King Ahab is a bad king, rebelling against God’s rule in his own life and leading the people astray. He is married to an equally bad queen, Jezebel, who opposes the worship of God and promotes the worship of the local god, Baal. God sends a warning to his people in the form of a drought, the ensuing famine and, probably most galling to Jezebel, a prophet who is listening to God.
During the famine, God sends Elijah to live with a widow in Zarephath, and to eat at her table. God supplies her with a never-ending oil jug and a bottomless flour jar so that they will not starve. However, during the famine, the widow’s son falls ill and dies. Elijah, never one to mince words with God says, “O lord my God have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” A rather direct question and accusation! Nevertheless, Elijah presents the facts to God, concluding his prayer with, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again” (17:20-21) thereby acknowledging that only God can change the circum-stance of death. This is a humility born of experience. And God restores the boy’s life.
A few weeks later, Elijah is sent back to Ahab with the news that it would rain again after three years of drought. Ahab agrees to a challenge between God and the prophets of the Baal. The prophets fail but God is revealed in a show of firepower. Elijah’s simple prayer of supplication is of interest, here, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” (18:36-37)
The motivation behind Elijah’s prayer, “so that this people may know that you are God,” gives us the clue to Elijah’s target. He was not praying that the people would follow him, that they would give him a raise, or that they would make his life easier. No, he wanted them to acknowledge God; be aware of God’s powerful presence, worship God. God and God alone was Elijah’s target. It is important to not overlook the obvious point that suppliants trust that God will provide for their desires.
But what, you may ask, if God had not restored the boy’s life or burned up the sacrifice and the altar? This is a very important question because it brings us to the significant realization that the outcomes or the “answers” to the prayer are not the measure of God’s action. In our Elijah stories, God is acting through Elijah, through the widow, through fire, through weather formation, and Elijah is listening. Elijah is aware of God’s action. He recognizes God’s power. He looks to God to do what God is already doing and will continue to do. He is part of the plan because he says, “yes” to whatever God does.
The ancient Chinese poet, Chuang Tzu, wrote:
When an archer is shooting for nothing He has all his skill If he shoots for a brass buckle He is already nervous. If he shoots for a prize of gold He goes blind Or he sees two targets – He is out of his mind! His skill has not changed. But the prize Divides him. He cares. He thinks more of winning Than of shooting – And the need to win Drains him of power.
Our aim in prayer is always God. Not knowing about God or getting something from God but God, God’s self. We may think our target is what we want, but in all true prayer, what we aim for is God. What we want is the motivation for shooting out a prayer, but focusing only on what we want can skew our aim at God dreadfully. To adapt the words of the poet, the need to receive drains our prayer of power. But to be open and even vulnerable to receive what is being provided, we need to fall for God again and again. If our prayer brings us to God, that is sufficient. God is enough.