The theology of Spiritual Formation assumes there is a level a spirituality that I can have if I regularly do certain spiritual practices. Prayer is typically is one of those practices.
Advocates of Spiritual Formation view prayer as a means to an end: They see prayer as a preparatory discipline to strengthen me for later success, like an athlete lifts weights to be strong enough to run the race. The goal is not to lift weights; the goal is to finish the race. Weight-lifting makes me strong enough to finish. Similarly, prayer –in their view — is not something I do for its own sake. It is something I practice to prepare for later victory.
Prayer is not a means to an end
Yet, the biblical picture of prayer is not a spiritual discipline that I use to reach a higher spiritual level. Rather prayer is an unavoidable mandatory battlefield in the war of faith.
Prayer forces me to wrestle with the fundamental questions of life. What I pray about reveals how I answer the “big questions” like:
- What do I think about God? God has made promises and given warnings. Do I in fact believe Him? Do I want what the gospel promises or am I seeking something else?
- What do I think about myself? How do I present myself when I come to God in prayer? Do I say, “God have mercy on me, the sinner” or do I say, “thank you I’m not like that other guy”? Do I really grasp the extent of my rebellion to God?
- What do I think about my neighbor? When my neighbor is causing me grief, how will I pray for her? Will I ask God to throw the book at that brat? Or will I ask for the same forgiveness I have received?
- What do I ultimately want? In addition to the gospel, I have a whole menu of temptations and empty philosophies in front of me. Which will I ask for in prayer? Do I want what God offers in Jesus Christ or do I want all that other stuff?
Prayer is the battlefield of faith
Prayer is one main areas where I work out my answers those questions. I turn to God in prayer for all things because I feel the pressures of life and I believe God is one I should turn to. I continually turn to Him in prayer because I have recognized He is the only source of Life and blessing and there is no place else to go.
The admonition to “pray without ceasing” is not encouragement to keep asking until I reach a higher level. The admonition to “pray at all times” is to continue choosing to follow Jesus.
Prayer is not a means to an experience. It is the place where I make a decision about who I trust and what I believe. It is the place where I acknowledge who I am, who God is and therefore what I think is true about life and this world.
Biblical prayer is not the means to spiritual awakening; by the time I pray, spiritual awakening has already happened. By the time I pray, the wrestling over what I believe and who I trust has finished. The resolution is I have turned to the God of my salvation in prayer.
That can’t be scheduled as a discipline, an exercise or a routine.
The Bible does not say: “Pray this way and you’ll make better progress.” The Bible says: “The fundamental question before you is, do you trust God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ no matter what?” If you trust Him, then you’ll pray. You won’t be able to help it. Because if you trust Him, you will know He is your only hope.
Usual Disclaimer: I am heavily indebted to other thinkers and teachers. These posts are my attempt to clarify my own thinking, reading and research. I hope to either learn why I’m wrong or articulate why the theology of spiritual formation is flawed. I am NOT questioning the sincerity, faith or motivations of advocates of spiritual formation. As with any controversial topic, my goal is: 1) to know what I believe and why and 2) to understand the other side well enough to know why it fails to persuade.
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