Blaise Pascal is mostly remembered as a 17th Century French child prodigy; a genius in mathematics and physics. But Pascal was also an extraordinary theologian and apologist of grace. Though he remained in the Catholic Church, he was beloved of Protestants.
Pascal is the author of one of my favourite quotes on prayer: “God has instituted prayer in order to lend his creatures the dignity of causality” … causality being the principle that every effect has a cause.
As Pascal understood, God instituted prayer for our benefit!
God can work without us! He is not dependent on our intelligence. He does not need our advice. And unlike us, he knows what is best. God is perfectly capable of fulfilling all his plans without our involvement – except, that is not the way he has chosen to work in the world.
Because God wants to work with us–in a way that both engages and dignifies us–he established prayer as the means (cause) by which we receive his supernatural help (effect).
I think most of us understand this… at least to some degree.
The issue that really seizes my mind, is the flip side of the “dignity of causality”–and that is, the responsibility of causality. What happens when we do not pray?
I believe the answer is found in Isaiah 30:15-19, where we read that because God’s people refused to “return and rest”–i.e. trust–in their covenant God (v15), preferring instead to save themselves (v16), “therefore” they would fail (v17) (cf Deut 8:11-20). “Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you…” (v18a).
And so it was that in 701 BC, as the armies of Assyria’s King Sennacherib rampaged across Judah sacking town after town, looting, destroying, killing, abducting … the Lord waited to be gracious.
Only after the enemy had arrived at the gates of Jerusalem (Isaiah 36) did Judah’s King Hezekiah return/repent and rest/wait on the Lord (Isaiah 37). As French academic and lay theologian Jacques Ellul notes, King Hezekiah’s withdrawal into the house of the Lord and his crying to him was a political act whereby the truth that God is the Lord was reaffirmed.
And Hezekiah’s prayer (37:16-20) changed everything. As foretold in Isaiah 28:5-6, as soon as the people returned to the way of faith, the battle was turned back at the gate.
“Thus,” affirms Isaiah commentator Alec Motyer, “the way of believing prayer is the truly practical way of dealing with the harsh realities of this world. What neither armaments (36:9) nor diplomacy (30:1,2) nor money (2 Kings 18:13,14) could achieve, prayer has done.”
“The Lord waits to be gracious to you… Blessed are those who wait for him! … How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (from Isaiah 30:18,19 ESV).
I must confess, the thought of God waiting horrifies me. But I also know that God is never inactive, and that as God waits he is seizing the day and redeeming the times to do another great new work in which we are integral!
Never before in the history of the Church, has the Church been in the position that we are in today, where, thanks to today’s globalized networks and information systems, satellites and digital communication technologies, the Church can now know about and respond to a crisis–even on the other side of the world, even as it is unfolding, sometimes even before it unfolds–for the saving of many lives. This is new and totally unprecedented.
I believe that as the Church responds to the issue of persecution – through speaking, praying, and giving [see www.ElizabethKendal.com ACTION (Speak, Pray, Give)]–three effects will become evident.
I believe a serious and passionate response from the Church will:
- enable the saving of many lives; even the preservation and restoration of whole Christian communities;
- facilitate the sanctification of the Church, as the Church becomes in practice what the Church is in theory/reality i.e. the Body of Christ;
- present the watching world with a vision of sacrificial Christian love – reflecting the image and sacrificial love of Christ – “that the world may believe”, which is precisely what Jesus prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed.
“I do not ask for these only [his current disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (emphasis mine)
I believe that the 21st Century could go down in Christian history as the century in which God knitted together an increasingly global Church, using chords of love forged in the flames of persecution, that the world may believe.
Pray that the Church will seize the day!
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin
Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash