This week I am focusing on various aspects of prayer. I will offer theological, historical and practical perspectives on prayer. I hope this week (the first week of Pentecost on the traditional church calendar) will encourage you to enter into prayer both for a personal renewal and a renewal and growth of the Christian faith worldwide. Join me throughout the week for various thoughts and resources on prayer and living a more prayerful life. Click here for Monday’s post on Unanswered Prayer. Click here for yesterday’s post on Praying the Psalms.
Recently The Gospel Coalition featured some thoughts on prayer from Augustine by Tim Keller. Augustine’s words to a woman named Proba regarding prayer come from the heart of a pastor. Augustine shares these four principles: 1) recognize our utter dependence on God, 2) pray for the things that God desires, 3) pray according to the Lord’s prayer and, 4) understand the Spirit will guide our prayers when we don’t know how to pray.
Augustine is also an exemplar regarding prayer in his theological writings. Theological exploration, for Augustine, was an opportunity for prayer. Never should theology or exegesis be divorced from prayer. All of our life’s work should be an offering to God guided by a posture of prayer. Augustine recognized this vital connection and demonstrated it throughout all his works. To illustrate this point, I want to briefly highlight two of Augustine’s most significant works in order to show how Augustine connected the theological task with prayer.
Augustine’s Confessions is considered a spiritual classic and continues to be read by both Christians and non-Christians alike. On the surface it’s a personal narrative of Augustine’s journey to truth. In the classical philosophical manner, Augustine is viewed as the seeker of truth, investigating truth claims and demonstrating a life of spiritual awakening. While this motif can be compared to other similar texts, Augustine’s Confessions rises above the rest. While seemingly a tale of self-discovery, Confessions is ultimately a reflection on grace uttered as a prayer to God. Personal history is interwoven with theological reflection all the while acknowledging God in prayer throughout the text. This is a personalized prayer narrative. In the opening chapter of the work Augustine proclaims, “I will seek you, O Lord, and call upon you. I call upon you, O Lord, in my faith which you have given me, which you have inspired in me through the humanity of you Son, and through the ministry of you preacher” (Augustine, Confessions, 1.1). Recognizing his utter dependence upon God, Augustine submits this prayerful reflection to readers. He highlights the sovereign work of God’s grace in his life and humbly submits his work back to him. Those reading his Confessions are thereby prompted to do the same, prayerfully thanking God for their salvation.
All throughout the Confessions we see prayer language. This is a confession before God and a prayer of thanksgiving to him. In Augustine’s On the Trinity, another quintessential work from the North African bishop, readers are met with a more traditional theological treatise. Augustine uses deep philosophical and theological language to explore the nature of the triune God, yet all the while, prayer fuels his efforts. Augustine concludes his monumental work with a humble prayer saying, “My strength and my infirmity are in your sight: preserve the one, and heal the other. My knowledge and my ignorance are in your sight; where you have opened to me, receive me as I enter; where you have closed, open to me as I knock. May I remember you, understand you, love you. Increase these things in me, until you renew me completely” (Augustine, On the Trinity, 15.28). Augustine, recognizing his weakness, confesses before God and gives him praise. While reflecting deeply on the nature of God, Augustine lays himself down before him in humble adoration. Augustine demonstrates the kind of humility so desperately needed in theological reflection today. Augustine’s On the Trinity is a treatise on understanding the triune God, and ultimately submitting his life and work to that same God whom he knows and adores.
So what can we learn from Augustine on prayer. Three simple observations will suffice. First, we must recognize our rightful place before God. In our work and daily lives, we must prayerfully acknowledge that God alone has saved us and continues to sustain us. Our starting and ending place each day should be with God in prayer. Second, we must seek to infiltrate our lives with prayer. As with Augustine’s Confessions, we too should seek to submit all of our life’s journey to God in prayer. All of life should be lived before the face of God. Third, we must seek to honor God in every accomplishment. Even our best work should be submitted to the Lord, with our eyes towards him and not ourselves. Whatever accomplishments we may have must be recognized for what they are–God’s grace. This teacher of the church, the doctor of grace, recognized that no work or effort of his was accomplished apart from God’s grace. His life of prayer reflects this. May our lives of prayer do the same.