"All that you ever ask in prayer you shall have."
What happens when we pray?
John M. Versteeg gives several provocative observations on the internal and mystical results of prayer. There is much wisdom in these few sentences!
Prayer is not a labor saving device but a task-producing one. The mystics called prayer the hardest kind of work. For when you really pray you have to do something about it. You get off your knees and get onto your feet! You learn to live hard! Prayer makes you feel a Presence that disturbs you with the toil of elevated tasks. It brings a spiritual staying power, the perseverance of the saints. You become all atingle with expectancy over the outcome of the understanding to which you and God have arrived. Prayer sets up the inner sentinel. It eventuates in our saying, not in a tone of resignation but in a shout of resolution, "Thy will be done!"
When we pray aright we become able to pray, we become Amens to our prayers, we become answers to our prayers. When we are made answers to our prayers, we make Amens of others. In prayer, then, we donate ourselves to God, renounce our own preferences, and accept voluntarily the heroic impossibilities for which we pray! God, in answer to prayer, gives us the hidden manna. In the great slogan of Calvin, He does a work of grace in our hearts.
Wow. Versteeg captures well the passion of prayer, the subjective side of prayer where we enter the will of God by the act of prayer itself. As P. T. Forsyth notes, "In prayer we have already begun to do the will of God." One cannot truly pray "Thy will be done" without entering a personal transformation, a change – perhaps mystical and quiet, but a change nonetheless. This is a frightening aspect of prayer, especially for comfortable modern humans. Because, as Versteeg notes, real prayer makes you learn to live hard -- and we don't like living hard!
But this is an undeniable subjective aspect to prayer where we enter the will of God itself and actually become “answers to our prayers.” It makes life not easy but exalted, not comfortable but mystical. Looking back, we don’t know exactly how it happened, but somehow God has changed us…and now we help others change.
This is exciting, mysterious stuff.
And perhaps even more mysterious is the objective side of prayer. Prayer not only changes us, it also “puts pressure on God” [Forsyth]. And here the objective reality in prayer takes place – from this pressure on God and God’s resultant action, miracles begin to occur outside of ourselves in terms that we could never affect in human strength.
True prayer then is a dance between subjectively entering the will of God [and being transformed in the act] and in seeing the hand of God objectively at work in our world.
From these two sides of prayer flow two great mystical truths:
1. If we seek the objective answers [i.e. miracles] without accepting the transformation [subjective change] we are not truly praying. Nor are we truly seeking God, but rather worshipping self. Is this why our modern world sees such a paucity of answers? That is the first mystical truth, and the second is even more shocking.
2. In changing us and then divinely acting in response to those changes, God brings humans into the higher spheres of His will. It is a necessary spiritual truth then that God desires us to transcend lower “permissive” aspects of human life and partner with His perfect will. God wants us to be a partner with His higher will. As we dance in prayer light, accepting the transformation and then unifying our desires with His, He acts miraculously to bring His higher will into our lives…and into the lives of those we love, those for whom we pray. Here again, it is a dance of the two sides of prayer: God and us – God acts, we accept, and are changed; we enter this transformation, claim the higher prayer, and God acts! Each step in the dance spirals higher and higher…beauty, mystery and transformation: Truly miraculous. All for the glory of God and our highest good!
It is a paradox of the will of God: God’s glory becomes our highest good. In prayer we partner with and become the answers of God, entering the highest good for which we were destined!
This is prayer’s true effect. Hidden manna indeed!
God does a work of grace in our hearts and then causes our hearts to work grace.