The Only Reason For Praying
by Jacques Ellul
Do you have to have a reason to pray? Am I really going to pray because I have a reason which is rational, clear, explicit and conscious? Am I to pray because...? Must prayer have a cause? Prayer is a spiritual act, and I should accept it and live it as such. Since it is a spiritual act I do not need proof, nor do I need to look for reasons. I pray, or I do not pray.
But in times of dryness, of hardening, of morbidity, of despair, of alienation, of negation, of disobedience, of rejection, when there is nothing left "in our hearts" which tells us to "seek His face," I cling to "a reason" outside myself, which I find compelling, which pushes me along, in other words, like a hand in my back forcing me ahead, constraining me to pray. It is the commandment which God in His mercy has granted to make up for the void in my heart and in my life. "Watch and pray." That is the sole reason for praying
We must be clear about the meaning of the term "commandment." A commandment is always an individualized word spoke by him who commands to him who should obey. It is a person-to-person relationship. Man prays because God tells him to pray.
The commandment as the foundation for the reality of prayer brings us to the only discernible subjective and human motivation, namely, obedience. But we must be careful. Our intellect, always defective in the things of the Spirit, will trick us into thinking that if there is obedience then there must be an obligation, a compulsion, a duty to pray. Then we fall back into the confusion between law and commandment. Obedience in Christ is the opposite to a duty or an obligation. There is no compulsion. There is the hearing of a word which I receive and which commands me, before which it is mine to obey without pressure or penalty. There is not a duty to pray. The idea that there could be a duty sterilizes prayer, which is characterized by spontaneity and involvement. To declare it a duty to pray kills the possibility of prayer, for such duty is impersonal and sterilizing.
If the commandment to pray is the reason for prayer, that is to say, to lead us to obedience, then that is possible only if we receive it in faith. Prayer presupposes faith. To raise the problem of prayer, of the difficulty of praying, etc., is in reality to raise the problem of faith in the contemporary world. If, for the Christian, prayer becomes impossible, dead, troublesome, uncertain, that is but the evidence for the absence of faith. Prayer is a mirror in which we are called to contemplate our spiritual state. Since it is a real encounter with God we can in prayer see ourselves as God sees us. Since it is a real encounter with God, the lack of prayer forces us to consider the lack of reality in our faith.
Prayer is never other than a sequel, a consequence, a response, to the word of invitation If it is not God who is speaking, then there is nothing. The relationship is begun before the idea of praying occurs to us. I never have the initiative. Otherwise, prayer would in fact be a discourse, a monologue.
From: Prayer and Modern Man. New York: Seabury Press. 1970.