lament with thanksgiving

Lament and thanksgiving are two entirely valid modes of prayer.

Both are biblical and practical.  Like God’s people in every time and place, it is a healthy practice to offer to God both our ‘why’ and our ‘thanks’.  In my survey of local Baptist worship in Aotearoa New Zealand, I considered the extent to which forms of prayer such as praise and thanksgiving were dominant, and found reason to believe that forms such as confession and lament were more rare.  In this post, I’m interested in reasons why lament in particular seems uncommon, and whether or not there might be a symbiotic relationship between lament and thanksgiving.

I think the main reasons for less (or no) lament in public worship are emotional and theological in nature.  Emotionally, it really is a bit of a drag and doesn’t really (at least on the surface) prepare people to go out in confident mission to the world.  Theologically, some may feel that such prayers reflect a lack of gratitude or trust.

I get it.  It’s not enjoyable, and it can seem to clash with gratitude.  I certainly think it would be inappropriate for a service to have too much lament.  But what if lament and thanksgiving go together more than we realize?

I propose the following: When Christians gather for worship, a mixture of lament and thanksgiving is a healthy middle between two extremes.  At one extreme, when there is too much lament and not enough thanksgiving, the service feels less like worship and more like a grumbling session.  This kind of worship succeeds in justifying our resentment and anger when things don’t go our way, and fails to transform our boredom into joy.  At the other extreme, when there is only thanksgiving, free of lament, the service can feel a bit shallow and inauthentic.  This kind of worship fails to appreciate that every day is full of events which even God laments, and for which lament is the proper response, and succeeds in presenting Christianity as a faith which is out of touch with reality.

So then.  Lament? Yes.  And then give thanks.

single word prayers

I love categories, frameworks and layouts.  Wonderful freedom in wise frameworks.  Here’s my latest musings on categories for various types of prayers.  It expands on the very simple (perhaps overly simple, but still useful) acronym, A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication).

Wow!
Adoration.  The most basic and fitting response to the majesty, power, incomprehensibility of the Creator and Sustainer of all things.  Psalm 8 is a great example.

Sorry.
Confession.  The most basic and fitting response to our selfishness, weakness and indifference which all keep us from doing the good we are able to do in the world.  Psalm 51 is a great example.

Thanks.  
Thanksgiving.  The most basic and fitting response to God’s undeserved gifts to us.  It is the posture of gratitude, and the opposite of entitlement.  Psalm 118 is a great example.

Why?
Lament.  The most basic and fitting response to events and circumstances which seem totally opposite of what we’d expect or hope for.  Psalm 22 is a great example.

Help!
Supplication.  This most basic and fitting response to our awareness of need concerning ourselves, other people, and other situations in the world.  Psalm 86 is a great example.

Now then.  Why is it that Wow, Thanks and Help are common in gathered worship, and Sorry and Why are so rare?

 

conversing with God

A friend of mine recently was talking about his struggle to ‘hear’ from God.  In the past, he had felt strongly that he had heard from God, but later events suggested that it wasn’t the voice of God.

It made me think about my own experience of communication with God.  It’s pretty mysterious when you think about it, even for those of us who have grown up with families and communities around us where it is an assumed thing.  It just seems impossible that an ultimate being such as God could be accessed with our ‘not-ultimate’ capacities.  In addition to the many things we might say in response to this, such as the idea that God speaks through Christ, Scripture, Reason, Tradition, etc., there is another perspective on this dilemma, and it seems to my mind to cohere with both our experience and the Judeo-Christian scriptures.  It’s the idea that God ‘meets’ us at our level of ability to communicate.

If this is true, then God may well be communicating to animals, plants, rocks, stars and the rest of created reality in a way that is appropriate to them.  Scripture seems to speak of these kinds of creaturely responses to the Creator.  With us, though, God seems to limit himself to the level of sounding like another human.

If we put aside, for the moment, the question of conversing with, speaking to and hearing from, God, we might observe the imprecise and imperfect, yet still wonderful and functional way that we communicate with one another as humans.  More often than we probably do it, we need to clarify or make sure we’ve been listening correctly.  We sometimes are mistaken about what people have said, sometimes we miss a tree from the forest, other times we miss the whole forest.  Shannon and Weaver’s theory of communication suggests that various kinds of ‘noise’ can distort the encoding, transmission, and decoding of our messages.

Wouldn’t human-divine communication be naturally subject to the same beautiful realities that make communication relational?  In the same way that God has not made us as robotic computers, executing every command with perfect precision, God, it seems, has chosen not to relate to us as a computer, but in a wonderfully down-to-earth, personal and even human way.

Now that this little piece of thinking is done, I think I shall get back to the lovely simplicity of approaching God as a child would their parent.  “I love you God, help me do good today.”

inclusivism

Attending Catholic Mass, one will hear from time to time a prayer (below) that I think beautifully expresses what is called soteriological inclusivism, a view that I identify broadly within.  Inclusivism lies between exclusivism (which holds that being saved requires (except perhaps in infants or intellectually challenged persons) ‘conscious knowledge’ of Christ as Lord and Saviour) and universalism (which holds that God’s grace is so overwhelmingly powerful that it will win over against the wills and decisions of all people eventually, whether before death, or in some kind of post-mortem scenario).  Inclusivism expresses a hope, or perhaps a conviction, that whilst God will not ‘force’ his grace universally onto all people, it is nonetheless possible for some to, as C.S. Lewis put it somewhere, belong to Christ without themselves knowing it.

