As I read through Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent J. Donovan, I was struck by the reflection on prayer as being a moment when we open ourselves up to the creative and redemptive presence of God. The author believes many Western Christians do not pray with this openness because they, just like in pagan thought, have trouble believing that God can suspend or interfere in the so-called laws or nature (p. 100). However, prayer grounded in biblical faith is open to the creative and redemptive presence of God who can and does accomplish his will even when such will seems impossible.
But what happens when, in prayer, we open ourselves to the creative and redemptive presence of God…to surrender with a “your will be done” posture? Since biblical faith knows that God’s end/goal (telos) is victory for both himself and his people (cf. 1 Cor 15), we need not to fear being open to the creative and redemptive presence of God…right?
That’s a big question that I don’t want to answer in haste. For I know the struggle I went through with trusting God in this way after the death of my son and younger brother and sometimes still encounter. Donavan tells the story of Jesus’ own struggle and openness in prayer, relating why prayer is a dangerous thing:
Jesus not only taught us how to say that prayer [The Lord’s Prayer]. He said it himself on the darkest night of his life. At that terrible moment, when he fully realized just what it was he was being called to, he once again prayed to that “Abba” of his. He asked for his daily bread, which in this case was to have that cup, that cup of poison, taken away from him. And then instead of asking a remote God to work his miracle “over there somewhere’ far away from him, he spoke that word which cost him dearly – “fiat.” Thy will be done. And by that word he opened himself up to the creating, redeeming power of God within him, and God’s powerful work would be done, not outside him but in him, and he himself would be part of and involved in that deadly answer to his prayer.
In this respect, prayer is not only risky but it’s an essential step in spiritual transformation where we open ourselves to God unto the point of saying “your will be done.” Thus Donovan goes on to say that the crucial question of prayer is “…whether we really open ourselves to him, open ourselves to his creating, saving presence” (p. 102).
Yes, this sort of prayer takes faith. It takes faith, knowing that hope is preceded by suffering, perseverance, and character (cf. Rom 5.3-5). It takes faith to continue on once we realize the great cost – the great grief and pain – that may be involved in allowing God to work creatively and redemptively within us rather than outside of us. Some days I think I have this faith, other days I don’t’. Some days I want this faith, other days I don’t…because I am afraid of what might happen. As much as I preach to myself and others that fear has nothing to do with faith, fear is a reality that must be conquered daily within me.
The challenge of spiritual transformation is not just to pray but to have faith and to pray with faith…to pray with the faith that sees the victory God has sealed in the resurrected Jesus Christ. “But thanks be for God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15.57, NRSV).
May we learn to pray in faith unto God… fiat!
* The word fiat is Latin which means “let it be done.”
This post is a slightly revised version of a post of the same title published on March 10, 2013. You can read the original post here.