From the Vinea Dei blog: “Prayer and Sanctification”
Recently I came across the Vinea Dei blog, by Gyordano Montenegro Brasilino from Brazil. He has written a number of posts that I think are worth reading, and although he writes in Portuguese I am amazed as to how well Google is able to translate them into English! One post that I wanted to mention is Oração e santificação, or in English, “Prayer and Sanctification”. The author has graciously granted me permission to reproduce it in English here and I think you will find it edifying.
Prayer and sanctification
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, so also work your salvation with fear and trembling; For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do according to his good pleasure “ (Philippians 2:12-13)
Augustine’s famous prayer, “Domine, da quod iubes et iube quod vis” (Lord, give what you command and command whatever you want), captures the essence of the plea for holiness as taught in the Scriptures. If he gives us what he requires, there is no limit to what he may require. His demands are satisfied by what he gives us; as long as he gives us, he will be satisfied. Our own limitations become as irrelevant, since God is able to do even more than what we ask or imagine. Yet we are wholly dependent upon them; If he does not grant us his sanctifying grace, we will not go anywhere. We can only beg.
Holiness of life is formed by God in us. The essence of prayer is that our holiness depends, in its origin, on God, and not on us. This prayer is preceded by the words: “And all my hope is but in thy exceeding great mercy” ( Confessions , X).
This certainly contradicts many of our modern sensibilities. In many situations, we like to feel like autonomous, independent people who make their own decisions and act on them. I do not mean by this that there is no such thing as free will, but surely our agency is not free to make us act as we wish. Our prayer only makes sense if God is our provider.
But when we deny the divine omnipotence over our own actions and virtue, our life of sanctification becomes an empty moralism. When we pray, we tell God what we want, or even what we should want , in the hope that He will do it for us. To pray is to recognize our inability and the sovereign power of God – we believe, not that he could simply do , but that he will.
That’s how prayers are done in the Scriptures. The Psalms are, as in all situations, a great school of prayer if you deal with them in the mind of Christ.The petition for holiness is in some of the most famous psalms: the one praying asks God to keep him from pride (Ps 19:13), create in him a pure heart and an unwavering and voluntary spirit (51:10,12 ), don’t let him run from God’s commandemnts (119:10), incline his heart to those commandments, and not to covetousness (119:36), let no iniquity rule him (119:133), let not the heart bow to the Evil (Psalm 141:4). These are not empty hopes. The Psalmist knows that God dominates even over his own heart.
In the Pauline letters, in which the love of a shepherd for his sheep is revealed in prayer, Paul asks and expects that God will grant them unanimity (Rom. 15: 5,6), that they do no evil, but good ( 2Co 13: 7 ), that hearts and thoughts be kept in Christ (Philippians 4:7), that mutual love may grow, confirming hearts and making them blameless in holiness ( 1 Thessalonians 3:12), that they become ( 2Ti 1:11 ), that they may be strengthened in every good word and deed ( 2Ti 2: 16,17 ) and that hearts be directed in love and in patience (2Ti 3: 5 ).
On the other hand, stripped of the kind of cooperation the Scriptures require, this notion can become an excuse for relaxation. Christ makes us blameless (1Co.18 : 8) according to his election ( Eph.1: 4), and yet requires us to strive to be blameless ( 2 Pet. 3:14 ). In a beautiful image, Aquinas describes this cooperation as there is between a hammer and the blacksmith. Our prayer only makes sense if God is our provider and yet we work for the daily bread.
Although it is not easy to understand what role man accomplishes in everything, our cooperation is not something we add, but something that God adds to us. As the apostle Paul writes in Fp. 2: 12,13 , we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but even this something that God accomplishes in us: “without me you can do nothing” ( John 15: 5 ).