Monday, December 30, 2013

What About Wordless Prayer?

How should we worship God? Was Savonarola right when he said (about prayer)

prayer, a man may be attending to the words, and this is a thing of a wholly material nature; he may be attending to the sense of the words, and this is rather study than prayer; and lastly, his whole thoughts may be directed to God, and this alone is true prayer. It is unnecessary to be considering either sentences or language the mind must be elevated above self, and must be wholly absorbed in the thought of God. Arrived at this state, the true believer forgets the world and its wants; he has attained almost a foreshadow of celestial happiness. To this state of elevation the ignorant may arrive as easily as the learned. It even frequently happens that he who repeats a psalm without understanding its words utters a much more holy prayer than the learned man who can explain its meaning. Words, in fact, are not indispensable to an act of prayer: when a man is truly rapt in the spirit an uttered prayer becomes rather an impediment, and ought to yield to that which is wholly mental. (emphasis added)

Savonarola has some good points, and one significant error. True, prayer does transcend words. The Holy Spirit's intercession for us proves this (Rom 8:26).

But we can't 'just' assume that God wants or enables us to pray like the Holy Spirit, in the same way we can't 'just' assume that God wants us to go around whipping hucksters and calling religious hypocrites white-washed tombs to their face, like Jesus did. Communication within the Godhead can't be bound by words, because words – as we know them, anyway – are a creation, not eternal, and certainly not needed by for the perfect communion and communication that has always existed between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Human beings, on the other hand, are bound to words. Try having a conversation without using a single word, and see how far that gets you! Gestures – smiling, frowning, crying, laughing, sighing – help us to get our point across, but they can be misinterpreted easily. (People, especially guys, aren't mind-readers!)

In fact, we can't even talk ourselves without words! We can't process our own feelings without words. If I can't even understand myself without words, how can I understand God?

So, if believed Savonarola, if I believed that words are an impediment to the prayers of a man who is “truly rapt in the spirit,” how would I then pray? How would I think about God? How would I apply Ecclesiastes 5:2, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you are on earth”? How do we govern our prayers? By mystical, inward-looking, New Age, transcendental meditation? By listening for the Holy Spirit's 'still small voice,' a special revelation made just for lil' ol' me? No. Our minds, no matter how well-versed in Scripture, still need to be instructed by Scripture, and our hearts are deceitful (Jer 17:9). That means we need to govern our prayers by the inerrant, sufficient word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

I'm not saying there is no such thing as a wordless prayer. I myself have a habit of sitting quietly for a little while in an attitude of prayer without uttering a word. But I don't claim that's the ideal and most spiritual way to pray. The best prayers come from a mind saturated with the word of God and the deep truths we find there.

Brother, sister, if you claim you've reached a higher level of communing with Jesus by going beyond the Bible, please consider that that 'still small voice' may be just your own, because Jesus never taught us to pray without words.
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place... [and] one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray...." And he said to them, "When you pray, say..." (Luke 11:1-2)
Oh, and by the way, for all his admirable characteristics, Savonarola was a false prophet who twisted the word of God to suit his own fancies. But then, what's to stop anyone from doing exactly the same thing in a movement or church that constantly encourages its people to listen for the 'still, small voice' and then allows them to interpret God's word according to their own fancies?

Friends, let's take God at his Word.

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