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"Tony Robinson is one of the most active church leaders in the United States, greatly in demand as he teaches congregations and denominations about church life. His work has a deep theological underpinning, which many congregational-development gurus don't have."

Fleming Rutledge
author of The Gospel and the New York Times and And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament

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The Point of Prayer

I have previously mentioned Allen Verhey’s excellent book, “The Christian Art of Dying: Learning from Jesus.” It is a book with implications not only for death and dying, but for living.

In one section, Verhey has an imagined dying person who is exasperated with the a-theological, psychological approach of the hospital chaplain. This leads Verhey to imagine what a better encounter with a chaplain might look like, including an exploration of prayer, in its several types: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, lament and petition.

This imagined patient, who seeks to die faithfully and well, speaks to his chaplain of prayers of petition. “Prayer is not magic. It is not a way to put God at my disposal. It is the way to put myself at God’s disposal. It is not a technique to get what I want, either a fortune or fourteen more healthy years. It is not a spiritual technique to be pulled out as a last resort when medical technologies have failed. Prayer is not a means, not even a ‘means to make God present’. It attends to God; and as it does, it discovers in memory and hope that God is present.”

I very much like that.

And it suggests what I think to be true about prayer and the point of it. That point is that we attend to God, that we seek God’s will for us and the strength to do it, and that we are reminded of God’s deeds and purposes.

And then Verhey speaks of prayer in the midst of dying, writing, “Attending to God in confident hope of God’s final triumph frees us from desperately holding on to this life, frees us to let go of it, leaving it in the hands of the one who can be trusted.”

Beautiful.

Prayer, then and in its several forms, is “to attend to God.”

Once more from Verhey: “To attend to God is not easy to learn -- or painless. And given our inveterate attention to ourselves and to our own needs and wants, we frequently corrupt prayer. We corrupt prayer whenever we turn it into a means to accomplish some other good than the good of prayer, whenever we make of it an instrument to achieve wealth or happiness or life or health or moral improvement.”

 

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