A Call To Reasoned Prayer

Anita Ruis, Nov 12, 2020, 4:17 AM
David Ruis National Director
A Call to Reasoned Prayer.jpg

Lately we have found ourselves in a number of prayer meetings, representing different settings, as well as different facets of the church. In all these interactions there is a clear sense of awakening to prayer. We have helped host and been participants in international, national, regional and local prayer calls within our Vineyard family as well as with groups like the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

We've been immersed in prayer like we haven't for a long time.

The recent stirring and commitment to pray is unmistakable, and for the most part, beautiful. We are left with an awareness of the Spirit's help and the need for humility. As Romans 8 describes, we don't even really know what to pray, but the Spirit steps in and releases an articulate groaning of intercession that is too profound for words. Similarly, Jesus, our lead intercessor, empathizing high priest and brother, gives us confidence to approach the throne of grace in our time of need as He maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 4:14)

Dependence on the work of the Spirit and the Son is key. We pray from a place of rest (Hebrews 4) rather than that of striving or demanding. We are to be marked with childlike faith. Central to the cry of intercession is the interaction of child to father. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36) and Paul (Romans 8; Galatians 4:6) use the Aramaic for father – Abba – to address God out of this relationship of personal intimacy. It is worth noting that both in the Romans text and the story of Jesus in Gethsemane, the use of Abba in prayer is in the midst of great need and distress. Patent surrender and trust to the will of the Father is the end game.

For the most part this has been the tenor of the prayer we've experienced.

We must say however, that there have been moments when we've been baffled, even confused. Leaning into dependence and rest can at times be interpreted by some as too weak, or even lacking in faith. It can also seem like we're praying at God rather than to, or with, Him. Then there are moments when it feels like someone is instructing the group, cloaked in prayer, informing God and everyone else within ear shot about what should be done, why it should happen and how it will be accomplished. Other times you hear, or read, contradicting prayers confidently spoken, or even declared, in the name of Jesus.

What is happening? Where do these prayers go? How do we talk about this?

Isaiah chapter one may give us at least a clue. It appears that God has some of the same frustrations with prayer that we do. In fact, He might not be listening as much as we assume.

In verse sixteen we read:

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.

The back story in Isaiah One is not that much different from our own world today. Society, even the most well-meaning and religious among them, have misinterpreted Gods heart and intent for people. As a result, all they end up doing is wearing out the temple floor with their kneeling, pacing and activity (verse 12) and actually aren't connecting with God at all. What they thought was good, even required by the Lord, God actually calls evil.

Instead of seeking justice, rebuking the oppressor, defending the orphans, and caring for the widows, the people had drifted away from God without even realizing it. The vertical has become divorced from the horizontal. Jesus has to address this same disconnect in Matthew 5:24 encouraging people to leave the altar of worship in order to repair shattered relationships or their sacrifice would be mute. The people, without even realizing it, are now for all intents and purposes sacrificing to idols which only have the religious face of God and emanate a heart of stone. His gracious presence and soft heart are long gone. Blessing has become individualized and self-serving, losing sight of neighbour, other and justice. The temple has come to represent power and prestige rather than a place of joyful surrender and worship. It is to be a house of prayer for all people rather than a place of exclusion, and as Jesus would still be addressing nearly eight hundred years later, it has become a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13). Yet they still think they are doing the right thing.

Into this wickedness and desolation, God extends an invitation in verse eighteen.

Come now, and let us reason together.

This invitation is profound on so many levels. God, in his extreme mercy, is inviting dialogue. Challenging the perception of prayer that has become formulas, rote liturgy and self-serving mantras, God invites reasonable conversation. Astounding. One translation sees the Hebrew indicating that the reasoning spoken of here is that of walking and talking together (The Voice Translation).

John Gill (1697-1771), a pastor, biblical scholar and theologian who founded the Metropolitan Chapel of which Charles Spurgeon would later become the pastor, says this of this text:

when the Lord was pleased to encourage them to draw near to him, and come and reason with him: not at the bar of his justice; there is no reasoning with him there; none can contend with him, or answer him, one of a thousand; if he marks iniquity in strict justice, none can stand before him; there is no entering the lists with him upon the foot of justice, or at its bar: but at the bar of mercy, at the throne of grace; there the righteous may dispute with him from his declarations and promises, as well as come with boldness to him; and at the altar and sacrifice of Christ, and at the fountain of his blood: here sinners may reason with him from the virtue and efficacy of his blood and sacrifice; and from the Lord's proclamation of grace and mercy through him; and from his promises to forgive repenting and confessing sinners: and here God reasons with sensible souls from his own covenant promises and proclamations to forgive sin; from the aboundings of his grace over abounding sin; from the righteousness of Christ to justify, his blood to cleanse from sin, and his sacrifice to atone for it; and from the end of his coming into the world to save the chief of sinners.

Gills Exposition of the Bible

Our life in prayer, both individual and communal, flourishes most when it reflects mercy and humility. It then becomes reasonable. More Christlike. It is informed. It listens as well as speaks. It embraces mystery as well as confidence. It reaches for the kingdom now and the kingdom coming. There is room for doubt and questions as well as certainty. There is space for lament and intercession as well as declaration and celebration. 2 Timothy 1:7 captures this, particularly in the King James, we do not have a spirit of fear, but of "power and of love and of a sound mind."

We think that John M. Perkins, an African American pastor, activist, bible teacher and co-founder of the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association), sums it up pretty well. This quote is taken from an article written by Mr. Perkins in 2015 reflecting on Isaiah 1:

I think people expect me to have it all together as a Christian leader, but in my old age I find myself even more aware of my sin, my own need for forgiveness, and how difficult it can be to humble myself before God and others. But it is when we humble ourselves that we acknowledge the brokenness of all people and that even really good people, have probably benefitted from the systems of oppression and slavery. When we humble ourselves, we begin to identify with the pain and suffering of others. And this is when God says that he will hear us. This is when we are able to reason together and our worship becomes something that is pleasing to God, rather than the futile, hypocritical worship described earlier Isaiah 1.

Come! Let Us Reason Together! A Vision for Dialogue in an Age of Division

So, let's pray. Let us pray like we never have before. Let us not shy away from fervency and passion, for it is this type of engaged prayer that makes a difference (James 5:16). Yet we must walk and talk. Listen to the Spirit and to each other. Love God and love neighbor. Enquire often of the Lord as we examine our hearts as to our attitudes and posturing in prayer. Give space to listen well to each other in the place of worship and intercession. Understand that at times our greatest expression of worship may be in the giving of a cup of cold water while the song remains silent. Know that our deepest expression of intercession at times will be as we advocate for the oppressed on our way to and from the prayer room.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14

David and Anita Ruis


Replies


Thanks for your thoughts on this, David and Anita. Remarkably, Isaiah 1 was my reading this very morning and I too was gripped by its strong call for a strong horizontal spirituality that aligns with our words/claims of a vertical one.