In my reflection of last Sunday on prayer, I shared an experience of a prayer session in a bus travelling to Lagos. It would be recommended that you read the story in Fides Newspaper Sunday 23/7/17 page 22. It is a typical prayer we usually hear either before a commercial bus takes off or during the journey. I mentioned that the prayer needs to be purified more to qualify as mature Christian prayer. But purified of what?
The prayer dynamic was more of an outburst of inner feeling of threat, anxiety, helplessness and sense of abandonment. These feelings cannot be totally blotted out from our human emotional chamber. But they can be integrated into our faith experience. Now and again, along the journey of life we experience turbulence. Believing that Jesus sits within, is present in the boat and that nothing can happen without his approval, can make a difference. He gives us the reassurance: “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20). What, we need to do, like the apostles did, is to believe strongly and be careful how we paddle the boat. Jesus is our friend (Jn 15:15). He cannot deceive us when he says: “Be not afraid; I go before you always; come and follow me, and I will give you rest” (cf Lyric Be not afraid by John Michael Talbot).
Overbearing consciousness of Enemy Presence
Perceptible in the prayer pattern is an overbearing consciousness of the enemy lurking everywhere around us. Greatest among these enemies are demons, wicked individuals hindering progress in our business ventures and other spiritual forces. Many believe that these are constantly waging war against the travellers. Many appear not to be aware of the immense acts of God's love that is flowing within and around us at every moment. Think of how many vehicles that travel safely to and fro on our road daily. Think of how many people investing the resources of their brain in medical laboratories to invent drug to fight HIV.
The instruction to “close the eyes”, to “raise the hands”, all in commanding tone, gives the impression of bracing oneself for spiritual battle. Our body language often gives the impression it is we who do the battle. On the contrary this is what the Lord says to Israel and to us too: “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem …. Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God's” (2 Chronicles 20:15). We need to develop a child-like trust in these words in our prayer.
Appropriation of spiritual forces as weapon of defence/attack
The two most powerful weapons of defence as well as for attacking are “blood of Jesus” and “holy ghost fire”. Holy Ghost is presented as destroying fire sent to scatter and destroy the enemy. It can do so. But the major attribute of the Holy Spirit is that He is “re-creator”, “best Gift of God’s love”, “living Spring”, “sweet unction”, “true love”, “God's Right Hand that teaches little ones to speak and to understand, “blessed Light” (cf Come Holy Ghost, Creator Come). “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. To the one who believes in Me… 'Streams of living water will flow from within him”(Jn 7:37f).
Inclination to materialistic sense of progress
Effectiveness of prayer is measured mainly in terms of safety of life and material achievement. The Goal of Prayer is more of “this-worldly”; that is, more of worldly welfare of the individual, his family, his business, his good health etc.
What is wrong with them?
First, this pattern of prayer has not gone far beyond our African traditional attitude to Prayer. One who prays that way, even though he be a Christian by baptism, remains an African traditional Religious Practitioner in one's attitude to prayer. A typical traditional African lives in tension brought about mainly by fear. One has to regularly offer sacrifices to the deities especially the most dreaded ones within one's vicinity in order to be in their good books. Appeasing these deities in that way would merit one their protection against wicked individuals and spirits. One can be struck dead if one neglects this duty.
Secondly, the prayer focused more on exercise of power. This is the sense inherent in the language of “I command”, “holy ghost fire”, “so shall it be” and other similar mantras. In traditional African setting, one can hire a stronger deity to hunt one's offender even to death. Jesus did not approve of this. Remember that as Jesus and his disciples were going down to Jerusalem, he wanted to pass through a Samaritan village, but the villagers refused him “because He was heading for Jerusalem.” His disciples James and John (called sons of thunder because of their hot temper) requested Jesus to allow them to invoke fire from heaven to consume that village. “But Jesus turned and rebuked them” (cf Luke 9:53-55).
What can we learn from Solomon's prayer?
At Gibeon God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said to him: “ask what I shall give you”. Surprisingly, he did not begin with “I would want to …”, long life, riches, victory over his enemies. Instead, Solomon adopted a child-like style of communication. His prayer has a force of deepening intimacy. It shows the following characteristics:
· Profound humility and personal touch. He used the affectionate words “O Lord my God”, calls himself “your servant”, and “a little child”, who does not “know how to go out or come in”(v7). It portrays Solomon as being conscious of standing before a loving God who at all times and in all circumstances merits our adoration.
· Praises God's steadfast love to his father. He went down the memory lane to enumerate God's blessings for his family. “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant, my father, David”(v.6). True to your steadfast love, you gave him a son to sit on his throne. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of his father, David”. In all situation it is essential to remember how God has been “delivering us from dangerous moments. He often carries us on eagle's wing to lead us to him by being more appreciative (cf Ex 19:4).
· Regard for the values that his father lived for before God. “He walked before you in
faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you”. Christian prayer is basically a response to God's steadfast love. Such response should show the values of faithfulness, concrete sense of justice, namely giving God what is due to Him and to fellow human beings too.
· Respect and positive attitude towards his people. Solomon called his people “a great
people” “so numerous” to be numbered. Prayer when it is truly Christian in nature should aim at empowering fellow human being. At the height of his relation with his disciples, Jesus tells them: “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (cf Jn 15:15).
· Finally, prays for a quality of heart capable of discerning between good and evil.
This prayer so much moved God that he not only granted him wisdom but also the material things he did not put as priority. This shows that Christian Prayer should first and foremost aim at sharpening one's mind to be able to discern between what is good and do it and what is evil to avoid it. That is the way of making God's kingdom to come on earth. And that is again the ultimate goal of a Christian prayer. That is the message of the parables
Message of the Parables
The parables, like Jesus' sermon on the Mount, aims at renewal of attitude. They aim at widening our horizon of interpretation regarding the things happening within and around us. They aim at reshaping and enriching our image of God and our world vision.
The parable of the sower, for instance, aims at showing that the coming of the kingdom on earth that Jesus Christ embodies and to which his followers should embody too, need not happen like a military take-over. Rather it needs a patient and faithful adherence of some people to the Good News. That is why even when some seeds were eaten up by birds; and others died off for want of good soil and yet others were chocked by thorns, there are others that bore fruit, first in thirties, then in sixties, and then in hundreds. See also the parable of the mustard seed. The kingdom grows by an internal give-and-take love dynamics.
Again the parable of the weeds among wheat calls for tolerance. A follower of Christ needs to be patient even when evil rears its heads in the midst of a lot of good going on in the world. A Christian should hope and trust that at the end the love of God will overcome the power of evil. The need to establish and deepen Intimacy with God is most important in our prayer. Once this is made priority in our life, every other thing can follow. Hence, Jesus Christ, both in his teaching and in the pattern of prayer he left for his disciples, shows that uppermost in the life of his follower is seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness, every other thing will be granted (cf Matt. 6:33). Our prayer in all its forms needs to reflect this priority too.