on hope and prayer

I like Jacques Ellul, probably because he is pretty radical (I’ve read his Anarchy and Christianity and have struggled half-way through The Technological Society). Now I like him because of what he says about prayer.

I have been thinking a lot about prayer lately and why we pray, why I pray. I do not think that when I pray I am changing God’s mind to do the things I want God to do, but I am attesting to my deep trust and hope in God to be in the midst of the situation I am praying about, knowing that God has pointed prayer as a means to accomplish God’s will in the world. If prayer is about trusting that God is working in the world, then prayer relies on hope, and that if we fail to pray, we may be failing to hope. In the prophetic and pointed words of Ellul himself:

The person who claims to be full of hope but fails to lead a life of prayer is a liar. Prayer is the sole ‘reason’ for hope, at the same time that it is its means and expression. Prayer is the referral to God’s decision, on which we are counting. Without that referral there can be no hope, because we would have nothing to hope for. Prayer is the assurance of the possibility of God’s intervention, without which there is no hope. Prayers is the means given by God for the dialogue with him, that is to day, it is the very junction of the future with eternity, where we have seen that our hope is located. In its dialogue it embraces the past presented for pardon, the future defined by cooperation between the praying person and God, and eternity, which prayer lays hold of through the sighs uttered by the Holy Spirit.

Without such prayer we can piece together a few false hopes to give the appearance of hope, but all that, even when arranged theologically, can only be illusory. That is why it is quite right to recall that hope is based on God’s promise constantly fulfilled and renewed. But how can we forget that, throughout the Bible, this promise is linked with the ceaseless outcry of prayer? It is man’s prayer which demands the fulfillment, and it is again his prayer which demands its renewal and its ongoing. Without prayer, the promise and its fulfillment are forces just as indifferent and blind as Moira (fate) and Ananke (necessity).

~ Jacques Elull, Hope in a Time of Abandonment, 272-3.

My prayer is that God will fill us with his hope, that we would become more assured of God’s intervention in the world and come to trust in it, leading us to lean into that hope through prayer.


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