Day 7: Prayer As Participation - Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools

Day 7: Prayer as Participation

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20–23

The assumption of biblical prayer is that God’s action always precedes my request. In other words, the aim is not to get God in on what I think he should be doing. Rather, the aim of prayer is to get us in on what God is doing, become aware of it, join it, and enjoy the fruit of participation.

Eugene Peterson describes this as praying in the “middle voice.” When we pray in the middle voice, he says, “We neither manipulate God (active voice) nor are manipulated by God (passive voice). We are involved in the action and participate in its results but do not control or define it (middle voice). Prayer takes place in the middle voice.”

Jesus not only taught us this way of prayer; he lived it. Take, for instance, Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Twice in today’s excerpt of his prayer, you can see Jesus acknowledge action that was started by God, then join the action by praying for an outcome that he will participate in bringing about.

Mary too understood praying in the middle voice. After hearing the angel Gabriel’s stunning announcement that she would give birth to the Messiah, she responded simply, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” It’s a stunning prayer of surrender and participation. It’s prayer in the middle voice, as a recipient of God’s action and a responder to it.

I want what I see in Jesus and Mary. I want to cooperate with God’s redemptive work in this broken world. I want to swim with the current of God’s will, paddling my arms and kicking my legs but propelled on by a stronger current too. Praying in the voice of participation—the middle voice—is how that happens.

It should be noted, though, that this kind of prayer is a risky business. In my experience, God has a habit of employing us in response to our own prayers, because it’s impossible to know God through private prayer without equally participating with God in public mercy. To pray is to be led by the hand to broken places, broken people, and broken parts within yourself. Jesus feels at home in the company of the misfits, marginalized, oppressed, and outcast, so if you spend time in conversation with Jesus, you better believe he’ll invite you to come with him where he’s going. Try it out and you’ll find that it’s the invitation of a lifetime.

To Practice: Recognize a single situation or relationship in your life where you believe God is already working. Ask him for the deepening and furthering of his renewal there and invite him to send you an answer to your own prayer.

From the Book: