Todd Buurstra, D. Min., Pastor of Worship and Witness
What is Prayer? Keeping Company with God Psalm 85
During Epiphany season we let God’s light warm our passion through a religious bestseller. This year in sermon and small group we are studying Prayer by Philip Yancey. Yancey begins his study of Prayer by asking what is prayer?
There was a young man who suspected an older man of living such a blessed life that the young man believed that here was a saint who must spend a lot of time on his knees. So he decided to secretly follow him for a full day to see. The young man peeked in when the older man awoke—no prayer. He followed him to work darting behind trees—no prayer. Surely he spends an hour praying at night, the young man thought. But tip-toeing in the shadows of his house—no prayer. So finally the young man tiptoed upstairs slid under the bed to time his bedtime prayer. Must be at least an hour! He thought. The older man opened the sheets, slid right in, turned off the light, and said,God, thank you for talking with me all day, Amen.Not that a set prayer time isn’t important, but that saint understood Yancey’s definition of prayer as keeping company with God. You will learn how to keep God’scompany today!
Yancey begins his book by looking at prayer from our perspective, and then from God’s perspective, so that we keep good company with each other.
Prayer from our perspective begins with the Latin root of the word prayer: precarius—precarious. You can see this from our church Prayer Chain. How many requests are we praise God for the beautiful day… for God’s infinite love? No, they tend to be for the precarious situations of life: cancer, sickness, death. As Thomas Merton said: Prayer is an expression of who we are… We are living incompleteness.
More Americans will pray than have sex this week; however, many of the prayers are foxhole prayers. Foxhole prayers only involve God in trouble whereas keeping company allows God into our whole life in a real way. That last part is important. As I get acquainted with Mark Swart I find that I most appreciate his honesty. He dares be so honest as to critique my sermons! I like that because without honesty what do you have?
So in keeping with the Psalms Yancey tells us to pray honestly. He quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel we cannot make Him visible to us, but we can… p. 43 The psalmist chides God in 85:5: What?! Will you be angry with us forever! This is very challenging for me because in the church we’re known for polite, positive prayers. But most of the Bible’s prayers in the psalms are, to paraphrase Deborah Tannen, “ritual bitching;” i.e., lamenting the wrongs of life. Do we dare be that honest with God?
From God’s side, the God of Truth wants a real relationship with us. When I visit a Shinto shrine you put your money in the offering box before you pray. Apparently money gets the attention of the gods. From God’s side prayer isn’t a transaction but a relationship. And in this relationship God wants the real me. God can handle that. Recently I’ve prayed, God, how could someone do that to me! God listened lovingly. That cooled my anger so that I was open to the Spirit’s whispered prompt, I wonder how they feel? Till finally I found a fair way to handle it. The real God engaged the real me. Honesty to the God of truth is a major way that Yancey helps us keep company with God. This week be real to God, and let God be real to you. You’ll connect.