Prayer

A Prayer from the Birthday Boy

Forsyth 9.jpg‘O Lord, thou knowest our frame, and rememberest that we are dust. Pity the sorrows of such as are torn by undeserved pain. Refresh all that are worn by perpetual care. Light up the faith of the dying. And comfort the bereaved with Thy regard. Deliver the souls of those who are bound in the chain of their own misdeeds. And send Thy Pentecostal power and joy to those holy ones who have the world’s sin for a great burden upon their souls. We bear all our fear, and sin, and sorrow to the Redeemer who bears them all before Thee, and by His intercession heals them all’. – Peter T. Forsyth, Intercessory Services for Aid in Public Worship (Manchester: John Heywood, 1896), 19–20.

James K. Baxter: ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’

Wild Goose

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,
Inside and outside the fences,
You blow where you wish to blow.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the sun who shines on the little plant,
You warm him gently, you give him life,
You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the mother eagle with her young,
Holding them in peace under your feathers.
On the highest mountain you have built your nest,
Above the valley, above the storms of the world,
Where no hunter ever comes.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the bright cloud in whom we hide,
In whom we know already that the battle has been won.
You bring us to our Brother Jesus
To rest our heads upon his shoulder.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the kind fire who does not cease to burn,
Consuming us with flames of love and peace,
Driving us out like sparks to set the world on fire.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
In the love of friends you are building a new house,
Heaven is with us when you are with us.
You are singing your songs in the hearts of the poor
Guide us, wound us, heal us. Bring us to the Father.

– James K. Baxter, ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’, in Collected Poems (ed. John Edward Weir; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 572.

Encouragement for pastors to be pastors

eugene-petersonEugene Peterson is always worth listening to, and his writing on pastoral ministry is enormously encouraging. Here’s some snipperts from a Leadership interview with this pastor to pastors:

‘The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, “Let us worship God.” If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor. I pick up some other identity. I cannot fail to call the congregation to worship God, to listen to his Word, to offer themselves to God. Worship becomes a place where we have our lives redefined for us. If we’re no longer operating out of that redefinition, the pastoral job is hopeless. Or if not hopeless, it becomes a defection. We join the enemy. We’ve quit our basic work’.

‘I don’t ever want to convey that our primary job as pastors is to fix a problem. Our primary work is to make saints. We’re in the saint-making business. If we enter the human-potential business, we’ve lost our calling’.

‘I begin with the conviction that everything in the gospel is experience-able. As a pastor, whatever the person’s situation, you’re saying to yourself, This person can experience the gospel here. I haven’t a clue how it’s going to happen, but I’m willing to slog through whatever has to be slogged through and not give up. I will continue to keep the gospel clear on Sundays; I will continue to be a companion with this person on Fridays’.

‘You cannot go to a pulpit week after week and preach truth accurately without constant study. Our minds blur on us, and we need that constant sharpening of our minds. And without study, without the use of our mind in a disciplined way, we are sitting ducks for the culture’.

‘I get my job description from the Scriptures, from my ordination vows. If I let the congregation decide what I’m going to do, I’m as bad as a doctor who prescribes drugs on request. Medical societies throw out doctors for doing that kind of thing; we need theological societies to throw out pastors for doing the same thing. And if you give up prayer and study, you will soon give up the third area: people’.

‘Listening, paying attention to people is the most inefficient way to do anything. It’s tedious, and it’s boring, and when you do it, it feels like you’re wasting time and not getting anything done. So when the pressures start to mount, when there are committees to run to and budgets to fix, what’s got to go? Listening to people. Seeing them in their uniqueness, without expecting anything of them. You quit paying attention, and people get categorized and recruited. It doesn’t take long for pastors to become good manipulators. Most of us learn those skills pretty quickly. If you can make a person feel guilty, you can make him or her do almost anything. And who’s better at guilt than pastors?’

‘The person who prays for you from the pulpit on Sunday should be the person who prays for you when you’re dying. Then there’s a connection between this world and the world proclaimed in worship. Classically – and I have not seen anything in the twentieth century that has made me revise my expectation – a pastor is local. You know people’s names, and they know your name. There’s no way to put pastoral work on an assembly line … Pastoral care can be shared, but never delegated. If the congregation perceives that I exempt myself from that kind of work, then I become an expert. I become somehow elitist; I’m no longer on their level. Elitism is an old demon that plagues the church’.

