Creative Prayer

Creative Prayer

God filled our lives with pictures, symbols, music, tastes, smells, and all the rich diversity of creation. His communication with us is creative and varied. And how do we communicate with him? Usually just words. If that. 

Why the imbalance? Why do we think of prayer strictly in terms of words? Creative Prayer urges God's people to express themselves more intimately with God by speaking the language of his heart. He has always encouraged us to respond to him in bold, visual, active, and energetic ways. When we do, we discover a richer, fuller prayer life that connects with his own creativity and reflects who he is.

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Multnomah 2007, paperback and e-book
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Pictures change lives. That's why Jesus depended so much on parables and preachers depend so much on illustrations. Simply explaining abstract thoughts doesn't connect with the human spirit. We receive truth only when we see its importance or how it might apply to our lives. Pictures pierce the heart in ways that explanations can't.

In response to God's gift of images to illuminate his truth, many biblical prayers return the favor. Hannah, for example, didn't just tell God thank you when he answered her prayer for a son. She exploded into pictorial praise: her "horn" was exalted, there was no "rock" like her God, the bows of the warriors were broken, the satisfied found themselves looking for bread, the needy were lifted from the ash heap and seated with princes, and God thundered from heaven (1 Samuel 2). As far as I can tell from reading Hannah's story—how she prayed for a son, and the priest assured her that her prayer would be answered—there were no bows and arrows involved. The nobles weren't humiliated and the needy weren't placed in royal courts. And there was no thunder from heaven. But in Hannah's heart, all those images were being displayed. To her, this answered petition was a monumental victory as stirring as the Exodus or the conquest of Canaan. In her prayer, she spoke in pictures. And I strongly suspect she wasn't sitting still. 

We also see this kind of pictorial prayer often in the psalms, and it starts early. In the first psalm, for example, the righteous are like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, and wicked are like chaff driven away by the wind. Not long after, David speaks to God as his "shield" and the one who shatters the teeth of his enemies. Throughout the prayers of the psalmists, God is a warrior, he rides on the clouds, he hides us in cliffs and caves, and we thirst for him like a deer pants for water. Prayer seems to have its own landscape and is not confined to the cosmos as we know it.

One of the most familiar examples of pictorial prayer is Psalm 23, which, if I had written it, probably would have looked like this:

The Lord takes care of me, so I won't lack anything.
I can rest securely and be refreshed.
He teaches me the right things to do so I won't embarrass him.
Even when I feel like I'm going to die,
I don't have to be afraid of evil. 
You will comfort me, Lord.
You feed me, bless me, and give me victory in abundance.
Your love goes with me everywhere,
And I'll live with you forever.

Now that's a nice little prayer, but it's pretty boring, and an hour later I would probably forget that I prayed it. Plus, I can pray those words with my brain tied behind my back; I don't have to engage intellectually or emotionally to say them. It contains truths I've known since I was little. I could move my lips to that prayer without meaning a word of it.

You're probably familiar with how David wrote it. The Lord is a Shepherd who takes care of his sheep, who gives them safe pasture next to soothing waters. Even when his heep have to walk through life-threatening valleys, he's there with them to guide and protect. He honors them with a banquet in front of the wolves that want to eat them for dinner. He brings them out safely and gives them far more than any sheep ever deserved. And they end up in his house forever.

Now that's a prayer in God's native language. It's poetic and picturesque, and it communicates more truth than any abstract explanation ever could. I think we can safely assume that your pastor isn't going to preach this Sunday on the prayer as I've written it. But I wouldn't bet against his preaching on David's version. Whole libraries could be filled with the texts of sermans about the Twenty-Third Psalm. It's rich and powerful. You can't come up with that kind of prayer if you aren't fully engaged intellectually and emotionally. It's fertile, personal communication between the human and divine. 

That's the kind of example God gives us repeatedly in scripture. Prayer is a vital, living organism, filled with purpose and poetry. It isn't creative simply for the sake of creativity; it's creative because communication with an infinite God stretches us beyond mere words. It makes us long for voices that can't be seen.

© 2007 by Chris Tiegreen

©2013-present by chris tiegreen