Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Law of Prayer

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch has a very insightful article, here, on the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of believing).
"That is, the way (and the what) that one prays is intimately and reciprocally related to the way (and the what) that one believes."

It is a simple fact that "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34; Lk. 6:45). And it is reasonable to extrapolate from that that our understanding of our Christian faith will come out in prayer.

This, if anything, should give us impetus to "go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen" (Matt. 6:6). For it is there, in your room, in prayer, that your real education will begin (Dostoevsky, Have Mercy On Those Who Come Before Thee). It is there that what you believe will be meted out under the beneficient guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is there that you will "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). It is there that the soul stands taller when the body is on its knees.

If the 'law of prayer is the law of believing', then what an amazing opportunity we have to step into the Holy of Holies and ask God what it is we should believe, how we should go about practicing it, and how we can articulate it in ways that help others (1 Pt. 3:15-16)! If what is prayed is what is believed then each of us has a duty to listen that much more closely to the prayers of our brothers and sisters so that we can learn from their life with God, and gently correct if what they pray is not what they practice. At the same time, we are wise to receive admonitions from our brothers and sisters if what they hear us praying is not what they see us practicing.

So what is it that we can be confident about believing? There has to be some baseline, some suppositional starting point where we throw ourselves into the mix and try and figure out what is right to believe. And the primary answer to that is, the Word of God.

Our prayers should be steeped in the Word of God, drawing on His words to inform our hearts, minds, and bodies. We are to let the Word of God indwell us, take up home in us, live in us (Col. 3:16-17), and by doing so, "whatever [we] do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

It is a linear application: the Word of God prompts its own expectations. That is, because the Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and indwells the believer, it urges what it teaches; it spurs the believer on to what it declares. In that sense,

"...doctrine informs practice, but practice in turn shapes doctrine. What the church does, and how she does it, not only confesses but in time also determines what she believes and teaches. The practice of prayer is a way of teaching; indeed, it is a primary means of catechesis, which forms thinking and believing."

The living Word of God that indwells each Christian is the baseline for all Christian belief. What God has said, we believe; what we believe should be what we practice. Hence there is a direct correlation between what a Christian prays who has the living Word of God indwelling him, and what he practices. And what should the Christian practice? Matthew 25:31-46 and James 1:27 give clear, though not exhaustive answers to that question.

The secondary answer to what is right to believe comes down to us through the "democracy of the dead" (G.K. Chesterton). That is, through the creeds (Apostle's, Nicene, and Athanasian) and traditions of believers who have gone before us. The creeds (from the Latin credo, "I believe") summarize the heart of the Christian faith by placing the chief doctrines of Scripture in brief.

Looking to the freedom of the saints of the past points us to the freedom we can enjoy in Christ both now, and in the future. Their exemplary lives serve as a constant guide for how 'the law of prayer is the law of belief' by highlighting the intersection between what they believed and how they practiced it.

We do well to heighten our attention to our prayer lives. Prayer is our umbilical chord to God. It is how we are fed, because in prayer God reinforces His Word so that it indwells us. From there, what we pray forms what we believe, and what we believe becomes our practice. Rev. Stuckwisch can have the last word on this subject:

"So we are rightly concerned with "prayer," broadly speaking, as a teaching and confessing of belief. Right praying serves, supports and substantiates right believing, in much the same way that heterodox praying is both indicative and precipitant of heterodox believing. That's basically the affirmation and the warning implicit in "lex orandi, lex credendi," as it is typically summoned to duty."


Anonymous said...

This is interesting as regards openness theology, isn't it? 'Practice what you pray' has not been a particularly prevalent maxim in christianity, I don't think. I do think it odd that so many pray to an open God (it seems based upon phrases that imply the possibility of changing His mind about specific things in our lives), but act as though He were an overlord, a distant king like to ants only graceful in that He withholds the magnifying glass, and 'in control' in that he re-routes us by pushing the sand around as we travel with huge grains of life woes on our backs, twice our body weight, for that matter (it seems based upon a general expectation that if God wants it, He'll make it happen and I've done my part by asking Him and now I'm done- give it to God, it's in His hands, etc...).

Anyway, can I pray 'Your will be done' and 'please give me a new car/lung' at the same time?

I have yet to hear a prayer that ends with, 'not my will, but let's work together on this, 'kay?'

I think prayer informs practice in that it is the expression of our philosophical understanding of how our relationship with the Lord works. I do not think we are bound by our prayers to act according to what we ask; this is a bizarre concept- the cart before the horse, I think. It seems less linear to me than to you, sweetie; I think it's more spherical than that or at least circular, though I prefer the sideways possibilities of the sphere ;)

All this said, I think prayer is necessary and if it didn't take on the strange and exclusive air of the special use of the word 'prayer' when we're talking to the Lord as distinct from commoners, it wouldn't gain as much odd attention and attract so many rule-makers, and might actually make sense to believers- like if I didn't talk to you, Christopher, for six months, there would likely be consequences evident in how we relate to one another otherwise, no? God wants us to talk to Him because He loves us and He doesn't like to be left out. Just like you and me. Is that too much to ask? Maybe I should 'pray' about it.


suneal said...

Good article Chris. Raises alot of interesting issues.

I think Sarah is right, in that prayer can not be THE measure of our faith. By faith, I mean the content of our faith primarily, our "credo." If I hear her right, she is emphasing the relational aspect of prayer, which has to be primary and has no expectations attached other than its own love.

Speaking of laws, Romans mentions "the law of my mind," (Rom 7:23). This Law of the mind refers to "delighting in the Law of God." It implies relationship. But right away Paul refers to the "Law of sin that dwells in my members." This is "anti-relationship" toward God, an alienation from Him. Then in Romans 8 Paul mentions "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." This can no doubt get complicated, for in a short space Paul mentions 4 different laws!

I say all this, because theology is defined classically as "faith seeking understanding." Any good creed will be theological to some extent. But there is not necessarily a direct link between faith and our understanding of it expressed. Add to this the above at times contrary laws acting upon us, and therefore "the law of prayer" becomes less potent.

However, there is One Person who actually totally lived perfectly the Law of prayer, so that every prayer was a direct reflection of his beliefs and vise versa, well...of course, Jesus. And there is nothing wrong with setting Him as our inspiration. I do not think though as I often hear, "Jesus as our Model," is that good of an idea. Sounds like a recipe for failure. Another topic for another day.

Christopher said...

Sarah and Suneal,

You are both right that prayer is most certainly not the measure of our faith. I think that belongs solely to the object of our faith: Christ. He is both the measure and means of our faith.

Now, broadly speaking, I think that the relational aspect of prayer is not impeded by an inability to articulate during prayer. If I'm understanding the implications of your comments, Sarah, that "I do not think we are bound by our prayers to act according to what we ask; this is a bizarre concept- the cart before the horse, I think", then asking something in ignorance, or with improper utterance could put us in a fix. But, like you, I'm fairly certain that God does not hold us to words misplaced when what we are trying to do is be sincere before Him. Thus there is an openness before God, as you noted, Sarah, and an openness from Him toward us.

By the same token, Suneal, because prayer is relational, and not driven along the strictures of law, the four laws that Paul mentions in Romans are not necessarily contradictory to the idea that 'the law of prayer is the law of belief.' Rather, they are complimentary within a growing and dynamic relationship with God. In that sense, prayer as a rule (law) for living does not occlude or hinder the laws Paul outlines in Romans.

What do both of you think?