‘The church is not a functional place. It’s a place of being’.

‘It’s odd: We live in this so-called postmodernist time, and yet so much of the public image of the church is this rational, management-efficient model. If the postmodernists are right, that model is passe; it doesn’t work any more. In that sense, I find myself quite comfortably postmodern. I think pastors need to cultivate “unbusyness.” I use that word a lot. My father was a butcher. When he delivered meat to restaurants, he would sit at the counter, have a cup of coffee and piece of pie, and waste time. But that time was critical for building relationships, for doing business. Sometimes I’m with pastors who don’t wander around. They don’t waste time. Their time is too valuable. They run to the tomb, and it’s empty, so they run back. They never see resurrection. Meanwhile, Mary’s wasting time; she’s wandering around. To be unbusy, you have to disengage yourself from egos – both yours and others – and start dealing with souls. Souls cannot be hurried’.

‘For me, being a pastor means being attentive to people. But the minute I start taking my cues from them, I quit being a pastor’.

‘Most pastoral work is slow work. It is not a program that you put in place and then have it happen. It’s a life. It’s a life of prayer’.

To read the whole interview: Part I; Part II.

Around the traps … [updated]

Forsyth on the real power of prayer

rembrandt-the-dream-of-joseph

 

 

 

‘The real power of prayer in history is not a fusillade of praying units of whom Christ is the chief, but it is the corporate action of a Saviour-Intercessor and His community, a volume and energy of prayer organized in a Holy Spirit and in the Church the Spirit creates’. – Peter T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer (London: Independent Press, 1951), 55.

Getting Kant out of my system

Having spent most of today reading that great father of modern thought – Kant – I confess that what I once discerned as a growing admiration for this Enlightenment thinker with ‘a good dose of Lutheran and Pauline scepticism’ is slowly being ebbed away. In fact, the more I read, it seems, the quicker the ebb ebbs. For example, consider this sample:

Because men are exceedingly frail in all acts of morality, and not only what they practise as a good action is very defective and flawed, but they also consciously and wilfully violate the divine law, they are quite unable to confront a holy and just judge, who cannot forgive evil-doing simpliciter. The question is, can we, by our vehement begging and beseeching, hope for and obtain through God’s goodness the forgiveness of all our sins? No, we cannot without contradiction conceive of a kindly judge; as ruler he may well be kindly, but a judge must be just. For if God could forgive all evil-doing, He could also make it permissible and if He can grant impunity, it rests also on His will to make it permitted; in that case, however, the moral laws would be an arbitrary matter, though in fact they are not arbitrary, but just as necessary and eternal as God. God’s justice is the precise allocation of punishments and rewards in accordance with men’s good or bad behaviour. The divine will is immutable. Hence we cannot hope that because of our begging and beseeching God will forgive us everything, for in that case it would be a matter, not of well-doing, but of begging and beseeching. We cannot therefore conceive of a kindly judge without wishing that on this occasion He might close His eyes and allow Himself to be moved by supplications and flatteries; but this might then befall only a few, and would have to be kept quiet; for if it were generally known, then everyone would want it so, and that would make a mockery of the law … [Man] cannot, indeed, hope for any remission of punishment for his crimes from a benevolent ruler, since in that case the divine will would not be holy; but man is holy insofar as he is adequate to the moral law; he can, therefore, hope for kindness from the benevolent ruler, not only in regard to the physical, where the very actions themselves already produce good consequences, but also in regard to the moral; but he cannot hope to be dispensed from morality, and from the consequences of violating it. The goodness of God consists, rather, in the aids whereby He can make up for the deficiencies of our natural frailty and thereby display His benevolence. – Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics (ed. P. Heath and J. B. Schneewind; trans. P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 114–5.

Ouch! It makes one wonder if Kant had ever read Galatians, or Romans! For what is absent in Kant here is not only any notion that the law of God is the law of God’s own being and so cannot be abstracted from God, but also any notion that in a world like ours holiness literally takes the form of grace.

