Last week, we noted that the early Christians prayed briefly and simply, lest they fell into the trap of thinking that the genuineness of their prayers was based on the “word count” of them.
But Bunge quickly notes (pp. 117ff) that they prayed this way for another reason: they prayed to be converted. That’s why so many of the recorded prayers from early Christianity are cries for help, e.g. “Lord, have mercy on me!”
Years ago, a student approached me with a sincere question. We had prayed the Lord’s Prayer in chapel, and he came to my office to ask, “Why do Christians pray ‘forgive us our trespasses’ when they no longer sin?”
Now, before you write the young man off, we must ask ourselves how frequently and deeply we pray for our own forgiveness. Our belief system may allow for it, but our actual practices may put us far from the spirit of early-Christian prayer in shying away from finding the “conversions” which are necessary after we have been converted.
In our study of the early saints, we may find some who carried ongoing repentance too far, but their example leaves many of us in the “I’m OK, you’re OK” culture to wonder if we carry it far enough.
We pray to be converted—notice the little “c”—we pray to be forgiven, cleansed, and delivered from unrighteousness (e.g. 1 John 1:9). This is what John Wesley called the repentance of believers. This is not praying which fears we are teetering on the brink of Hell, but rather a prayer which does not want anything…anything…anything to stand in the way of our progress with God.
We pray to be converted—as the word means “to turn”—to be directed away from the things that will lead us farther and farther away from God, toward the things that will draw us closer into God’s presence.
This only comes as we say over and over again, “Lord, help me!”