Prayer has a formative impact on our lives—the manner or form of our prayers actually shapes the contours and character of our lives. So frequently, it would seem, our prayers begin with our experience: something in our lives occasions a particular prayer, typically a petition or request. And thus the content of our prayers is determined by what is happening in our lives. But perhaps the reverse should actually be the norm. Without doubt, the circumstances of our lives will inform our prayers. But perhaps what should be happening is that our prayers would inform our lives, that our praying would alter our living, that our prayers would shape the contours and content of our daily experience.
PRAYER AS FORMATION
In this way of living and praying, we would allow our deepest convictions—our faith and our theological vision of God, ourselves, and our world—to inform our prayers and be the means by which we know the transforming power of grace in our lives. More particularly, we would choose that the reign of Christ—the kingdom of God—would increasingly be that which defines our lives, our ways of being, living, and responding to our world. We would find that the salvation of God is not merely something that God has done for us—in Christ, on the cross—but also something that God is doing in us.
To this end, our prayers play a crucial role. Indeed, if transformation does not happen through our prayers, it likely does not happen. This is why it is so crucial that we teach new Christians how to pray and that in our patterns and approaches to congregational life we are consistently coming back to the fundamentals of prayer. And this is why all of us, older and newer Christians alike, are always coming back to the basics of the form and structure of formative prayer.
When we pray “thy kingdom come,” should not our prayer be an act of recalibration? Could our praying be an act of intentional alignment and realignment? That is, in our prayer our vision of the kingdom purposes of God will be deepened and broadened; we will be drawn into the reality of Christ risen and now on the throne of the universe. And thus through our prayers we not only pray for the kingdom but also come to increasingly live within the kingdom, under the reign of Christ.
This last point is crucial. So frequently we pray as though God is passive and we are trying to get God to act. But could it be that God is always active? And that in our praying we are aware of how God is actually always at work, bringing his kingdom into effect, and we are seeing and responding to the kingdom even as we pray “thy kingdom come”? In the process, we are increasingly more aligned and in tune with the kingdom, more and more living our lives, individually and in community, in a manner that consistently reflects, in word and deed, the coming kingdom of God.
3 MOVEMENTS IN OUR PRAYERS
Can we do this? Certainly, but only if we are intentional. We need to consider the merits of a very focused and purposeful approach to our prayers. Yes, there is a place for spontaneity. And most certainly there is a place for freeform prayers where we express to God our immediate thoughts and feelings. But when we speak of our formation in Christ and our participation in the kingdom—where the kingdom of God increasingly defines us more than anything else—we should perhaps be focused and purposeful. We can consider the value of consistency and even routine, an approach to prayer that has an order to it. We can even speak of a liturgy, meaning that our prayers have a regular pattern to them so that over time our hearts and minds and lives are increasingly conformed to the very thing for which we are praying.
In this kind of intentionality it is very helpful to think in terms of three movements in our prayers, three forms of prayer by which we respond to and learn to live in the reality that Christ is risen and active in our world—that in and through Christ the reign of God is coming. Three movements, with an intentional sequence.
First, we give thanks. We see and respond with gratitude to the ways in which God is already at work in our world and in our lives. We begin here. We begin by seeing the evidence of the reign of Christ—the ways that God is already at work in our lives and in our world. And we give thanks. We pray “thy kingdom come” in a way that not only acknowledges that God is already at work but celebrates and gives thanks for this work. We cannot pray “thy kingdom come” if we are not grateful for how the kingdom has come and is coming. Thanksgiving is foundational to the Christian life and thus foundational to prayer.
Second, we make confession—the essential realignment of those who long to live under the reign of Christ. We pray “thy kingdom come,” and very soon we also pray—if we follow the sequence of the Lord’s Prayer—“forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We practice confession. It is clear from Scripture that when the kingdom is announced and when the kingdom is at hand—present, in our midst, and recognized—we respond with confession (Mark 1:15).
Confession is essential if we truly recognize and believe in the coming of the kingdom. If we have kingdom eyes, the genius of our response is that we see where there is a disconnect. We see and feel that our lives are not being lived ina way that is consistent with the kingdom. We cannot pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” unless and until we see the ways that our lives are not lived in consistency with the will of God. And so, recognizing the kingdom, we repent: we practice confession. Repentance, then, is not merely a matter of feeling bad about something we have said or done, but rather an act of intentional alignment—or better, realignment—with the coming of the reign of Christ.
And third, we practice discernment—considering where and how God is calling us to speak and act as participants in the kingdom of God. We pray “thy kingdom come” as those who are also called to be full participants, in word and deed, in what God is doing in the world. And so when we pray we of course ask—or better, discern—how we are called in our lives to witness to the kingdom.
We are not merely observers; we are engaged. We are invited—more, actually called as agents of God’s purposes in the world. Our words and our deeds matter. In some mysterious way, even though God and God alone brings about the kingdom, our lives witness to the kingdom—our words, our work. And so when we pray “thy kingdom come,” we also necessarily must pray, How, oh Lord, are you calling me to make a difference in your kingdom purposes for our world?
Taken from Teach Us to Pray by Gordon T. Smith. Copyright (c) 2018 by Gordon T. Smith Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Gordon T. Smith (PhD, Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University) is the president of Ambrose University and Seminary in Calgary, Alberta, where he also serves as professor of systematic and spiritual theology. He is an ordained minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and a teaching fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the author of many books, including Courage and Calling, Called to Be Saints, Spiritual Direction, Consider Your Calling, and The Voice of Jesus.