This relates to something else that I’ve been thinking of today, namely Forsyth (as I do), whose deep indebtment to Kant is not without its criticisms. One of Forsyth’s greatest critiques of Kant is reserved for his discussion on prayer. He grants that Kant certainly represents ‘intellectual power and a certain stiff moral insight’, but he lacks ‘spiritual atmosphere, delicacy, or flexibility, which is rather the Catholic tradition’. It is in Kant’s treatment of prayer, Forsyth contends, that he most betrays an intellectualism that ‘tends to more force than finish, and always starves or perverts ethic’. This is because he treats prayer with ‘the equipment of his age’ rather than with the ‘practical experience’ that he would have gleaned if he had immersed himself in ‘the great saints or captains of the race’ like Paul, Thomas à Kempis, or even Cromwell and Gustavus Adolphus. If only Kant had gone to them, Forsyth conjectures, he would have ‘realized the difference between shame and shyness, between confusion at an unworthy thing and confusion at a thing too fine and sacred for exposure’.

Denney on prayers for the dead

Recent days have seen a turning of my attention towards James Denney who was a good mate of PT Forsyth’s and an extraordinary NT scholar. One thing that impressed me today in my reading were his comments on praying for the dead. While Forsyth defends the practice on christological grounds, Denney does so on grounds creational and experiential.

I do not think it is any use telling people not to pray for the dead; you might as well teach them not to think of them or love them, or indeed tell them roundly that after death there is nothing at all. I think most people who pray at all do pray for the dead … Certainly the absence of any example of it from the Bible is remarkable, especially taken with the life and death urgency of all the Bible does say: but a great many things must be lawful that the Bible says nothing about – things covered by the word of Jesus, “If it were not so, I would have told you” – a saying which always seems to me to justify yielding … to any instinct of the nature which is made in God’s image, and cannot be simply delusive in the things of God.

It seems to me odd that the long-held practice of praying for the dead has all but disappeared in Protestant circles (or at least in the circles in which I move). No doubt there are decent historical reasons for such abandonment, but understanding history never justifies history’s poor actions. [As an aside, recall that Denney’s comments – ‘I think most people who pray at all do pray for the dead’ – were not only made by a staunchly-Reformed Protestant, but were written just over a hundred years ago].

What both Denney and Forsyth are seeking to urge is that in Jesus Christ, the living and the dead remain unforgettably and indestructibly united in love for each other, and in a common hopeful sharing. It is not anthropology, therefore, that holds the communion of saints together on both sides of death, but Jesus Christ as Lord of both the living and the dead. Therefore, do not the saints on earth have an obligation in the gospel to pray for those who have died, and who indeed form the largest part of the race? Such prayer helps to bear witness to the Church’s unity and catholicity, and indeed to the theo-organic unity of the race itself under its new Head, himself risen from the dead. To pray for the dead signals a refusal to believe the lie that the state of a person remains fixed at death, and functions as a sign of hope in the God who raises the dead to life. To pray for one who is dying, and then to continue praying after they die – without missing a beat – is not to deny the reality of their death so much as it is to faithfully trust in the God who knows his way out of the grave.

Fifty Prayers by Karl Barth

Kent draws our attention to a  new translation of Fifty Prayers by Karl Barth. This is very exciting, not least because these prayers issue from the pen of one for whom prayer was the first and basic act of theological work.

Lord our God, when we are afraid, do not permit us to doubt! When we are disappointed, let us not become bitter! When we have fallen, do not leave us lying down! When we have come to the end of our understanding and our powers, do not leave us to die! No, let us then feel your nearness and your love, that you have promised to those whose hearts are humble and broken, and who fear your Word (pp. 11-12)

Loverd, thou clepedest me

Loverd, thou clepedest me,                       [Lord, you called me]
And ich noght ne answarede thee          [ich I]
Bute wordes slow and slepye:                   [Bute except]
“Thole yet! Thole a litel!”                          [Thole wait]
Bute “yet” and “yet” was endelis,
And “thole a litel” a long way is.

– Anonymous, ‘Loverd, thou clepedest me’, in Aspetti della letteratura latina nel secolo XIII (ed. Anastasia Pasquinelli; Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1986), 317.

