This post is part of a series commenting on the ten Practices of the Hermitage Way Keeper. This article is Part 2 of a series on Prayer. As a community, our first practice is prayer.
“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.“
The answer to every prayer is the same
It may come as somewhat of a surprise to us, but the answer to prayer is always the same. At least that is what Jesus teaches the disciples about prayer. Let’s look at Luke 11:9-13.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Here, we note that the answer to every prayer is the same: the Holy Spirit. No matter what is asked for, the resultant gift is God’s Spirit. If we come expecting a new job, we may get one–or not. But because we ask, we will receive the Guide and Comforter to help us. We will certainly be changed if the target of our prayer is God and not our need. God already knows what we need and is delighted to give us what we need if we seek for God. (cf. Mt. 6:25ff)
Now this may seem a little unfair. It seems that we are instructed to be persistent in prayer, asking for what we desire and the result is that we will always get the same thing. What about our desire? Don’t we ever get what we want because of our prayer? Jesus taught his disciples that “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) The conditions placed on that wishing are huge. “If you abide in me.” “If my words abide in you.” These are the conditions that govern our will so that whatever we wish will be done. J. Neville Ward in his book, The Use of Praying, puts it this way, “To pray in the name of Christ means to share his way of looking at life. And this must gradually change the desires we want to lift up to God, and ultimately our whole life of desire. We cannot continue our ‘learning Christ’ within the worship and teaching of the church and not expect inner change to begin. The place where that change first makes itself felt is our life of wanting.” So, we do get what we want, but what we want is first completely transformed into what God is already wanting.
Another question we might raise is “when will God answer my prayer? It seems I have prayed for the same thing for years. Is God listening?” And to that question the answer is an unqualified, “Yes, are you?” Change is the fruit of prayer. If you have prayed for the same thing in the same way for years, something is wrong because you are not changing. I am not saying we should not be persistent in prayer. The gospels make it clear that persistence is expected in prayer. In Luke (11:1-13), we note that Jesus assumes this approach with his disciples. He tells the disciples to make petitions or supplications often and directly.
Practitioners of supplication have noted that prayer is entering into God’s master plan God’s way. Does prayer make any difference? Yes, when you become available to be used as part of the Kingdom, the strategy can change. More hands make changes in the work roster. There is no scientific causal link between events in the universe and one’s prayer. However, there is a qualitative difference in the way energy is allocated. When your intention is for the good of another, it cannot also be for that person’s downfall. Your agreeing with the cosmic power of God for what is at stake in the world cannot be used in any other way. There is a kind of cumulative calculus that is not countable. This does not produce visible results like magic tricks—if you pray a certain way, there will be a particular, and immediate, result. Rather, you love others by holding them in the loving gaze of a loving God. By paying attention, with God, you increase the attention paid.
Paul, in Ephesians 6:18-20, urges that prayer be constant. He assumes that the Ephesians’ desires are for what God wants. He lays his assumption bare in the first sentence, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” There is no simple formula to accomplish praying in the spirit. As in, “in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, AMEN.” To pray in the Spirit is to be in the Spirit, to plunge into a relationship that swallows one up and to be there, praying as the Spirit would pray.
When we pray each day at the Hermitage, we remember that to be used as pray-ers is simply to pray. And in that prayer we listen to how God might be calling us to actually become part of someone’s “answer.” To do what I can do, is to be part of prayer. To offer up what I cannot do, is to be part of prayer. In fact, all we can ever do is be part of prayer. Mr. Ward again helps us understand, “Truly Christian prayer is part of the eternal prayer and sacrifice of the great High Priest. Our prayer is Christian prayer as we enter into the self-offering of Christ, as we want to be part of God’s purpose and channels through which [God’s] love can act.” This is the central task of prayer, to ask constantly, “Am I part of God’s purpose and a channel through which God’s love can act?”
“I do desire to understand a little of your Truth which my heart already believes and loves. I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I do believe so that I may understand; and what is more, I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.”