Prayer: Bridges to
We left the hotel just after breakfast and headed east. First
visit on the agenda that morning was the Golden Gate Bridge. How can
a tourist visit San Francisco without driving over the Golden Gate
Bridge? It is neither the newest nor the longest suspension bridge in
the world. That title goes to the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge in Japan which
was built in 1998. It boasts a main span of 6,532 feet, almost four
times the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, for example. It stretches
12,828 feet across the Akashi Strait to link the city of Kobe with
Awaji-shima Island. Each cable is composed of 290 strands, each
strand containing 127 wires. The length of the wire used totals
300,000 kilometers, enough to circle the earth 7.5 times. Its two
towers, at 928 feet each, soar higher than any other bridge towers in
We build bridges to connect. We want to link one land mass to
another. The modern bridges are imposing structures. They grab our
attention. They have a certain allure. Standing over an expanse of
water they present an impressive sight. The image of a bridge has
often been used as a spiritual metaphor. The human heart tells us
that a chasm separates us from God. Paul calls this sin and wrote in
Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of
God.” Humanity has made numerous attempts to span this chasm but
they have been no more successful than the infamous Tacoma Narrows
Bridge that collapsed in 1940 under the strain of steady winds.
The apostle to the Gentiles takes five chapters of this letter to
explain to the house churches in Rome that Jesus Christ is the
ultimate bridge between God and humanity. He goes into great detail
first explaining that Gentile, moralist and Jew are all separated
from God by this chasm of sin. He then explains that while each has
tried to connect with the divine, all have failed. God, knowing that
humanity would fail, made his own provision by sending his Son.
“Across the raging waters of our failures, our weaknesses and our
acts of disobedience came Someone who links the human and the divine.
We didn’t design this bridge. We didn’t finance it. We didn’t
build it. We don’t deserve it.”
While the Cross serves as the ultimate bridge to God, in the
spiritual life we need to cross bridges daily Prayer serves as one
of those bridges. Through prayer we are able to connect with the
Creator of the heavens and the earth. Rather than stand on a distant
shore and wave to this unknown divine, we are able to enjoy an
intimate relationship by presenting the concerns of our heart and
listening to God's voice speak to us.
God, Desire not Words
Communication with God is a imposing task. As soon as we bow our
heads we recognize that we lack the wisdom to express into words the
prayers that God deserves. Our sentences sound crudely constructed.
We stumble over selecting that right word to express our ideas. These
inadequacies produces self conscious feelings making us reluctant to
approach God. The problem is with our attitude. We believe that the
success of our prayer is in the elegance of our words.
Paul tells the churches in Rome that even in their weakness, they
can be effective in praying. Why? Because the Spirit is praying
through them. In these words Paul reveals that he understands prayer
like everything else in the Christian life. Just as human effort can
not justify a person before God neither can human intelligence make
our prayers more effective. This is consistent with our Lord's
teaching on prayer. We are not to pray like the Pharisees who try to
create elegant public petitions, but our prayers are to be simple and
in private. In his parables on prayer, Jesus used the example of a
woman who kept coming to a judge to seek justice. The judge does not
grant her request because of her impressive arguments but, because of
her persistence. These two examples demonstrate that prayer is more
about desire than it is about the words we use.
The author of Romans explains that in our weakness, the Holy
Spirit is lifting our prayers heavenward. Richard Foster writes,
“Often our best prayers feel like articulate groans.”
We may struggling to find the words to speak. We may stumble over the
petitions to offer, yet, even in all of our stuttering phrases the
third person of the Trinity is accompanying us in our prayers. The
Spirit reforms the syntax of our sentences. He purifies the prayers
that we offer for selfish reasons and he adjusts our requests until
they conform to the will of God. Answered prayer is not dependant on
perfect grammar. “The Spirit reshapes, refines, and reinterprets
our feeble, ego-driven prayers.”