God alone may know the faith of some who don’t let others know it, or perhaps cannot even let themselves admit it.  A friend of mine once called this being “a believer who couldn’t believe”.  Here’s how it is expressed in the Catholic liturgy (as found in my copy of the 1982 version of The Sunday Missal; Eucharistic Prayer IV), when the priest offers prayers for the dead:

Remember those who have died in the peace of Christ
and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.

prayer in four words

I just saw someone else recommending this book on prayer:  Anne Lamott, “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers” (Riverhead).

I’ve not read it,  but I assume it treats these words as follows:

Help:  supplication
Thanks:  thanksgiving
Wow:  adoration

Not bad. A, T and S from ACTS prayer acronym.

If I were to attempt an addition of the S in ACTS (supplication), and to roughly follow the progression of the Lord’s prayer, my book title would be:

Wow. Help. Sorry. Thanks.

modern prayer

Some quotes from Harry Emerson Fosdick’s ‘The Three Meanings: Prayer, Faith & Service’ – Chapter 1, on the ‘naturalness’ of prayer:

 

On prayer and Modernity…

Modern scepticism has done all that it could to make prayer unreasonable. It has viewed the world as a machine, regular as an automaton, uncontrollable as sunrise. It has made whatever God there is a prisoner in the laws of his own world, powerless to assist his children. It has denied everything that makes prayer possible; and yet men, having believed all that sceptical thought says, still have their times of prayer. Like an artesian well, walled up by modern concrete, prayer still seeps through, it breaks out; nature is stronger than artifice, and streams flowing underground in our lives insist on finding vent. (11-12)

 

On lasting universal latency of prayer…

Can it be that all men, in all ages and all lands, have been engaged in “talking forever to a silent world from which no answer comes”? If we can be sure of anything, is it not this – that wherever a human function has persisted, unwearied by time, uncrushed by disappointment, rising to noblest form and finest use in the noblest and finest souls, that function corresponds with some Reality? Hunger never could have persisted without food, nor breathing without air, nor intellectual life without truth, nor prayer without God. Burke said that it was difficult to press an indictment against a nation. It is far more difficult to sustain a charge against all mankind. (13)

praying with jesus

Kim Fabricus recently offered twelve ripostes for ‘militant atheists’, one of which was about prayer.

—Prayer plainly doesn’t work.
—Thank God! ((Garth Brooks had a similar insight: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”))

On a spectrum of immature to mature, understandings of Christian prayer will range from the anthropocentric and mechanistic ((not to mention idolatrous and pagan – I even hear pantheist types talk about putting thoughts ‘out there’ to the universe)) notion that prayer is about us invoking God to do something we want for our world, to the more theocentric and relational conviction that prayer is about God involving us in what God wants to do for God’s world.

On this note, I wanted to post an example of this I heard last night in the last Romans lecture at Carey Baptist.

There are three agents ‘groaning’ in Romans 8:18-27; a) creation groaning as with birth pangs, b) the church groaning awaiting redemption, and c) the Spirit groaning in intercession for us and the world.

The world is not as it should be (creation groaning).  God grieves that this is so (the Spirit groaning), and moves us to grief (church groaning) and action.

This parallels a scene from the Gospels.

Jesus’ groaning prayer in the Garden, overcome with grief.  The triune God involved in groaning prayer – the Son praying to the Father in the power of the Spirit.  Jesus’ words ‘not my will but Thy will’ reflects that his prayer is about the divine will for the world and Jesus’ human obedience to it.

And Jesus also had invited his disciples to ‘watch and pray’ with him.  As George Wieland said last night, “To pray is to keep Jesus company as he agonises in the garden.”

sophie scholl

Diane and I enjoyed (again) ‘Sophie Scholl: The Final Days’ the other night.

She was a courageous woman.  Very inspiring.

I also particularly appreciated her prayers.  I don’t know as of yet if they are hers exactly or reconstructions of the writers, but here they are as in the film: Continue reading “sophie scholl”

the groaning language of prayer

The other day, a friend of mine at Carey college was sharing with me and a few others how grieved he’d been lately (due to various tragic things happening to people close to him). He mentioned lying in bed and trying to pray, not knowing what to say, and eventually just offering an extended, rumbling, inward groan to God…

Now, prayer is both a simple and mysterious thing. It’s simple – in that it is simply a giving-sharing-offering of one’s thoughts, concerns, feelings, stresses, hurts, anxieties, etc. to the One who we believe ‘hears’ prayer (more on ‘hearing’ in a moment). But it’s also a complex and mysterious thing, complicated by various (mis)understandings about both God and prayer (not least the popular ‘magic genie’ [or fairy] idea of God). Continue reading “the groaning language of prayer”

good news for all the people

If only people in general –and Christians in particular– could grasp just a few key things that makes Jesus who He is… then I’m convinced not only that Christianity would have a better reputation, but –even further– those who aren’t Christians might be far less against the growth of Christianity…

People are scared about the growth of Christianity because they (often) think (and not without reason to) that this could eventually lead to a Christian state. All those voting Christians, voting in all those ‘religious’ laws, taking away our freedom, taking away our shopping on Sunday, etc. Many Christians are not at all hesitant to affirm that this is, in fact, precisely what they are working toward…

Now, this post is not directly about how Christians should relate to politics, but it does relate. I am convinced that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the public world, and not simply in private. However, the question is: “What does this look like?”

Continue reading “good news for all the people”