Sunday, February 19, 2017

prayer and community

I've been thinking a lot lately about the communal nature of prayer.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the Psalms.  A few days ago my Psalm for the day was Psalm 46, which is know mostly for its infamous line: "Be still and know that I am God."  But, even as great as that line is, there is a lot more to Psalm 46 than that.  In particular the Sons of Korah, whoever they may have been, used a lot of communal words, like our and we and us.  It is a psalm that was obviously birthed out of struggle and hardship and chaos and disorientation, but one that was attempting to find reorientation in God.  Therefore there are a lot of images of safety and security.  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  God is our place of safety and security, he is our fortress.  Therefore we are able to "Be still and know that he is God." 

I don't know about you, but when I am in distress, or am struggling, it often leads me to isolation rather than community--which is exactly what the enemy is hoping for.  Because if he can get me separated from my community, he can get me believing all kinds of false narratives about my life and my world.  And, as someone reminded me the other day, we are all unreliable narrators of our own stories.  We need those around us to help us see beyond, or beneath, the deception.  So I love the emphasis that the Sons of Korah placed on community.  It is no accident that Ecclesiastes reminds us that "two are better than one" and that "a cord of three strands is not easily broken."  Just look at the Psalm.  It is not my refuge and strength (although that is true as well), but it is our refuge and our strength.  It is not I will not fear, but we will not fear.  These prayers were meant to be prayed in community; a place where we can remind ourselves, and one another, of this truth.  It is so easy to lose track of the fact that "The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" if I am all by myself, apart from my community.

Philo of Alexandria once said: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."  Which is so true.  And the deepest truth of that statement is that we were never meant to fight these great battles alone.  Prayer and community--or rather prayer in community--is how we fight these great battles together.  Not just in a distant "Oh, I will pray for you," dismissive sort of way.  But in a way that truly enters into the battle with and for each other.  When we see one of our brothers or sisters in a time of great distress and struggle, we must simply refuse to allow them to wage this war on their own.  Instead, we enter into prayer with and for them.  We fight and we sweat and we groan and we weep and we beg and we strain, and we knock and knock and keep on knocking--for them!

To be quite honest, I'm not exactly sure how all of this is supposed to work its way out in my life and my community yet, but I do know that I'm excited about the prospects.  I'm excited about the prospects of what God might do in us and with us and for us, as well as the prospects of what God might do in me and with me and for me as a result.  Eugene Peterson once wrote: "We are never more ourselves than when we pray, but if we remain only ourselves, we are less than ourselves."  Somehow, in a wonderfully mysterious way, we actually become more our true selves as individuals when we learn how to become our true selves in the community of prayer.  Let's start today!

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