“The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many ‘safe’ gods to the God whose love has no limits.”
--Henri J.M. Nouwen
When the church decides to pray it is often frightening. What I mean is this. Prayer is perhaps the greatest power offered to believers as they attempt to follow after Jesus and proclaim the Kingdom of God. If we’re being honest, that’s not really a revolutionary idea--people always talk in cliché fashion about “the power of prayer” (in your best Bible Belt, Southern accent). But when people talk about prayer in this way they are very often referring to God’s power to give them what they want, if only they would ask. It’s very often self-centered attempts to reach one’s goals or aspirations. But when prayer becomes this selfless, sacrificial act of humility before the Lord, the possibilities of the Kingdom are endless. Prayer is perhaps the greatest evidence that we are truly sons and daughters of God. This greatest privilege of Jesus the Son has become our own. And if we are given the freedom to ask in the same way that Christ has been, then how much awaits those of us who choose to ask! That’s why I like what Nouwen says here, that prayer leads us to “true uncertainties.” All the things we gave up on long ago are much more possible than we initially realized. As uncertain as they seem, they are true.
But this means prayer is frightening in another way altogether. It’s scary to let go of our certainties, and to stop relying on ourselves. Prayer is a powerful act of self-denial, whereby we fully surrender our will to that of our Father in Heaven. That kind of surrender is scary for people who are convinced they are in control, and like living under this illusion. It is frightening to give up on our striving and simply ask. We prefer strategies and vision statements, when the most strategic and powerful thing we could do is come like children to our Father. That kind of humility is hard for believers. Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time praying--because prior to praying we are too busy securing whatever outcome we want via our hard work and ingenuity. But understand prayer is not merely “letting go and letting God” (again, best Bible-thumping accent). Prayer is active, it’s persistent, and it is more productive than it appears at first glance; and yet, it is nothing more than the opening of our hands to receive from the Father. Each time we humble ourselves to pray we find that God accomplishes through us that which he intended, whether by the means we would choose or not. This humble opening of the hands is perhaps the most productive thing we can do as we look toward a new year serving the Lord together, scary or not.