The art of praying: praying without egotism
Why we pray and what makes a prayer a prayer is what we discussed in the first two articles in this series. In conclusion, we will look at four aspects of praying that we find both in public as well as in private prayers.
Every prayer begins with the praise and worship of God. He is omnipotent, majestic, mysterious, and sublime. He causes man to tremble, but also fascinates him at the same time. Worship is owed Him, because He far transcends anything we can directly experience, and because all limitations are suspended in Him. It is in adoration and worship that the individual reverently approaches the majesty of God, which also comes to expression in terms such as holiness, omnipotence, and eternity.
In both the Old and New Testaments, there are many examples of worship and adoration: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker,” it says in the sixth verse of Psalm 95. In the Old Testament the object of worship is the God of Israel. He is the Creator of the entire universe. The New Testament establishes that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are due as much worship as God the Father. The resurrected and exalted Lord is also to be worshipped. And the Holy Spirit is identified as the presence of God and the Maker of the new creation in prayer. That which was said of God in the Old Testament is now also applied to Christ: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 9–11).
Adoration is followed by gratitude. The person praying knows that the whole of human existence is affected by one’s relationship with God. Those who give thanks do so first and foremost on their own behalf, for their very existence—regardless of whether they are successful by human standards or not. This gratitude brings to expression that God is the creator and sustainer of His creation and that the individual understands himself as part of this creation. And just as there are many petitions in a person’s life there is also much gratitude: the experience of divine protection as well as the presence and gracious care of God inspire human beings to give thanks to Him. This gratitude is expressed in the knowledge that one’s life and conditions of life are not governed by coincidence, but are defined by that which God permits and forbids.
At times it appears as though our prayers consist primarily of petitions. Please – please – please: one of the most frequently used words in human language. Even in the Lord’s Prayer there are many petitions. Petitions are not only expressed in order to have one’s wishes fulfilled. Turning to God in petition makes it clear that God is the One who can be addressed in all situations of life—in good and in bad moments. The supplicant incorporates his own situation of life into the prayer.
Anyone who asks God for anything recognises in Him the helper, giver, and benefactor of life. In prayer, man experiences that God is merciful and kindly disposed to His creation. Human beings recognise Him as the One who either grants or denies petitions. A prayer of petition is based on the insight that God inclines Himself to His creation and that He loves that which He has created. God is not distant from, nor indifferent to, His creation—of which human beings are an integral part—but rather accompanies and protects it. He desires to make salvation and eternal life accessible to all human beings.
Intercessions arise from the believer’s awareness that he does not practise his faith on his own but together with other believers. Beyond that the supplicant knows that he has been created in the image of God, and thus exists in relationship to other human beings—as they have likewise been created in the image of God—and therefore shares in the fellowship of all God’s creatures together with them.
Beyond that, intercession follows from the commandment to love one’s neighbour. The plea of the supplicant that God should also protect and preserve others and grant them salvation protects the believer from the danger of desiring salvation exclusively for himself. Prayers and a selfish quest for salvation exclude each other. And that is why our plea is: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6: 10).