Friday, October 13, 2006

Praying in 2nd Person

For the latest installment of a lesser known Bible passage, a prayer. From Acts 4:24-31 (NASB, w/ a few adjustments):

24And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, 25who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,


27"For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29"And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus."

31And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

I enjoy a great many things about this prayer. For one, I love how the early Christians received an INSTANT answer to their request to speak the Word with boldness. It's always fun when God decides to answer our prayers instantly. Also, one of the things I've tried to emphasize in my teaching recently is how important it is that we retain a boldness when we speak about our faith. And, a lot of times, we equate boldness with rudeness or arrogance. Yet, there is example after example in Acts of how to be bold politely & in a well-mannered fashion (FWIW, my favorite example is Paul's defense in Acts 26). Among other things that we ask of God, we should ask him for Boldness.

I also like how the early Christians connected Psalms 2 with what was happening in the world around them. One thing I like about modern-day post-liberal theology (and specifically with regard to Scripture) is how they capture the sense of how the early Christians viewed Scripture like unto a script to be lived out. That is, that Scripture is not simply a chronicle of past events, but that it is also a living document which finds allegorical-like application in current events. It is not simply a document to be studied, but it is also (and perhaps even more ...) a script to be lived out. And so the early Christians, in this prayer, found an allegorical match for every character mentioned in that Psalms 2 passage (as I underlined for you above). Also, for you non-Greekniks, "Nations" & "Gentiles" is the same word in the original language. So, in interpreting this way, they took courage from the words of Psalms 2. And as the installed ruler of Psalms 2 vanquishes the foe with ease, the early Christians ask that they may vanquish the foe via the name & authority of God's annointed.

None of us will ever forget September 11th -- it's events, it's aftermath, and where we were when we heard the news. I was at a Bible Major's Retreat at Camp Takodah in Arkansas, barely a month into my first semester at Harding University. It was an amazing scene to return to campus later that afternoon and to put pictures & video with the devastating descriptions we had already heard. And one other thing I will never forget is Chapel on September 12th. I remember sitting down & seeing a gigantic American flag behind the podium & Chapel leaders' seats. I don't remember what songs we sang or even anything that Dr. Burks said as he brought the devotional message that morning. But I'll never forget the Scripture that Dr. Burks read:

1 God is our refuge and strength,

     A very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change

     And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;

Was the writer of Psalms 46 writing prophetically about the events of September 11th? No. But it's words find new life & special meaning as it's words are compared with the events of September 11th. One thing that I love to do is to pray the Psalms -- reciting a Psalm & making it my own prayer. I suggest that you try it, as well, and that you try to capture a new wider view of Scripture, rather than just the narrow historical-critical perspective.

But what impresses me most about this prayer is what you will find emboldened. This prayer is almost exclusively in 2nd person. You know, you can tell a lot about someone from listening to how they speak. Even Jesus said, "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). And as I think about this prayer alongside my own prayers, I think about how selfish I must sound. I mean, if I were to have prayed this prayer, I wonder if it might have sounded something like:

"Lord. I know you know about what's going on here. Things are about to get pretty tough for us down here. The Jewish Council threatened us, Lord. We need your help, and your power. Lord, bless us."
It is very subtle, but there is a distinct difference between speaking in 1st person vs. speaking in 2nd person. Do you see the difference? This second prayer is more me/we-centered. And it is primarily concerned with what happens to me/we.

However, the 2nd person prayer is more concerned with the movement of God & the will of God. These Christians see themselves no longer as individuals, but corporately as the literal body of Christ, carrying out God's wishes as Jesus' very hands & feet. They weren't concerned with the threats against their lives & livelihood; they were interested in how the recent events were going to affect the infant Christian movement.

Not only that, but the prayer was more personal. It was a conversation: you & me (or, with that group, I guess "us"). Sometimes, in my own prayers, I can catch myself drifting & have to catch and ask myself, "Who are you talking to? Yourself? Or God?" And I've found that being deliberate about using 2nd person language in prayer, and breaking out of normal speech patterns and well-worn prayer phrases, can be unsettling as you all of a sudden gain more perspective on who it is you are keeping company with: The Almighty.

I urge you to try this. Say a prayer in which you almost exclusively & very deliberately use 2nd person language. For those of you who may have more advanced prayer lives than me, perhaps this won't be very startling. But I'm guessing that for some of you who read this blog, praying in the 2nd person will almost be like a paradigm shift. It is amazing how we can sometimes almost subconciously think about God in a way that we would never affirm consciously. You will begin to view God in your prayers less as like a Divine Dispensing Machine (money in: candy bar out ... prayer in: blessing out), but begin to view Him more as a Person with feelings & values as you are talking to Him. Less of a mechanistic view and more of a personal view.

Best wishes to all of you as you learn how to better pray in the 2nd person.


David Johnson said...


My prayer life has always been somewhat anemic, certainly not what it should be. Yet I've noticed a pattern. When I lead prayers publicly, I take a lot of thought to what I'm going to say, I put energy into addressing God, being bold, and being brief about it. When I pray in private, I'm more likely to fall into cliche phrases and ramble on for as long as I can keep a train of thought going.

Matt said...

Hey Philip,

Excellent post. Keep them coming!