Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Lengthening Our Memory 5

Chris Hall, in Worshiping With the Church Fathers
, examines the topic of prayer in the fathers and lands on an insight that is fundamental to prayer:

Our image of God. That is, what image of God do we have in our heads and hearts when we begin to pray? That image, Hall reminds us — and a host of theologians and writers have said the very same thing, will shape how we pray. 
What are your suggestions for developing a healthier image of God? What do you think of one recited prayer being used over and over? (Other than the Lord’s Prayer.)
He tells a delightful story from John Cassian about Serapion and Photinus. Photinus was charged with implementing Theophilus’ no-image idea of God and he explained it to Serapion, but this crushed Serapion’s prayer life because Serapion conceived of God in very physical terms. He thought God had a body — and so did many other early Christians of this period.
Chris Hall then reminds us that God accepts our prayers: “God’s grace is always surrounding, supporting and empowering us we pray; even when we err … God still accepts our feeble offerings” (118).
“We do not have to pass a theology exam before we dare to pray” (118).
Hall then mentions a few bad ideas of God: distant, demanding, whiny parent; divine drill instructor; self-indulgent grandfather.

Serapion, so Hall explains, could learn from Evagrius and Cassian and Abba Isaac who believed in the wordless and imageless form of prayer. It is about the mind’s ascent to God, where prayer is not so much an activity of the mind but the state of the mind. In addition, they believed in retreat into the desert to find utter solitude in order to focus on God. And they believed in examining the life of Jesus for instruction in prayer — and he was perfect and yet prayed.

And Abba Isaac instructs the one who wants to pray to learn to use Psalm 70:1 as a formula to which the mind returns: “Hasten, O God, to save me: O Lord, come quickly to help me.” Why choose this?
Because “it contains an invocation of God in the face of any crisis,
the humility of a devout confession,
the watchfulness of concern and constant fear,
a consciousness of one’s own frailty,
the assurance of being heard,
and confidence in a protection that is always present and at hand” (135).
While it might strike anyone as odd to select this verse, what times shows is that the one who is struggling can make profound use of this verse. (Hall provides plenty of examples.) And Isaac also believed in disciplined use of the hours of prayer — regular times for prayer.
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posted February 2, 2010 at 7:35 am

I have no problems with using one prayer over and over. Jesus has the story of the woman who kept bugging a judge over and over again to give her what she wanted until the judge relented and gave it to her due to her persistence.
I feel that I have benefitted from learning Centering Prayer as taught by Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, William Menninger and others. (There’s a very brief synopsis about it at )Using a prayer “word” is not trying to beat other thoughts out of you, but signals our intention to return to the contemplation of God’s goodness, mercy, love. It allows us to kind of move out of the way while God does the needed work within us. A powerful prayer for me is, “Jesus, help me to love.” My prayer word is “Amen.” With that word, I am telling God that I want to accept all Truth, all love that he has for me and all those who seek him. Because I can tend to be a “negative” person in some ways, worrying about things a lot, my Amen is a positive thing; it is my “Yes” to God. It is my “Do unto me as you will, not as I will.” Other great prayer words can be “Abba” or “I Am” or others.
Centering Prayer is not the only way I pray, but it helps to “anchor” all other forms of prayer.
And I do find it inspiring that Jesus prayed so often and that he often would seek out solitude to do so.

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posted February 2, 2010 at 7:48 am

Thank you so much for this series. I have truly enjoyed and have been challenged by it. Just because we live in the 21st century does not mean that we have nothing to learn from the Church Fathers – in fact, I would argue that we have much to learn from them if we will listen.

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Matthew Green

posted February 2, 2010 at 9:42 am

I think part of gaining a healthier God image is to determine and deal with the wrong images we have but may or may not know we have. As we meditate on what we know of God and compare it to Scripture and watch what comes out of our heart in response to experience and the Scriptures, we can offer our wrong beliefs to God and ask that He show us who He is. C. S. Lewis did call him the Great Iconoclast who smashes our false images of Him, so why not enlist Him in the work?

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posted February 2, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Mostly I don’t pray because I figure God knows what I’m going to say before the words come out. My prayer might be “yeh, that.” And I’m irritated by the “God fix it all” prayers, I think they should be prayers for grace and strength to go through whatever this person has to go through. So I don’t pray those prayers. Lately it occured to me to write down all the prayers in the NT and read one daily. I think it might shape how I pray to be more godly. Perhaps my truest prayer right now is when I say “help.” Because I need help right now. Schaeffer used to say about God being Abba and how kids go to their parents and say “up daddy, up,” to be picked up and held. And that we go to God and say “up abba daddy, up.” That’s what I’m praying now, too.

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Don Ledford

posted February 2, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Recited prayers can be a powerful aspect of our prayer lives. I recite several prayers on a daily basis — besides the Lord’s Prayer, I pray Psalm 23, 51, 63 and 86, among others. Repeating the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” is a more than thousand-year-old tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church and has lately become a part of my own prayer practice. I would also say Amen to Abba Isaac’s practice of fixed-hour prayer. These prayer practices are mostly absent from evangelical churches, unfortunately, but it seems a few of us are discovering the spiritual riches of our forefathers.

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