People of faith should be people of prayer. Perhaps it's a marker of the contemporary spiritual landscape that prayer seems so rare. Still, at the least, times of stress and conflict usually drive us to our knees. Because the past week has been such a political and relational mess thousands have marched and millions have prayed. What we've prayed and how we've prayed it has even been a point of critical mass as well. So, let's think about it for a minute. What should be the substance and spirit of our prayers?
Sure, I'm no judge of anyone's prayer life. Even in retirement I would characterize myself as a prayer slacker, a mere novice shuffling through the metrics of a disciplined devotional experience. With that said, however, social media this week revealed one level of frustration and confusion about prayer that concerns me to the point of further study, and now comment. It involves praying Scripture. it has resulted in my own prayer for the times, "Lord teach me to pray your Word".
One FaceBook friend, a fellow pastor warned our cohort of praying the promises of God for our nation that were intended for Israel, God's chosen people. Two Scriptures were specifically mentioned. You know them. They've probably been prayed more than any other verses over the past couple of days.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face
and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin
and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his
Psalm 33:12, ESV
Yes, of course, this warning was offered with the best intentions to guide us in proper translation and interpretation of Scripture, what is known as hermeneutics. We must guard against appropriating the promises of God to Israel as our own. Still, let's get real about praying Scripture for a moment. When I pray 2 Chronicles 7:14 I'm not equating our nation with Israel or expecting any pro forma response from the Almighty. In most instances I'm praying that our nation, especially those of us who are professing believers, will humble ourselves, and pray and seek God's face and turn from our wicked ways. It's a prayer about our prideful ways, distance from God, and the wickedness that suddenly defines us.
That God blesses humility in his people is certainly an accepted biblical truth worthy of our prayers. James spelled it out more clearly---
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the
James 4:6, ESV
Praying that we humble ourselves can't be wrong in any measure.
In the second warning verse there's no doubt Jesus commissioned his church to the nations with the expectation that the gospel would be proclaimed to them (see Matthew 24:14, Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 13:10) and many would believe. Since the four circles of that commission (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth) begins right here, it cannot be poor interpretation to pray that our nation's God would be the Lord God. That is always my prayer.
Most Americans haven't studied hermeneutics. At the same time, most Americans understand our need for prayer, especially in times of crisis or hardship. The people at Pew Research indicate that 55% of our population prays everyday, 21% weekly or monthly, and even 20% of religiously unaffiliated pray daily. As a means of forming unity in our prayers, and a genuine desire to pray God's will, I have consistently advised people to pray Scripture. Let's leave the interpreting of the prayerful heart up to God. Only he can know the intent and spiritual motivation that drives us to our knees and lifts our hearts toward him.
Again, practical James affirmed prayer. "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16). Jesus clarified this prayerful heart even further when he said, "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:19). In his First Epistle John gave instruction to further guide us. He wrote, "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him" (1 John 5:14-15).
Our confidence in praying is in God, that he will hear us and grant what is asked according to his will. And, that's why praying Scripture is so critical. It is a way for humans to discover agreement and pray according to his will.
These are certainly complex times. The nation is moving in diverse directions at a pace that is unprecedented. God's people should pray fervently, "without ceasing". And, praying Scripture gives us guidance from heaven, even for us flawed humans.