The Soul of Prayer: A Review

Jeffrey Bruce has recently posted a review on PT Forsyth’s The Soul of Prayer. He writes:

One of my great failures as a Christ-follower pertains to prayer. Throughout my life, I have consistently failed to cultivate this spiritual discipline. Sure, I throw up a few petitions each day, and set aside times for focused prayer every now and again; but, it does not characterize my living. Frankly, I find this disconcerting. Great Christians seems to pray…all the time…like Paul commands (1 Thess 5:17). In High School, I remember reading about Martin Luther, and how he would lament when constrained to spending only three hours in prayer at the beginning of the day.

Given my deficiency in this discipline, I deemed it wise to read a book on prayer. I began by going to one who, in my opinion, is an expert on the subject; Bud Burk, the children’s pastor at Whittier Hills. Bud immediately recommended The Soul of Prayer, by P.T. Forsyth. Sometimes described as an English pre-cursor to Karl Barth, Forsyth (1848-1921) was a leader in the Congregational church in Scotland. Early in his tenure as a minister, he was inimical to orthodoxy, and sought to reformulate Christianity according to his liberal sensibilities. However, in 1878 he had a conversion experience, wherein he went from (in his own words), “a lover of love to an object of grace.” He gained notoriety as a British non-conformist, who taught his generation the depth and reality of God’s grace. This book is dense, brief (only 107 pages), and chalked full of theological grist. Though his writing suffers at times from awkward phraseology,
and some of his theologizing raises the eyebrow, this tome remains a gem, and, as Eugene Peterson says, “goes straight for the jugular.”

Forsyth divides his discussion into various qualities of prayer; viz. the inwardness of prayer, the naturalness of prayer, the moral reactions of prayer, the timeliness of prayer, the ceaselessness of prayer, the vicariousness of prayer, and the insistency of prayer. In each section, Forsyth hones in on misconceptions regarding prayer, and tries to get behind the inner workings of the divine-human interaction.

He is eminently quotable. Allow me to demonstrate.

“Prayer has its great end when it lifts us to be conscious and more sure of the gift than the need, of the grace than the sin…We shall come one day to a heave where we shall gratefully know that God’s great refusals were sometimes the true answers to our truest prayer. Our soul is fulfilled if our petition is not.” (12)

“God is the answer to prayer.” (35)

“If it be true that the whole Trinity is in the gospel of our salvation, it is also true that all theology lies hidden in the prayer which is our chief answer to the gospel.” (51)

“Prayer is not identical with the occasional act of praying. Like the act of faith, it is a whole life thought of as action. It is the life of faith in its purity, in its vital action. Eating and speaking are necessary to life, but they are not living.” (69)

“Petition is not mere receptivity, not is it mere pressure; it is filial reciprocity. Love loves to be told what it knows already. Every lover knows that. It wants to be asked for what it longs to give. And that is the principle of prayer to the all-knowing Love.” (72-73)

“Let prayer be concrete. actual, a direct product of life’s real experiences. Pray as your actual self, not as some fancied saint. Let it be closely relevant to your real situation. Pray without ceasing in this sense. Pray without a break between your prayer and your life. Pray so that there is a real continuity between your prayer and your whole actual life.” (74)

“…as we learn more of the seriousness of the gospel for the human soul, we feel the more that every time we present it we are adding to the judgment of some as well as to the salvation of others. We are not like speakers who present a matter that men can freely take or leave, where they can agree or differ with us without moral result.” (83)

“Prayer is given us as wings wherewith to mount, but also to shield our face when they have carried us before the great throne. It is in prayer that the holiness comes home as love, and the love is established as holiness.” (85)

“Our public may kill by its triviality a soul which could easily resist the assaults of oppositions or wickedness.” (91)

“Strenuous prayer will help us to recover the masculine type of religion – and then our opponents will at least respect us.” (95)

“Prayer is not really a power till it is importunate. And it cannot be importunate unless it is felt to have a real effect on the Will of God.” (95)

What struck me most deeply were the following points;

(1) Prayer must be (in Forsyth’s words) importunate. Indeed, Jesus wanted to actually teach us something through the parable of the persistent widow! Prayer is strenuous, a mental exercise, and the passive resignation that so often characterizes prayer is not always a sign of piety. God wants us to pray mightily. We need not be afraid of urging and pleading with God to act. This is what he wants from us.

(2) Take public prayer seriously.

(3) Good theology can be prayed, and good prayer is theological.

(4) God is the answer to prayer.

