We have been looking at prayer in the context of community from Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Peterson uses St. Luke's Pentad of Prayers (Five prayers) at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke to show how prayer was the language of the community of believers in the early church; the way they participated in what the Spirit was doing everywhere. I have been applying this to the order and function of prayer within our own community, searching for how we can better be Spirit-led participants in our worship. In the last post we looked at the two prayers of petition, the first and last of Luke's Pentad. Here I will talk about the second prayer, a prayer of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

This prayer comes immediately after Elizabeth blesses Mary. Mary recasts the prayer of Hannah and identifies "three great reversals in the way we experience the world when God conceives new life in us: God establishes his strength and disestablishes the proud (v.51); God puts down the people at the top and lifts up the people at the bottom (v.52); God fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty (v.53)." Peterson points out that Mary's prayer, this biblically-informed response to God's blessing, brings us into the world of God's promised Word being fulfilled before our very eyes. "Prayer enlarges our imagination and makes us grateful, joyful participants in what has been and is yet to come" (274).

In light of Mary's praise we must ask ourselves a few questions:

1. Are we biblically-informed in our praise? Mary knew the history of her ancestry (the Scriptures). Even at such a young age she was well aware of the way God works according to His Word. She was very familiar not only with Hannah's prayer from 1 Samuel 2, when in her barrenness she conceived Samuel, but also with the way God has always and will always work; lifting the needy from the ash heap, exalting the lowly, conceiving new life in the most unlikely people. Mary could not have prayed a more befitting prayer than Hannah's, and she knew that.

2. Do we know the Word? Are we preaching and hearing it from our pulpits? Are we reading and meditating on it every day? I stand by this truth: it is impossible to praise God apart from His Word. He speaks to us NOW through His Word. Or in our preaching are we merely appealing to our people with watered down, self-edifying, psychological principles that we can get from Dr. Phil and Oprah just as soon as from the pulpit? In our hearing are we merely applying God's promises to our wants and felt-needs? Or

3. Are we Spirit-led participants? Have we given up everything in the knowledge that we no longer belong to ourselves, but to God, for His service and glory? Have we received God's blessing of undignified conception with praise on our lips? Without the Spirit's leading we have no way to respond to God, no way to participate in what He is doing; filling the hungry, strengthening the weak, and exalting the humble while putting down the rich, strong, and proud. Spirit-led praying and praising according to God's Word (in response to His Word) will give us greater insight into the creative imagination of God and will lead us into a joyful participation of all that He is doing.

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