For this week's Sunday meditation I went looking for a quote from Jacques Ellul on prayer. It was so good I didn't know where to stop! So I've broken all rules about loooong posts.
Read every word. Ellul was a great scholar but these are not scholarly words. They are the words of a man of prayer. If what Ellul is describing is not reflected in your life and ministry then seek it at all costs. He's writing about a living reality that awaits you.
Prayer is combat. . . . If there were oneness between God and the world, there would be no prayer.
The combat of prayer is a combat in spite of everything. It is one of obeying the commandment [to pray] in spite of common sense. This obedience is still demanded of us even if our prayers are not heard, even if we no longer know what prayer means. That is to say that what is expected of us is a radical trust, to the point of the absurd, since in that case prayer acquires its reality, its value, its sense, from that which we do not see.
Prayer is combat against the self. Each time we undertake to pray it is a victory over temptation, over the giving up of the struggle with the self, over the divided heart.
Prayer is combat against God. “Israel” means, God’s combatant, or he who wrestled with God.
Prayer is striving with God. Prayer is a demand with respect to the hidden God that he reveal himself, that he declare himself and enter our situation.
Prayer is a striving with the One who is unknowable, beyond our grasp, unapproachable and inexpressible, asking that he finally be. . . the One he has promised he would be.
Prayer is the demand that God not keep silence. God does keep silence, so prayer maintains the dialogue in spite of all appearances, in the face of every experience.
It is truly a striving with God, of whom one makes demands, whom one importunes, whom one attacks constantly, whose silence and absence one would penetrate at all costs. It is a combat to oblige God to respond, to reveal himself anew.
Prayer is to lay hold upon him in such a way that he can no longer keep silent.
But God does not yield easily. He does not change with every wind. . . . . There are only those in which man commits himself from the depths of his being, wholly and without reserve, and those other prayers that one ‘says’ which are deeply emotional but with a feeling different from that of Jesus Christ. . . . The combat with God implies the commitment of the person who is praying.
One cannot hold oneself in reserve, one cannot pretend to be aloof in the venture in which one is asking God to involve himself fully.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to the violent who lay hold upon it, and let us not talk about ‘holy violence.’ It is an extreme and sacreligious violence, which is saintly in fact.
But this violence is not accepted by God unless the person practicing it is ready himself to bear the shock in return. [Abraham offers his son, Jacob walks with a limp.]
Whoever wrestles with God in prayer puts his whole life at stake.
In the combat in which man has no reservations, God wills also to have no reservations. God has already given us everything in his Son. He expects us to take him with complete seriousness in prayer.
To take him with complete seriousness means to put him to the test. We never dare enough in petitioning God, in putting him to the test of what he can do (and of what he has already wanted to do, since we have the promise).
If our prayers are prudent and empty, that is because we have become incapable of putting God to the test. We are afraid of risking our reputations.
If a person thinks of prayer as a way of not getting involved, of not acting, of avoiding risk, if he supposes that prayer lets him escape fatigue and danger, assures him of tranquillity and a good conscience, gives him all-around protection, then we can say that he has not understood the reality of prayer, but also that he is stepping into the most dangerous enterprise of all.