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Prayer is the most pronounced way that we acknowledge and interact with the divine. Prayer, then, is far too important to be left to our own devices. It is a holy language. In the words of James K. A. Smith, prayer is “learning the language of the kingdom.” So, what is language?
Language is the creation and gift of a community over time. No one person invents a language. Think about it. What language do you speak? Perhaps, English? Did you invent English? Of course not. Furthermore, when you were born you didn’t immediately begin speaking English. So, how are you speaking English, today? You learned it over time, from your family, teachers, etc.
Acts 2:42 says: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.” What most translations (like this one) tend to gloss over is an important definite article in the plural: “they devoted themselves…to the prayers.” What prayers? The prayers that have been passed down to us by the community, called the Church, in the form of scripture and prayer books. They devoted themselves to these prayers.
Just like we have to learn the English language, the same is true with prayer. We have to learn the prayers. We don’t just get to make it up. We have to learn the vocabulary, the grammar, the language; so that, later on we can use what we’ve learned to fully express ourselves. How do we learn the prayers?
Liturgy, or rather liturgical prayer, is the way we learn the language of prayer. I know that sometimes when people hear that word, liturgy, they think, “Well, liturgy is dead.” Actually, that’s a categorical error; liturgy is neither dead nor alive. Liturgy is either true or false.
Liturgy is actually a bible word. In the Greek, it’s usually translated as “worship” or “ministry”; but it’s a compound word, a combination of words—leitos (people) and érgon (work)—which means “work of the people.” Simply put: liturgy is a form, a grammar, a track to guide us. Liturgy shapes us, teaches us, leads us. Which leads us to the primary purpose of prayer.
The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we want him to do but to be properly formed.
Paul writes to the church in Galatia, “Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives” (Gal. 4:19, NLT). Other translations say “…until Christ is formed in you.”
Richard Foster says:
“To ask “rightly” involves transformed passions, total renewal. In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves. Progressively we are taught to see things from His point of view.”
Søren Kierkegaard says:
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Mother Teresa says:
“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
Glenn Packiam says:
“Prayer is not another way to control our circumstances; it’s a way to participate in what God is doing.”
Are we getting the picture, now? As we practice liturgical prayer, it forms us to be more like Christ; to think, speak, and act like him. You may thinking, “But, what is the first step in all of this?” Perhaps, you might try praying the LORD’s Prayer once a day (maybe when you wake up or when you’re going to bed). If you’d like to dive a little deeper, Lakewood’s Worship Ministry recorded a guided morning prayer liturgy called, “Encounter Jesus,” which includes music, scriptures, written prayers, and even time for extemporaneous prayer. And, it’s free!
Peace be with you.