Thursday, June 15, 2006
Prayer – the cry for the kingdom
From chapter 2 of Prayer – the cry for the kingdom, by Stanley Grenz [revised edition], published by Eerdmans 2005
The central question that a helpful theological account of prayer must address [is] How do our petitions elicit God’s response? How does the cry for the kingdom occasion the in-breaking of the kingdom?
Our starting point in responding to this question must lie in a particular understanding of petition. Let me state it in this manner: petition is the laying hold of and the releasing of God’s willingness and ability to act in accordance with God’s will and purpose on behalf of creation, which God loves. This means that petition is not ‘the attempt of human importunity to overcome divine reluctance,’ to cite the words of E G Knapp-Fisher. Rather, as John Bunyan said, petition is ‘a sincere, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.’
Several phrases in the description that I offered in the previous paragraph require further elaboration. To say that ‘petition is laying hold of’ is to declare that by means of prayer the pray-er taps into the power and willingness of God. Prayer occasions something being released from God. This ‘something’ is twofold – ‘God’s willingness’ and ‘God’s ability’. In making this claim, I am presupposing a specific understanding of God’s nature. I am assuming that God is both willing and able to act on behalf of creation. I am declaring that God is loving in disposition and sovereign or omnipotent in power. God is both predisposed toward wanting what is good for us and able to meet any situation that we might face.
Many Christians would acknowledge that in the crucible of life it is not always easy to believe that God is both loving and all-powerful. Life situations tempt us to doubt either God’s willingness (love) or God’s ability (omnipotence). Prayer then becomes the struggle to accept these two aspects of what we confess to be true about God. The goal of prayer becomes that of bringing the pray-er to the point of genuine faith. When prayer has done its work, we come to trust anew this loving, powerful God.