Most of us, I suspect, would immediately say, 'No, that's not me.' Most of us are sure that we don’t pray enough, for long enough, for the right things, or well enough to be described as a 'person of prayer'. But it's worth stopping to ask ourselves what this great 'person of prayer' might be like. We might suggest a person kneeling in prayer at 4am, clothed simply, probably older, with an enraptured look on their face. Or someone who spends hours and hours in prayer each day. Or someone who prays impressively. But are these good descriptions? Do they reflect the Bible's attitudes? Some of these ideas about prayer aren't helpful – they come from a view of prayer many of us have inherited without thinking, and so they take us away from seeing prayer as an expression of a dependent relationship with our loving Heavenly Father. We're going to examine these ideas and critique them by looking at one man’s rediscovery of prayer through reading the Bible.
Many wrong ideas about prayer have come from mystical pietism. This was imported into English-speaking Evangelical Christianity particularly in the later part of the 19th century and had its roots in medieval mysticism. The idea at the heart of it all was that knowing God was hard work, and not open to ordinary people. A person came to know God through spending hours and hours praying and meditating on God. Then they would have a climactic experience which would often take the shape of a vision or vision-like moment. This experience was particularly important because it would change the person into someone who was more like God and less like other people. When the person was like God, then they would be able to know God.
This process had a high cost. A person would have to cut themselves off from other people and was not free to love their neighbour with all their energy, but had to sink their best time each day into prayer. They were not free to ask God for things as they prayed because they had to be entirely focused on God. Prayer wasn’t about relating to God or depending on him. It was all about earning the right to know God. And in the end, a person who was a 'man or woman of prayer' became different to everyone else according to mysticism: they were like God in a way that ordinary people could not be like God, and they had to sacrifice much to achieve this.
This approach was common in the time of John Calvin. He lived in the 16th century and was a minister of the gospel in Geneva at a time when the gospel was being rediscovered across Europe and many people were engaged in mission and church planting. Calvin was responsible for some of the key resources which fueled this, including a Bible college (known as the 'Academy') in Geneva. Many people from all over Europe attended this college, and went back to start churches and spread the gospel in their homelands, often under severe persecution.
Read more: http://www.afes.org.au/_magazine/view?magazine=3763831fb41c661759960f9bba0c80be
What Prayer Means: A Rediscovery of Biblical Prayer
Are you a person of prayer?
Friday, 16 April 2010, 8:37 (EST)