Calvin Miller: Rethinking Prayer, Retelling Christ's Story
- Thursday, April 16, 2009
Do you think that Celtic prayer is the highest form of communication with God?
I think it’s a real way of seeing prayer and not necessarily the highest. Christian have prayed primarily in terms of intercession. We all memorize the little outline--adoration, confession, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication—as a five-fold outline for prayer. But the only book on prayer recently that sold in a big way was The Prayer of Jabez which is totally supplication. It ignores adoration, it ignores confession, it ignores contrition and it ignores thanksgiving. It focuses on “Lord, extend my territory,” as Jabez said. In other words, it’s really a selfish prayer if you look at it. It’s not that it’s wrong. Jesus said to ask your Heavenly Father for what you want. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are four other things that are great, too. Like adoration. Do you adore the Father? Do you speak to him with this adoration? And contrition. Are you sorry for your sins? Not just as a believer coming to Christ for the first time, but daily in our lives.
There’s been a shift in recent years toward a more “casual” faith or approach to worship. But there also seems to be a number who are reverting back and looking to add more reverence and order. Any thoughts?
I think the tide might be turning a little bit. When I go to heavily liturgical churches, there are some things about them I don’t like. They’re not good at spontaneity. Episcopalians have never been really good at spontaneity. But Pentecostals and Baptists are. So we like that feeling of spontaneity, but also the Episcopalians are good at formulaic praying. There are some beautiful things in their Book of Common Prayer. What is written there is often out of the Scriptures. So there’s lots there. Another thing you pick up from the Celts—and from the Episcopalians—they use the Bible more than evangelicals do. It’s an interesting thing. Evangelicals talk about being people of the Book, but you go to church and the pastor may only use two verses and you don’t hear any more. But if you go to an Episcopal church, you can guarantee you’re going to hear from the Old Testament and from the New Testament, the Gospels, the Epistles. They have lots of reading from the Bible within a single service, and I think that’s what people really want.
One of the great things that happened in my recent travels to Ireland was that we went to Glen Stall Abbey, and we stayed among the Benedictines who are kind of the evangelicals in the Catholic church. The Benedictines don’t have statutes all around, don’t have pictures on the walls of popes or saints. They just don’t. And what happened to us there was that I had about fifteen masters-level students with me, and we went to church five times a day and listened to the Bible being read. Nobody built a sermon around it or said, “Let me explain this from my commentary, because there’s a Greek word we need to look at.” We just read the Bible, and we read it and read it and read it. And I was amazed at how much power there was. The word is lectio divina. It is a simple reading of Scripture with no commentary. Is there power in it? I think there is, but we’ve lost that. We feel like we have to read a verse and then explain it for thirty minutes.
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