The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down | Pt 1
BookRemarks are not book reviews, but topical posts inspired by books. This post was inspired primarily by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.’s The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down.
You’re probably familiar with the Golden Rule, particularly in its classic form: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (see Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).
But are you familiar with the Golden Mean? This concept comes from Aristotle’s discussion of virtues in his Nicomachean Ethics.
Aristotle loved to define and categorize things – including virtues. He saw a virtue as the proper response to a particular emotion. For example, fear would be an emotion, and courage would be the proper response to it.
But Aristotle typically did not consider the emotion and the virtue it prompted as opposites. For example, he did not consider courage to be the opposite of fear.
Instead, he said that a virtue was the midpoint, and proper, reaction between two vices: one vice of deficiency (e.g., cowardice is having too little courage), and one vice of excess (i.e., recklessness is having too much courage).
Yes, in Aristotle’s view, you can have too little courage or too much courage. Neither option is good.
We might view Aristotle’s thoughts in light of the concept of moderation, which is familiar to most Christians. For example, the King James translation of Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your moderation be known unto all men,” and the Rule of Saint Benedict also recommends that all things be done in moderation.
But while Christians are familiar with the concept of moderation, few think about discussing it in the context of prayer.
In The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down, R. Albert Mohler takes a deep dive into the Lord’s Prayer, but not necessarily in the way that you might expect.
Instead of analyzing it as a model for praying, as is common – after all, Jesus recited it after his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1) – Mohler examines what the prayer reveals about God.
“What we believe about God,” Mohler says, “is revealed most truly not in what we say about him but in how we approach him—in prayer or in worship… Prayer always reveals the underlying theology” (page 10-11).
So Mohler deconstructs the Lord’s Prayer to see its underlying theology – what God reveals about Himself through Jesus’s prayer.
But we can also turn this type of lens toward our own prayers. What do our prayers reveal about our theology?
Whether or not you have heard about the ACTS prayer model before, you have probably utilized its components: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. We praise God in our prayers, confess our sins to Him, thank Him for life’s blessings, and ask Him for the things we want and need.
But, as with Aristotle’s concept of virtues, sometimes we stray too far from the Golden Mean – that is, by straying too far into deficiency or excess of one or more of these prayer components, we sometimes reveal problems with our underlying theology.
Wait, you might ask, are you saying we can have too much adoration, or praise, in our prayers? That doesn’t sound right.
Well, let’s examine what a deficiency or excess of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication in our prayer lives might reveal about our beliefs in God.
A deficiency of Adoration. It’s easy to see the problem with not praising God enough in our prayer life. If we never praise God in our prayers, perhaps we do not see Him for who He is. It is possible we’ve become too familiar with God, and too comfortable approaching Him.
We should be reminded of God’s power, holiness, and majesty.
This is the God who created the universe, the one who spoke worlds into existence: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord” (Psalm 114:7). Such is God’s power and glory that He tells Moses, “No one may see [my face] and live” (Exodus 33:19).
Biblical figures took off their sandals to walk on holy ground (e.g., Exodus 3:5), prostrated themselves before God (e.g., Deuteronomy 9:18), and perhaps even soiled themselves when confronted with the impossible (e.g., the CSB translation of Daniel 5:6).
We should never forget who God is. If we never praise God in our prayers, if we are too familiar with Him, then we risk losing the sense of awe that should accompany any contemplation of just who He is.
An excess of Adoration? But is it possible to have an excess of praise in our prayer life? Arguably, yes, and for two reasons.
First, remember that Jesus criticized certain types of prayer: “And when you pray, do not keep babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7). Jesus doesn’t specify the types of those “many words,” but it’s common for people to flatter those of higher stations – and usually at some length.
If our praise is filled with empty words because we’re trying to flatter God or to look extra spiritual when we pray in public, then God won’t hear our prayers – we already have our reward by appearing pious to others (e.g., Matthew 6:5).
Second, if all we do is praise God in our prayers, we risk feeling as if we cannot confide our deepest, personal hurts, doubts, and fears to Him. While God is our omnipotent King, he is also our loving Father. Jesus says that if earthly fathers give good gifts to their children, “How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
If we never approach God familiarly in our prayers, we fail to experience the familial sense of intimacy He wants to enjoy with us.
The right amount of Adoration in our prayer life will ensure that we see God for who He is: an irresistible tsunami of power, yet a loving parent.
A deficiency of Contrition. Of course, we must repent and confess our sins to be saved, but even after salvation we should continue to confess and repent of our sins. For example, in Revelation, Jesus tells the Church in Ephesus, “Repent and do the things you did at first” (2:5).
Even years after being anointed king, David still had to repent of his adultery with Bathsheba. When confronted by the prophet Nathan, David could only answer, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 2:13).
As we mature in our faith, we are sanctified – by the grace and power of God – through our choices and actions (see 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). When we recognize sin in our lives, confess and repent of it, then we allow God to work within us even more
However, if we cling onto certain sins and resist changing when convicted of them, then we stunt any progress God would like to work within us (e.g., Deuteronomy 11:26-28) – or, more frightening, perhaps such resistance indicates that we don't actually know God yet (e.g., John 14:15, 23-24, 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, 1 John 2:3-4; 1 John 3:6).
We must look out for a deficiency of contrition in our prayers.
An excess of Contrition? Is it possible to ask forgiveness too much? Yes, if we continue to ask forgiveness for the same sins committed in the past; doing so indicates that we do not fully trust God’s promise of forgiveness.
David writes, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews quotes God from the book of Jeremiah: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12; see also Jeremiah 31:34).
God does not want us to confess our single worst sin over and over and over. If we confess that sin, repent and turn away from it, then the blood of Jesus Christ covers that sin. To dwell on it is to distrust God’s grace and promise of forgiveness.
A deficiency of Thanksgiving. We cannot have a healthy prayer life if we do not thank God for the things He has done for us. We need to thank Him for His forgiveness, for our salvation, for His provisions, blessings, faithfulness, and more.
There are a lot of things for us to be thankful for. Paul even instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
If we do not express our thanks, not only does it suggest that we are ungrateful – it also suggests that we view God as unnecessary. It suggests we can meet our own needs.
In fact, the more wealth we have in this life, the less thankful we might become. Jesus warned, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). When it comes to earthly success, it’s common for us to focus more on ourselves and our efforts.
But in 1 Timothy Paul reminds us that such self-reliance is misplaced: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything we need for our enjoyment” (6:17).
One way Christians can express their thankfulness is to be generous with what God gives them.
An excess of Thanksgiving? Is it possible to thank God too much?