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Re-orienting Prayer

  
  
  

A guest post by Jonathan Bratt, a presenter at the New Creation conference

 

The 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey reveals a great majority of Americans pray. Among some Christian groups, the percentage is over 90 percent, many self-reporting at least once a day. [1]   Yet, when we peel back the thin veneer of prayer, we discover a more complex reality.  There is a great range in how we approach and practice prayer.

seminary students prayingThe substance of much prayer is an expression of personal desire and willfulness. Many prayers reflect blatant self-interest. Good health, money, and good things commonly dominate our requests.[2] True prayer, however, forms us. Christian prayer purposes not simply to facilitate conversation between God and his people, but to orient us or reorient us toward God’s intention for our lives. 

To choose not to pray consigns us to be formed by our own desires and current cultural norms.  Both, of course, have been corrupted by the fall (Gen. 3:1-24; 6:5-6 NRSV). Christians praying without direction are no better off.  As followers of Jesus, in process, our will and wants are often in conflict with the will of God. We cannot trust our natural inclinations.

Over against these influences, Jesus defines the purposes, attitudes, and content of prayer that orients us toward God’s kingdom and transforms us in thought and action.  In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), Jesus guides his followers toward God’s original intention for human life on earth. 

In his prayer, Jesus models true prayer for those choosing to live under God’s rule in contrast to those who pray with other motives. In Jesus’ teaching, not all prayer is equal. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:5). “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentile do” (Matt. 6:7).  He critiques the prayer of the hypocrites as false because it misses, manipulates, or uses prayer for improper purposes or unrighteous motives; namely, to draw attention to self. Jesus critiques the prayer of the Gentiles as false because it reveals an inadequate view of God and a desire to obtain God’s power to achieve selfish ends.  When Jesus says, “Pray then in this way” (Matt. 6:9), he is saying that in contrast to false beliefs, motives and practices of prayer, there is a way that is distinctively Christian. True prayer reflects an accurate belief in God, a right motivation of the heart, and a particular content that orients us to God’s intention for humanity and a hope for the new creation. To pray in Jesus’ way conforms our longings and desires to the will of God for all he has created.

 

bratt jonathan

 

Jonathan Bratt serves as Chaplain at Roberts Wesleyan College and is a D.Min. student at Northeastern Seminary. He presented a scholarly paper on this topic at the New Creation: Scripture, Theology and Praxis Symposium hosted by Northeastern Seminary, October 2013. He blogs at http://jonathanbratt.wordpress.com/.



[1]U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Affiliation: Diverse and Dynamic, (Washington: Pew Research Center, February 2008), 177.

[2]Szegedy-Maszak and Hsu, passim

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