Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Answering God

We are about to have a short preaching series on prayer at St Nic's. "Christian Meditation" (though I can't quite work out what is christian about it, apart from reading a short gospel passage and mentally reciting Maranatha) is quite predominant at St Nic's. I must confess, I don't really find the practice all that appealing. Most times I have tried I have nodded off and woken with a start, wondering whether I have started to sleep talk. But seriously, I do wonder what makes mantra reciting meditation actually christian, apart from self identification and a few accouterments which don't actually form the practice. I might write some more about this as I 'meditate' on it further. Incidentally, anyone reading this (and I don't suppose there will be many) who has any thoughts or feelings on this matter, I would really welcome comments about your experience. I like to think I give things a fair hearing.

Anyway, I have been preparing a sermon on "Praying with the Bible" which has fast become "Praying with the Psalms", and I have found Eugene Peterson's book Answering God particularly useful. Here are a few choice bits from the first chapter:

  • "There is a difference between praying to an unknown God whom we hope to discover in our praying, and praying to a known God, revealed through Israel and in Jesus Christ, who speaks our language. In the first we indulge in our appetite for religious fulfillment, in the second we practice obedient faith. The first is a lot more fun, the second is a lot more important. What is essential is that prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God. The Psalms show us how to answer." (p. 6)

  • "The Psalms were not prayed by people who were trying to understand themselves. They are not the record of people searching for the meaning of life.  They were prayed by people who understood that God had everything to do with them. God, not their feelings, was the centre. God, not their souls, was the issue. God, not the meaning of life, was critical. Feelings, souls and meanings were not excluded – they are very much in evidence – but they are not the reason for the prayers. Human experience might provoke the prayers, but they do not condition them as prayers... if we come to the Psalms looking for a way to develop our inner life, we have come to the wrong place." (p. 14)

  • "The Psalms are personal answers to the personal revelation [of God], prayers conditioned by God's word, not by the soul's mood." (p. 16)

On the place of the Psalms within the canon of Scripture:

  • "A millennium's experience of grace and judgement, creation and chaos, guilt and salvation, rebellion and obedience shapes the prayers that are the Psalms. When we pray the Psalms, and are trained in prayer by them, we enter into a centuries-long experience of being a people of God.  We didn't bargain on this. We wanted a little book of prayers that we could keep on our bedside table, not the genealogies of Chronicles, for heaven's sake. But it can't be helped. If we want to associate with these people who pray and submit out lives to this training in prayer, we are going to have to associate with their large, somewhat noisy and often troublesome family." (pp. 17-18)

More to come...

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