Saturday, 20 February 2016

Prayer and the heart

In the Torah, God promises that the people of Israel will be 'his very own people', if they will in turn show allegiance to their Maker by keeping and observing his laws and commandments with all their heart and soul. And that means trusting entirely in what God teaches and provides for a blessed life. The law of God safeguards some freedoms while requiring duties and responsibilities of his people. This covenant with God asks that people not only live by the law, but love what it offers as well.

The longest Psalm 119, is an extended poetic meditation on the value of God's law and its observance. It begins thus:

'Happy are those whose life is blameless, who follow God's law!
 Happy are those who do his will, seeking him with all their hearts.'

Once again the idea of seeking God appears, in the setting of engagement in a way of life governed and stabilised by higher social and spiritual values. Blind obedience, unthinking adherence is not asked for, but rather conscious understanding, motivated by love.

'LORD, what love have I unto thy law : all the day long is my study in it.' (Psalm 119:97)

The heights and depths of communion with God in prayer may indeed take us beyond understanding, but this is not where the journey begins. Heartfelt prayer is rooted in the effort to seek God with as much understanding as each person is capable of, given their level of education and experience.

Understanding is attained by the exercise of reason, emotion, memory and will. The degree to which each is active in prayer at any time will vary, but none can ever be excluded, for prayer involves the whole person, mentally, physically and spiritually.

'Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship.' (Romans 12:1) 

In the context of Hebrew language 'offering your bodies' here refers to the whole self, in the same way as it does in the words of Jesus at the Last Supper 'This is my body given for you'.

In Christian tradition 'prayer of the heart' carries a similar meaning, where the heart, as the central organ of the body, stands for the whole person in relation to God and others. Only God, who sees the whole picture of our lives in all its complexity, is able to perceive the real motives and intentions of the whole person

'For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.' (Hebrews 4:12)

'Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.' (Psalm 139:23)

Our acts of worship acknowledge this when they commence with this prayer:

'Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit .... '

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