Thinking prayer

Thinking prayer

I know so little about prayer but we can fairly say that, at its heart, it is simple, although its practice is wide and deep. It is attention to God, to be deliberately and consciously in the presence of God, whatever we do or say in that “place”. This post is about just one type of prayer that is of especial relevance to teachers – that of thinking prayer.

What do I mean by “thinking prayer”? I mean a state in which thinking carefully and well is done deliberately in the presence of God, sometimes mixed with words of prayer, as a disposition towards God, a consciousness of his presence, a desire to do this thinking for Him and a reliance on His wisdom. It is a natural state for the Christian in his or her study, office or classroom, with students or in front of a computer doing ministry work.

It is a useful disposition while planning the day’s or the week’s work, where the diary (OK I still use a Filofax) open in the private prayer time of the morning seems to make a mockery of the distinction between planning and praying. Few of us have not been in this disposition when writing a difficult letter or planning a difficult conversation to come via phone or in person. And it would be strange if we did not enter this disposition when struggling with decisions big or small about our calling or our personal life.

However, it is in the area of theological teaching that it becomes a central concept. Much has been written about how, in theological education, we can and must integrate our academics with our spirituality, our mind with our heart, and how we need to teach and model that integration for our students. The practice of thinking prayer in our calling is a useful help to working this out.

We need to be precise here. The practice of deliberate attention to God in our work must not be seen as simply being conscious of God’s presence while we do this or that. Of course, that is valuable, and we can wash the dishes while enjoying the presence of God. However, for the theological educator, thinking prayer is not just prayer while doing theology, it is prayer by doing theology.  In this case, the presence of God is a deliberate intention not just to enjoy his presence (and no doubt sprinkle the task with petition), but to do the task with God, for God and in a manner appropriate to his presence – as prayer.

It will involve the abandoning the pretence of objectivity and seeing theology as entering the realms of mission and ministry. And, because prayer is always a humble act of reliance on God, so our theology is infused with humility. It will demand the hard and careful use of the mind, as least as much as that of our secular counterparts in scholarship, because we are doing the thinking as a gift to God, but everything is transformed because it is also prayer.

As Paul said in Philippians 3, “Brethren [and sisters], I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of this…. but I press on toward the goal”.

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2 Comments on “Thinking prayer”

  1. Roger McKay Says:

    Very insightful and practical perspective. Thanks. Roger McK.

  2. KiwiAllan Says:

    This is so helpful, thanks Graham.

    “…we are doing the thinking as a gift to God, but everything is transformed because it is also prayer.”

    It works the other way also, doesn’t it…. as we express our faith and willingness to serve God with our thinking, we also receive a gift from God – he graciously chooses to release his perspectives and resources and power to us. So prayer enables us to become co-partners with God and the work of his kingdom.


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