Ten Theses on Prayer
1. Prayer is an act of faithful obedience to God. We pray as part of our discipleship to Jesus Christ. We are not compelled to pray; there is no law that demands prayer. Instead, prayer is an act of love which follows from our acknowledgment of the fact that God first loved us.
2. Prayer must conform to the two primary models of prayer in the New Testament: the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. The so-called “Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) is a template for all prayer in that it encapsulates the basic elements of prayer: the glorification of God’s name, the submission of our lives to God’s Kingdom, the humble request for our basic provisions, the penitential asking of forgiveness, and the petition for protection and deliverance from sin. The prayer in Gethsemane provides an even more fundamental picture of prayer in the total submission of our wills to the will of God. Seen from this perspective, prayer is not “getting something from God,” but an acknowledgment that God alone can act on our behalf. Prayer is an act of faithful submission to the sovereignty of God’s love. We must interpret all other passages about prayer in Scripture in the light of these two paradigmatic prayers.
3. Prayer is not magic. We do not pray because we think our words compel God to act differently. Prayer is not divine manipulation. The strict opposition to witchcraft and sorcery in Judaism and Christianity should extend to include those forms of prayer in which we expect our words to control or influence God to perform miracles.
4. The efficacy or worth of prayer is not dependent upon the result of a prayer. A prayer is not efficacious because it achieved some empirical “result”—a quantifiable answer. For example, the prayer for the health of a sick person is not worthwhile only because that person became well again, nor should it be deemed worthless because the person did not become well. We must expunge all notions of “success” from our concept of prayer. Prayer does not conform to our modern capitalistic ideas of what is successful; rather, the faith out of which prayer flows defines what is truly successful.
5. Prayer is a primarily an act of listening to God, rather than speaking to God. While prayer takes the form of speaking to God, it is properly a mode of receptivity toward God. Of course, we must take not the idea of “listening” literally. Prayer is not a form of information-gathering. Instead, prayer is a form of listening in that we attend to the Word of God as proclaimed in Scripture and preaching.
6. Prayer is a political act in that prayer acknowledges a Lord who stands over against Caesar. Prayer challenges all earthly claims to lordship—whether social, economic, political, or religious. In prayer we seek the face of the triune God and submit to this Lord alone. Prayer is implicitly the denial of lordship to any creature. Positively, prayer acknowledges the sole lordship of the triune YHWH—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
7. Prayer is the proper mode of all Christian worship. Prayer is definitive for what counts as true worship, since in prayer we are concerned with a concrete relationship between an I and a Thou, between the worshipping community and the worshipped God. Worship should not be about God. Instead, worship is a living relationship in which we commune with God. Prayer is therefore the concrete form that all worship should take.
8. Prayer is the living bond between the covenantal community and the God of the covenant. Prayer is not primarily an individual act, but rather a communal act between the people and God. The God who brings the covenantal community into being through the covenant of grace in Jesus Christ calls forth our faithful, loving response as a community through prayer and supplication.
9. Prayer is a groaning in the Spirit with all creation. According to Romans 8:18-27, all creation “waits with eager longing” for God’s apocalyptic in-breaking, which will free the creation from its bondage. Creation groans as in labor for the coming of God. As part of this creation, we “groan inwardly” in the power of the Spirit, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
10. Prayer is the cry of faith, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit of Jesus Christ bears witness that we are indeed children of God by bringing forth the primal cry of faith: “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6-7). All true prayer begins and ends with this cry. It is the mark of our identity as God’s covenantal people. It is the cry that defines us as God’s children, “and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).