Scholar Samuel Balentine defines prayer like this: “A primary means of communication that binds together God and humankind in intimate and reciprocal relationship… In it’s broadest sense prayer is communication with God that comprises both word and deed, both verbal discourse and nonverbal, performative acts” (emphasis is mine).
That is a fancy but pretty interesting way of saying, we pray to God both in the way we speak to him, and in the way we act for him.
In John 17 Jesus prays what is now recognized as the “High Priestly Prayer” right before he is to be arrested (if you have time, I encourage you to go read John 17 yourself, or click here). In this prayer, we see Jesus praying for us, for his disciples, for all believers with his words. Some might argue that Jesus continued to pray that prayer in action by going to the cross. What better model could there be of prayer by words and deeds? Jesus eloquently articulated how we are to be in communion with God and each other, then he continues his prayer by giving up his life as the ultimate sacrifice.
Most of us know what prayer is. Most of us pray regularly, at least in words. But as I thought about prayer as action, I found myself challenged by how seldom I pray with my deeds.
My challenge to us this week is that we think of how Jesus prayed for us in John 17 as we focus on our own prayers. This week, aim to be in communion with the Body of Christ. This week, know that you are consecrated to God, almost as if we have been placed in his lap as a child is in the lap of their parent. This week, not only in words but also in prayers of action, obey our commission to go into the world with love so that the whole world will know how God loved them. What greater challenge could there be than to show God’s love with all we meet in words and in actions?
Hear this prayer I prayed for the congregation at Bethany UMC on Sunday:
O great God, we are so thankful that you, even in the hour that you would be handed over to death, you prayed for us. What a humbling thought to know that you interceded on our behalf.
We come to you today to confess we have not always been obedient. We confess that we have not lived in communion with your body; even though we are diverse we are all one. We confess that we have not always seen ourselves as holy children, placed in your lap. We confess that we have not always obeyed our commissioning, to pray for the world in words and actions that your love would be received by all.
But what a good God you are, in spite of our flaws you see fit to call us your beloved, your children, your chosen people. We ask that, more and more each day, we would know you. Even as we have left behind the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, let us still be guided to where the Infant Redeemer was laid.
As we leave this place today and go into the world this week, let us pray to you in word and action alike. Let us cry out to you with honesty; let us share with you our pain, our hurt, our worry. Let us share with you our wants, desires, and joys. God, truly let us be the revelation of your love. As one body, given to you and called to go into the world, let us be examples of your great love to this often dark world.
We trust now that you are here with us and that you will go with us as we leave. We know that it is you, ‘Your presence, that makes the difference. You are a cloud by day, a fire in the night, you are a way when there is no way, you are sight for the blind. You are healing for the hurting and freedom for the burdened, O God’ (words from a song by Andrew Williams).
We ask with the brashness you have called us to use that we might go in peace and come back safely.
Thank you for all your great many gifts. We pray in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the head of the body of which we all belong to. Amen.”