Praying and groaning
Paul Helm offers some stimulating thoughts about prayer. While I am still thinking about some of his conclusions, or suggestions, I did appreciate some of his particular concerns, as set out in the paragraphps below. Too often our prayers turn into data recitals, as we parade – for whose benefit? God who knows all things? The people around us, who might be impressed with our demonstration that we might know all things? – the situation we are praying about before God. Says Helm:
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the provision of information. I have spent much of my adult life as a teacher and writer, engrossed in the world of ideas and arguments. I expect the students I teach to be able to absorb, understand, weigh and produce information. The more the merrier. But the point is that not all speech is primarily informative, and most certainly Christian petitionary and intercessory prayer is not primarily informative. Fellow-prayers in the prayer meeting may learn all sorts of things about Mr Smith when he prays publicly. But the living God is in a rather different position from our fellow worshippers in the pew. Does he need educating? Is he ignorant of any detail? Has he overlooked any of the needs of his people? . . .
So here is a paradox: we are not to pray to inform God because God already knows (as you might expect from what Scripture generally teaches about the knowledge and power of God), but we are nevertheless commanded to pray, and to pray without ceasing. But we are not heard for our much speaking. How is this paradox to be resolved? By noting and remembering that prayer is an expression of the desire by which we may receive what the Lord prepares to bestow, and continual prayer may therefore be evidence of a strong desire. So the paradox is solved once we realise that petitionary prayer has to do with desire, and such desire may be wordless, though not object-less.
I wonder if Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37 provides something of a paradigm for a holy assumption of what the Lord knows, a holy recital of what is grieving his own soul, and a holy petition that the Lord would act accordingly?