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).


JohnLDrury said…

I dig this a lot. Thanks.

A question: could you tell me more about the relation between the "two paradigmatic prayers" as you call them? Is there any significance to the fact that the Lord's Prayer comes to us in the form of a prescription ("pray like this...") while the Gethsemane Prayer is narrated as a description of a particular event ("he fell to the ground and prayed...")? I'm with you on the significance of Gethsemane, especially in light of Maximus' wisdom on the matter, but I guess I'm just wondering how to think through the relation between the two very different texts. How does one interpret the other? How they together shape Christian prayer?

Okay, thanks.
Very nice, David. And the Psalms are our primary prayerbook! :-)
Chris: Thanks for the reminder about the Psalms. Maybe that should be thesis 11?

John: Yeah, that's an important point. I'd have to think more about it. I suppose talking about the imitation of Christ might be important here. Any thoughts?
This is good stuff, David.

On the Lords Prayer, however - I would like to see a comment made about this not being only a pattern, but also a prayer that we are invited to pray as it stands.
Robert said…
Thanks for this. Excellent theses.
kim fabricius said…
Most impressive of all, David, is that these theses could only have come from one whose life is steeped in prayer. Many thanks - and a request that I may plunder these theses if I ever re-revise my own "propositions" on prayer!

On the Lord's Prayer, it is interesting (a) that we have it in two different forms, and (b) that in Luke it is introduced by the disciples' asking Jesus not "Teach us a prayer" but "Teach us to pray." So, yes, more a pattern than a rote. In Matthew, by the way, the Lord's Prayer is the hinge on which the Sermon on the Mount turns.
Brad East said…
These theses are wonderful. I have a question about #3, though: Of course, I agree that prayer isn't magic, but whether prayer "compels God to act differently" needs further parsing out. Scripture seems to speak to various times when prayer (or prayerful action) "changes" God's mind or plan. Obviously, we may qualify or nuance such stories with preconceived notions of God's sovereignty or providence, but the basic textual claim seems to be that prayer can "change" God in some way. That is, God can be moved by us -- which, to me, sounds like good news.
I will be sure to link these. They are great!

BTW, and not unrelated to prayer, I am starting a series on moral discernment. I would appreciate any input or participation from those who regularly read here.
bruce hamill said…
David, where are you? It's been a while since you blogged this and I'm missing your stuff
roger flyer said…
Very thoughtful, David. Thank you!

Thanks so much for your kind words about my post on Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse"! I am so delighted to know another person in this linked set of theologically-minded blogs who also is devoted to his work. I'm looking forward to getting to know your fireandrose better, too.

Janet from thelandofunlikeness
Hurray, hurrah. "In a stunning move," Fox has given Dollhouse a second season! (Probably the lowest-ratings show ever to be renewed.)

And guess what? It was all because of my "Swansong"! Well, actually, the impressive pre-sales of the Season One DVD helped and so did the DVR and online streaming numbers. I'm sure the raves of criics over the final episodes didn't hurt.

So watch the DVD this summer and get ready for next season, dear friends.
Wow, great news! Thanks for the heads-up.