The Source of Power
At this point we must be careful that we do not lose a sense of
our responsibility in prayer. While the Spirit compensates for our
weaknesses, we must remember that God still expects us to be active
participants. During our daily prayers, the Spirit of God does not
overwhelm thereby taking control of our thoughts and words. Rather,
the spirit serves more as a prompter that stands off stage to offer
assistance to the actors. This was a valuable help during my high
school acting career. My biggest role was in the play Tea House of
the August Moon. The play is:
A satire on America's very own drive of a world changer:
One year after world war ii, Captain Fisby is sent to the village
Tobiki in Okinawa to teach the people democracy. First step is to
build a school - but the witty folks know what they really want.
They tell him about their culture and traditions - and persuade him
to build something they really want: a teahouse. Fisby has a hard
time to break this to his superiors.
I played the role of a detailed oriented Captain who was sent to
find out why Captain Fisby was taking so long to build his school. I
had less then 50 lines but knowing that a prompter was always
standing in the wings if I stumbled boosted my confidence. In prayer
the Holy Spirit prompts us when we lose our train of thought. He
supplies ideas when we do not know that we should pray for someone or
when we do not know specifically what we should say. When we grow
weary the Spirit excites, inspires, and encourages us to continue.
The Spirit of God also serves to empower our prayers in much the
same way that pulleys serve the archer's use of the modern bow. Few,
if any archer, is strong enough to draw a modern bow but by threading
the bow string around wheels and cams, the archer is allowed to draw
the string with little effort until the target is in sight. Then when
the string is released the power of the bow sends the arrow with
In the presence of evil our words are powerless but in prayer they
are empowered. How, because they are not our words but God's own
word. We have already learned that Paul tells us that the Spirit
speaks through our groanings by interpreting our sighs into heavenly
petitions. God the Son is also interceding for us by telling the
Father our petitions should be considered. In this dynamic mystery,
God the Father, who sits upon his heavenly throne, hears our mindless
babbling interpreted by God the Spirit and affirmed by God the Son.
God is speaking to God.
Our prayers are powerful not because they are our own, not because we
are such wonderful people, not because we do so much for God, but
because they are God's own words. God himself bridges the chasm
between our thoughts and his.
Only The Best
Prayers serve as bridges to God when we recognize that the best
prayers are not the elegant ones built by human wisdom but
supplications that are constructed by God. Prayers serve as bridges
when we realize that our prayers are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Prayers also serve best as bridges when their destination has been
determined by God. The drive to control our own destiny is ingrained
in the human heart and displayed though our determination to control
God's will through our prayers.
Last week Carol and I finally rented the movie Bruce Almighty.
For me the funniest scene came when Bruce grew tired of trying to
figure how to answer the 3 million prayers that had been spoken and
decided to simplify things by granting everyone’s request. The next
day he learned that a record number of people won the state lottery.
Everyone was elated until they discovered that the winnings had been
reduced to less than $20.00. A riot broke out as people demanded that
the lottery commission contribute additional money to the jackpot.
The limitation of human wisdom prevents us from understanding the
full ramification of our prayers. Some of our prayers may be
detrimental to others or may mean the denial of their prayers. Other
petitions are motivated by selfishness and greed. Not everyone can
win the lottery. Not everyone can receive a promotion. Not everyone
will win the man or woman of their dreams. Not every soldier will be
protected in battle.
Paul tells us that God grants our petitions according to his plan
and purpose for our lives. We do not understand the ultimate
consequences of our request just as we do not understand God's plan
for history. God honors only those petitions that accomplish his
purpose. Someone once said, “We shall come one day to a heaven
where we shall gratefully know that God's great refusals were
sometimes the true answers to our truest prayers.”
We do ourselves a great disservice when we reduce God to a
personal friend. The God of the heavens and earth is not our buddy.
God is God, the one who is worthy to be worshiped. God stands on a
distant shore. Without the work of the Cross, we would only be able
to see glimpses of God. Without the bridge of prayer we would never
hear his voice. But God invites us to join him. He invites us to
cross the chasm of separation and connect with him. Let us do so
remembering that God the Father has given us the Holy Spirit to form
and shape our cumbersome phrases, our stuttering and our groaning in