The Problem of Prayer

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Here we are, then, we Christians, looked upon as believers, as obedient servants and as such faced with a new problem: that of prayer. Is it really a new problem? beyond faith and obedience? So it would seem. Calvin says that prayer deals with our life and our relation to the exigencies of this world. The question is as follows: I, who am a Christian, can I really live according to the word of the gospel and of the law, according to my faith and in obedience? Shall I be able to live thus in the midst of the necessities of my existence? –Yes, according to the gospel it is possible in the holiness of obedience, to live that which is given us to live, that which we must live. In order to do this, we must listen to what is told us about prayer and ask God himself to come to our aid, to instruct us, to give us the possibility of walking in this path. Such a quest must be made in order that we may live. Prayer is this quest.

On the other hand, there is our inward life, that of weak and wily human beings. On the other hand, there is our outward life in this world, with all its enigmas and difficulties. There is also the judgment of God, who encounters us and says to us at every moment, “This is not enough.” I may even reach the point of asking myself, “Underneath it all, am I a Christian? My faith being small and my obedience slight, of what meaning are these words: ‘I believe, I obey’?” Deep is the abyss. The core of our being is put to question at every moment we believe and obey as well as we can. In this situation (which is the same for every Christian ) prayer means going toward God, asking him to give us what we lack–strength, courage, serenity, prudence–asking him to teach us how to obey the law and accomplish the commandments, and then that God may instruct us how to continue in believing and believing yet more, and that he may renew our faith.

Prayer means that we address ourselves to God, who has already spoken to us in the gospel and in the law. We find ourselves face to face with him when we are tormented by the imperfection of our obedience and the discontinuity of our faith. Because of God we are in distress. God alone is able to heal us of it. In order to ask him to do so, we pray… Thus for the Reformers everything was reduced to this question: How is it possible for me to have an encounter with God? I have heard his word, I wish sincerely to listen to it, and yet here I am in my insufficiency. The Reformers were not unaware of other difficulties, but they knew that such hindrances are all implicit in the following reality: I stand before God with my desires, my thoughts, my misery; I must live with him, for to live means nothing other than to live with God. Here I am, caught between the exigencies of life, both small and great, and the necessity of prayer. The Reformers tell us the first thing is to pray.

–Karl Barth

One Response to “The Problem of Prayer”

  1. MED Says:

    Hey, a special Barthian birthday treat! 🙂 I like it!