I still have a few misgivings about Forsyth. In his attempts to be profound, I feel he sounds a tad pantheistic (though I know he is no pantheist). Moreover, his thoughts on resisting the lower will in God to arrive at his higher will need copious nuancing. Overall though, this book definitely hits hard, and presents a challenge to any alacrity in one’s heart for the discipline of prayer.

It is always encouraging to see Forsyth’s work being read. A pdf version of many of Forsyth’s books, including The Soul of Prayer, is available from here.

Scott Cairns: ‘To Himself’

Lately, I’ve really been enjoying the work of North American poet Scott Cairns whose journey from Baptist to Presbyterian to Orthodox finds voice in poetic word. I’ve been reading his Philokalia: new and selected poems and thought I’d post just a few poems from this fantastic work which really is well worth buying. Here’s his poem entitled ‘To Himself’.

When in scripture we first meet God,
apparently He is talking to Himself,
or to that portion in His midst
which He has only lately quit
to avail our occasion.

In prayer, therefore, we become
most like Him, speaking what no one
else, if not He, will attend.
A book I borrowed once taught me
how in the midst of attendant

 prayer comes a pause when The Addressed
requires nothing else to be said. Yes,
I witnessed once an emptying
like that; though what I saw was not
quite seen, of course. I suspected

 nonetheless a silent Other
silently regarding me as if He
still might speak, but speak as to Himself.
That was yesterday, or many
years ago, and if it profit

 anyone to imitate the terms
of that exchange, let the prior
gesture be extreme hollowing
of the throat, an inclination
to articulate the trouble

 of a word, a world thereafter.

Children’s Letters to God – A Review

There is something particularly special in listening to children pray, and in praying with them. This was brought home afresh to me today when I read Children’s Letters to God, compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall. While some of the prayers included in this volume seem not merely humorous but silly (to an adult), most betray a deeper cognition. All betray, however, a glaringly beautiful honesty and unpretentiousness that God not only makes possible for us, but encourages in us by the Spirit.

Here’s a few that I like:

  • Dear God. Are you really invisible or is that just a trick?
  • Dear God. Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?
  • Dear God. Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones why don’t you just keep the ones you got now?
  • Dear God. Who draws the lines around the countries?
  • Dear God. I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that OK?
  • Dear God. Are there any patriarchs around today?
  • Dear God. It’s OK that you made different religions but don’t you get mixed up sometimes?
  • Dear God. I would like to know why all the things you said are in red?
  • Dear God. Is Reverend Coe a friend of yours, or do you just know him through business?
  • Dear God. I am English. What are you?
  • Dear God. Thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy.
  • Dear God. How come you didn’t invent any new animals lately? We still have just all the old ones.
  • Dear God. Please put another holiday in between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good in there now.
  • Dear God. Please send Dennis Clark to a different camp this year.
  • Dear God. I wish that there wasn’t no such thing of (sin. I wish that there was not no such thing of war.
  • Dear God. Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother.
  • Dear God. I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.
  • Dear God. If you watch in Church on Sunday I will show you my new shoes.
  • Dear God. I am doing the best I can.

‘… For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me’. (Matthew 18:2-5, The Message)

Children’s Letters to God is a great little book to use to open up the questions of life, of God, and of the world – and to encourage mutual and humble dialogue which, after all, is at least part of what we are engaging in when we pray. Warmly recommended … as is prayer.

McLeod Campbell and Children’s Letters to God

It is not unusual for me to have a plethora of books on the go at once, scattered conveniently around most parts of the house. Of late, I’ve been reading two books (in the same room) whose themes converge that I wish to comment on here. I’ve just re-read (after many years) John McLeod Campbell’s, The Nature of the Atonement. This book must be counted as among the most significant reflections ever penned on the atonement. Denney rightly listed it alongside Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo?, and Forsyth praised it as a ‘great, fine, holy book’, although both had reservations about some of Campbell’s ideas. Others, such as James Orr, Robert Dale and John Scott Lidgett also gave positive voice to Campbell’s work on the atonement.

