I wanted to continue with this brief series on prayer by addressing emotion in prayer.
I have seen both extremes -- the first is the perfunctory prayer of the polished professional. He may use majestic language, and metrical precision, but the prayer itself lacks anything that would indicate that the person was addressing a Holy and Transcendent God. His prayer sounds more like a project update to his employer as opposed to communication with God Himself!
On the other extreme you have the person who cannot open their mouth in prayer without going into convulsions of weeping, and moaning. I completely understand that there are times when you may be overcome with emotion; as anyone at our church could tell you, I have been there many times. Rather, I am addressing the guy who cries at exactly 2:01 into his final prayer (coincidently, just before the altar call!). This, all too often, is manipulative and not truly indicative of the heart condition of the pray-er.
Is there a proper place for both emotion and structure in prayer? You bet there is! Especially when a pastor stands before his people praying for them. There is definitely a place for feeling overwhelmed by the emotion of being the under-shepherd of God's people, but there should also be the desire to say something of meaning that will lift the people into God's presence.
Let's briefly look at the prayer of Solomon as he dedicated the Temple in 2nd Chronicles 6. Do you think he was emotional? I would imagine so! His father had desired to build the Temple, but God had chosen Solomon -- that alone is a bit awe-inspiring, isn't it? And then, there was the wish of his father, David, that he complete the structure. There is a lot of emotion if you follow the story through in 2nd Chronicles. Yet, we see here a well-composed and transcendent prayer!
2nd Chronicles 6 -- "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart, who have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day.
Notice the recognition of God in this opening; Solomon is cognizant of who it is that he is addressing -- a faithful, covenant-keeping God!
Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, 'You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk in my law as you have walked before me.' Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David.
Here, Solomon 'reminds' God of the promises that He spoke to his father David.
"But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. "If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath and comes and swears his oath before your altar in this house, then hear from heaven and act and judge your servants, repaying the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness. "If your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and they turn again and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to them and to their fathers. "When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance. "If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemies besiege them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own sorrow and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear from heaven your dwelling place and forgive and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways, for you, you only, know the hearts of the children of mankind, that they may fear you and walk in your ways all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers. "Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear from heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. "If your people go out to battle against their enemies, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to you toward this city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause. "If they sin against you -- for there is no one who does not sin -- and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to a land far or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity, saying, 'We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,' if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their captivity to which they were carried captive, and pray toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you.
Here Solomon makes supplication for his people, and seems to cover every possible scenario -- it is apparent that he gave his prayer some thought, yet it does not feel wooden, and rote in any way!
Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayer of this place. "And now arise, O LORD God, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let your saints rejoice in your goodness. O LORD God, do not turn away the face of your anointed one! Remember your steadfast love for David your servant."
And finally he closes with a plea for the Lord to enjoin His people! What a magnificent prayer! There is emotion and there is structure, and what happens out of this?
2nd Chronicles 7:1, 2 -- As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD's house.
Oh, that our prayers might evoke out of God a like response, that He would come upon us in such a powerful way!
O, Lord, our plea is that we would approach Your throne with boldness, yet with the awe and respect due the Creator of the Universe. Lord, we pray that we would not be tawdry in our emotions, yet let our hearts be broken for the lost, the wayward and the hurting. Let our prayers be respectful and not flippant -- Lord, fill our prayer life with the joy of knowing that through the finished work of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we can come to the Creator of the Universe with our supplications, confessions and petitions and You will hear us! It is in the name of our all-sufficient Savior that we pray. AMEN
“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -
Sunday, April 08, 2007
I wanted to continue with this brief series on prayer by addressing emotion in prayer.