Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Papa Prayer

If you view prayer as a wish list to God, then prepared to be challenged. Larry Crabb has made it a habit to challenge our comfortable Baby Boomer-style legalism.

In an earlier book The Pressure's Off, Crabb challenged our tendency to reduce Christianity to a group of principles and formulas we follow in order to receive blessings (e.g., "Follow these five simple steps and your marriage will turn out fine!"). He demonstrated how God is not necessarily interested in getting us out of our struggles. He is much more interested in getting us to know him.

The Papa Prayer builds on this foundation and offers one of the most beautiful and sensible approaches to prayer I've seen. Larry is a realist and he won't settle for platitudes or sentimental views of prayer. He isn't given to exaggeration or hyperbole. Larry will share exactly what he is experiencing in prayer and how the "PAPA prayer" has been shaping him.

He begins with our view of God. For some this is old hat, for others this can be threatening and seemingly sacriligious. He invites us to approach God as "papa" (you might want to do some research on the Aramaic word "Abba" if you have a problem with addressing God so intimately). He goes on to describe the chief purpose of prayer

"is not to get things from God. Neither is it to praise or thank him from a distance. The chief purpose of prayer is to get to know God, to deepen our relationship with him, to nourish the life of God he's already placed within us, and to do it all to satisfy his desire for relationship with us."

He continues to say prayer isn't about us and it isn't just about God. It is all about God and us. "Therefore it makes sense to say that we must learn to pray relationally, to enjoy a two-way conversation with God where he gets the first and last word, before we ask him for what we want."

You may guess PAPA is an acronym, but it is not to be viewed as a new formula (e.g., The Prayer of Jabez). For Larry, the actual form isn't at issue--the heart is. The acronym is this:

  • P - Present yourself to God without pretense. Be a real person in a real relationship. Tell him what is going on inside you that you can identify.
  • A - Attend to how you are thinking of God. No pretending here. How are you looking at God in this moment? Do you view him as an impersonal force, a distant or disapproving father? "Or is he your gloriously strong but intimate Papa?" The key: be honest.
  • P - Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God. Put into words whatever is making uncomfortable or embarrassed when you are in relationship with him. Are you thinking more about yourself and what you want or are you focusing on God and his love and pleasure?
  • A - Approach God as the "first thing" in your life; that is, as your most valuable treasure, the person you most want to know. Again, be honest and admit "other people and things really do matter more to you right now, but you long to want God so much that every other good thing in your life becomes a 'second-thing' desire."

This is not a magic formula. There are no guarantees you will have some great ecstatic experience or hear God's voice in clear, deep baritone. In fact, most often there will be no experiences. This is not an exercise in ritual magic or getting three wishes from "a docile genie." As Larry puts it: "It's simply a way to come to God and learn to wait, to listen with a little less wax in our spiritual ears, and, most of all, to be relentlessly real."

Put this book on your "must read list" for 2007! I will not say "you won't regret it!" It has the potential to stir things up in your heart and cause discomfort--but it will be worth the challenge.

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