The fact that McLeod Campbell is largely ignored today (despite the influence of Tom and James Torrance, and Tom Smail, and a few recent publications such as those by Peter Stevenson and two by Michael Jinkins – here and here), and that not least in publications dealing specifically with the atonement, is scandalous (pun intended). There may be some identifiable reasons for this neglect. Perhaps it is because, like Forsyth, Campbell was a non-conformist and non-conformist British theologians have, until more recently, found it difficult to be heard and taken seriously by the academy. Perhaps it is because Campbell is just not the easiest writer to follow, particularly in his atonement tome (his sermons are much easier going on the reader!). Perhaps it is because Campbell’s best insights have been taken up by others, such as the Torrances. Who know? I often ask similar questions about Forsyth (and Denney and Lidgett). I hope to post more about the relationship between Campbell and Forsyth soon.

The other book I’ve been reading is Children’s Letters to God, compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall. While Campbell laid much weight on the filial nature of Jesus Christ and his vicarious work of offering to the Father the perfect human response from the side of sin (a response which was at heart about Christ’s intercessory ministry), Children’s Letters to God takes up something of humanity’s imperfect participation in that perfect intercession. Some of these prayers seem quite humorous and even silly. Others betray a deeper cognition. All betray, however, a glaringly beautiful honesty and unpretentiousness that our elder Brother not only makes possible for us, but creates in us by the Spirit.

Here’s a few that I like (and each one could serve as a great sermon starter):

– Dear God. Are you really invisible or is that just a trick?
– Dear God. Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?
Dear God. Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones why don’t you just keep the ones you got now?
Dear God. Who draws the lines around the countries?
Dear God. I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that OK?
Dear God. Are there any patriarchs around today?
Dear God. It’s OK that you made different religions but don’t you get mixed up sometimes?
Dear God. I would like to know why all the things you said are in red?
Dear God. Is Reverend Coe a friend of yours, or do you just know him through business?
Dear God. I am English. What are you?
Dear God. Thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy.
Dear God. How come you didn’t invent any new animals lately? We still have just all the old ones.
Dear God. Please put another holiday in between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good in there now.
– Dear God. Please send Dennis Clark to a different camp this year.
Dear God. I wish that there wasn’t no such thing of (sin. I wish that there was not no such thing of war.
– Dear God. Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother.
– Dear God. I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.
– Dear God. If you watch in Church on Sunday I will show you my new shoes.
Dear God. I am doing the best I can.

‘… For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me’. (Matthew 18:2-5, The Message)

Names and the Name – 12

God has a name – 11

We ought to honour, use and hallow God’s name precisely because it is the source and means of our life in Christ. Katherine Sonderegger has reminded us that we call God Father not because we and all our ancestors grew up in a patriarchal culture, nor because the Roman father was the model and local authority of the Empire, but because Jesus of Nazareth called upon Israel’s God by that name. Indeed, only the enfleshed revelation of God could disclose a new name for YHWH and justify such a shocking and revolutionary renaming of ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer contended that it is an act of Christian boldness to call God Father, because by that name we refer immediately and without fear to the very God that the Son knew. In that spiritual calling upon the Father’s name, as Sonderegger asserts, ‘we stand where Christ stood: as adopted heirs, as the beloved’. When we call upon the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit we embrace both an epistemological and metaphysical truth: We both name God truly, and we stand in that divine judgement, grace, and presence that Christ knew, obeyed, and suffered, for our sake. From in that place, we pray. From that place, we stand in the One who prays for us. From that place we know our place in the world, and in God. That is the promise and surety of grace.

Forsyth on faith and prayer

‘We take refuge in what He believed when we are not sure about what we can. We trust His faith in men when experience shakes our own. We rest on His knowledge of the world, on His belief in divine power and human possibility, on His confidence in what He and His work did for men. We trust His experinece and His judgment more than our own. When we cannot trust our wishes, hopes, or forecasts of human destiny, we can rest on His faith in it who secured it. If all the facts were against us, he is the fact that outwieghs them all. And we both recover and complete our faith by being compelled to trust His. It is the same principle that sustains our faith in prayer whatever the answer be, whether there be any answer in the experienced sense or not. It does faith more harm than good to dwell much on what are called answers to prayer. It not only ties faith too closely to experience, but it deepens the doubt that arises where answer cannot be traced. We need only to be sure that prayer is received, that it goes home, and is dealt with. Our tears are in His bottle. He has old prayers of ours by Him maturing still. That is what is of faith in respect of prayer. Not that it must be sensibly granted – that were sight, and not faith. Prayer least of all lives upon such results, such experience. If we saw all, experienced all, possessed all, where would room be left for the excercise of faith? Faith is there to protect us both from the verdict of experience and from the absence of it. It saves us both from our knowledge of the world and our want of that knowledge. It makes a man

That awful independent of to-morrow
Whose yesterdays look backward with a smile.

