I am a fan of Sarah Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. In the book she references several fragments of prayers from Ted Loder’s Guerrillas of Grace. Because I am such a fan of Barton’s work I bought a copy of Loder’s book. I have been reading and praying through this excellent volume lately. (I published a post a few days ago with a prayer from this book). Something Loder says in his introduction got me thinking and reflecting. Here is what he said:
“For at last I believe life itself is a prayer, and the prayers we say shape the lives we live, just as the lives we live shape the prayers we say…”
This statement by Loder reminds me of a classic theological phrase: lex orandi, lex credendi. The phrase originates with Psosper of Aquitane in the 5th Century. It means, “The law of prayer is the law of faith.” To put it another way: “the Church believes as she prays.” Prayer is one of the primary places where we learn theology. How we pray to God informs how we think about God.
One of the most frequent ways scripture tells us about God is through prayer. Pay close attention to the opening and closing of Paul’s letters where he writes out his prayer. For example, in the opening of Philippians 1:3-11:
3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Some of the most memorable lines in scripture are, in context, prayers:
- “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
- “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)
- “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me my daily bread.” (Proverbs 30:7)
- The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
- “Sanctify them by your truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
- “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)
We have an entire book in our Bible that only has prayers: Psalms. These prayers are organized into five “books” or miniature collections. This organization is surely purposeful: it mimics the five books of the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The law and the prophets are incomplete without the poetry and prayer.
_________________________________________________________________Augustine in his Confessions moves seamlessly between prayer and other forms of discourse. One moment he is posing a question and the next moment he is praying. For example, here is a section from early on:
And how shall I call upon my God — my God and my Lord? For when I call on Him I ask Him to come into me. And what place is there in me into which my God can come — into which God can come, even He who made heaven and earth? Is there anything in me, O Lord my God, that can contain You?_________________________________________________________________The prayers we pray shape the lives we live. What we pray influences what we do. There is something to be said for spontaneous outbursts of our heart to God in prayer, but may we never neglect the prayers of saints that have been prayed for generations. For example, the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is a beautiful prayer that we all would do well to meditate on more:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
And all for thy mercy’s sake.
O divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving hat we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The lives we live shape the prayers we pray. Prayers are prayed out of lived human experience. They can not be done any other way. We pray from places of deep joy, but also from places of deep pain and sorrow. The psalms of scripture are not gun shy to display the deepest of human emotions. The darkest of all the psalms in the Psalter – Psalm 88 – ends without any ray of hope:
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.
The Church believes as she prays. Lex orandi, lex credendi.