“The use of set prayers can be a help even for a small community living together under certain circumstances, but often it becomes only an evasion of real prayer. By using ecclesial forms and the church’s wealth of thought, we can easily deceive ourselves about our own prayer life. The prayers then become beautiful and profound, but not genuine…Here the poorest stammering can be better than the best-phrased prayer.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 45.
Continuing our reflection on the above passage:
Life together is life lived patiently and in longsuffering. We simply can’t, or at least shouldn’t, tightly orchestrate communal prayer. We can model and we can coach and we can encourage, but often our own struggles are not the struggles of others, and often our perspectives are limited – perhaps better…usually they are limited, quite limited. This is to say that we ought to give others room to work out their own prayer lives; to be sure we can nurture and encourage a corporate life of prayer; counseling those who are reluctant to pray aloud to let go and speak, and counseling those who are quick to engage in extended prayer aloud to give room to others and to support others in prayer. We can model extemporaneous prayer, we can model praying the Scriptures, we can model praying “set prayers”, and we can model silent prayer.
The more diverse the backgrounds of those living in community the greater sensitivity we should have to perspectives of those in the community – they will not all be our perspective. Furthermore, it is amazing how the Lord of the Body will work His will through the members of His Body if the leaders will get out of the way and allow the members of the Body to interact with one another – the leaders need not mediate the prayer experience, they need not filter it, they need not insist that it follow a certain form in every expression and every gathering. Often those young in Christ, coming from different backgrounds, can more easily build one another up in guileless love than a seasoned leader can – for they tend to speak the language of the heart and not the mind, and they tend to live in awe of their Lord Jesus and newness of life than those who have trodden many miles of pilgrimage. Sometimes leaders know too much and what they know eclipses the Jesus they know – better to get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do. I have sometimes thought that seminary graduates ought to be placed on the ministerial sidelines for a year or more lest they fall into a knowledge trap – knowledge surely puffs up but love edifies. Perhaps we should be sent to work on a farm or in a factory? Then we could re-observe life and the Holy Spirit could test what we have been taught as it is tested in the lives of others – if it is not real in our lives in the factory or on the farm or in the restaurant then we need not preach it and we need not preach.
Let those in life together learn to support one another in prayer, however that prayer may be expressed; and let it be expressed in such a way that we speak for the community of believers and on behalf of a dying world.
I may never pray as some brothers and sisters pray, but I can ever pray with them.
Life together, lived in Christ and lived under the Word of God, is organic and as such the life of prayer of the community is organic – the form of expression today may not be the form of expression tomorrow, we live in times and seasons. Whatever the season, we can confidently gather in the assurance that our Lord Jesus will meet us and commune with us in the Holy Spirit, we can confidently expect that our kind heavenly Father will draw us to Himself and to one another.