It even gives us little of Christ’s experience, – these meagre gospels carry us but a little way there, – but it gives us Jesus Christ Himself, “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”‘ (P. T. Forsyth, ‘Faith and Experience’, Wesleyan Methodist Magazine 123 (1900): 417)

Praying with soul

The worst sin is prayerlessness. Overt sin, or crime, or the glaring inconsistencies which often surprise us in Christian people are the effect of this, or its punishment. We are left by God for lack of seeking Him. The history of the saints shows often that their lapses were the fruit and nemesis of slackness or neglect in prayer. Their life, at seasons, also tended to become inhuman by their spiritual solitude. They left men, and were left by men, because they did not in their contemplation find God; they found but the thought or the atmosphere of God. Only living prayer keeps loneliness humane. It is the great producer of sympathy. Trusting the God of Christ, and transacting with Him, we come into tune with men. Our egoism retires before the coming of God, and into the clearance there comes with our Father our brother. We realize man as he is in God and for God, his Lover. When God fills our heart He makes more room for man than the humanist heart can find. Prayer is an act, indeed the act, of fellowship. We cannot truly pray even for ourselves without passing beyond ourselves and our individual experience. If we should begin with these the nature of prayer carries us beyond them, both to God and to man. (P.T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer, 11-12)

In prayer we do not so much work as interwork. We are fellow workers with God in a reciprocity. And as God is the freest Being in existence, such co-operant prayer is the freest things that man can do. (P.T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer, 57)

Face your special weaknesses and sins before God. Force yourself to say to God exactly where you are wrong. When anything goes wrong, do not ask to have it set right, without asking in prayer what is was in you that made it go wrong. It is somewhat fruitless to ask for a general grace to help specific flaws, sins, trials, and griefs. Let prayer be concrete, actual, a direct product of life’s real experiences. Pray as your actual self, not as some fancied saint. Let it be closely relevant to your real situation. Pray without ceasing in this sense. Pray without a break between your prayer and your life. Pray so that there is a real continuity between your prayer and your whole actual life. (P.T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer, 64)

We are not humble in God’s sight, partly because in our prayer there is a point at which we cease to pray, where we do not turn everything out into God’s light. It is because there is a chamber or two in our souls where we do not enter in and take God with us. We hurry Him by the door as we take Him along the corridors of our life to see our tidy places or our public rooms. We ask from our prayers too exclusively comfort, strength, enjoyment, or tenderness and graciousness, and not often enough humiliation and its fine strength. We want beautiful prayers, touching prayers, simple prayers, thoughtful prayers; prayers with a quaver or a tear in them, or prayers with delicacy and dignity in them. But searching prayer, humbling prayer, which is the prayer of the conscience, and not merely of the heart or taste; prayer which is bent on reality, and to win the new joy goes through new misery if need by – are such prayers as welcome and common as they should be? (P.T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer, 69-70)

If we learn to pray from the Bible, and avoid a mere cento of its phrases, we shall cultivate in our prayer the large humane note of a universal gospel. Let us nurse our prayer on our study of our Bible; and let us, therefore, not be too afraid of theological prayer. (P.T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer, 78)

Resist God, in the sense of rejecting God, and you will not be able to resist any evil. But resist God in the sense of closing with God, cling to Him with your strength, not your weakness only, with your active and not only your passive faith, and He will give you strength. Cast yourself into His arms not to be caressed but to wrestle with Him. He loves that holy war. He may be too many for you, and lift you from your feet. But it will be to lift you from earth, and set you in the heavenly places which are their who fight the good fight and lay hold of God as their eternal life. (P.T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer, 92)

God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost isn’t a consulting firm we bring in to give us expert advice on how to run our lives. The gospel life isn’t something we learn about and then put together with instructions from the manufacturer; it’s something we become as God does his work of creation and salvation in us and as we accustom ourselves to a life of belief and obedience and prayer. (E. Peterson, Leap Over a Wall)

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated. (D.A. Carson, For the Love of God)