In my last post I mentioned how we need prayer that is rooted in the experience of the divine life and Bible reading that is filled with the realization of the divine truth. Reaching that point, however, is a process. We all learn to pray by simply asking God for things. We all start out reading the Bible for the simple comprehension of facts. And both of these are needed!
Simple prayers of request foster our trust in and dependence on God for all things. Before Abraham lived in fellowship with God and interceded for His purpose (Gen. 18), he learned, very concretely, the lessons of trusting in God for his daily necessities (Gen. 12–14). The most basic revelation of God in the Scriptures is that He is the Creator. The corollary to this truth is that we are creatures and are dependent on God for everything (Dan. 5:23). A beautiful hymn by M. E. Barber states,
Thou art my God—the All-Sufficient One,
Thou canst create for me whate’er I lack.
Our dependence on God is manifested in the most practical way by our petitioning Him. “Give us today our daily bread.”
Eventually though, we need to progress from a dependence on God for things to a more essential dependence on God for “that which is really life” (1 Tim. 6:19). If we are to reach the goal of creation—the expression of God and the living of Christ—we must depend on God for a ceaseless dispensing of divine life (Phil. 1:19-21). This is to depend on God’s being, not on God’s doing. Above all, God is a Being of life, as the terms Father, Son, and Spirit indicate. Right at the beginning of his chapter on the reality of God, Karl Barth says, “The definition that we must use as a starting-point is that God’s being is life.” Witness Lee says, “The divine life may be considered as the first and the basic attribute of God.” Thomas Oden, with a nod to Gregory of Nyssa, says, “God’s being is intrinsically characterized by life.” So prayer is ultimately about communing with a Being of absolute, eternal life. We depend on God for this by living in fellowship with Him in His divine life. And it may be good to view in this light Paul’s seemingly impossible command to unceasingly pray. Unceasing prayer means unceasing dependence on and communion with God as life.
We also need a basic education in the Bible to learn about God, Jesus, how we should live, and what we should believe. But here again we can’t stop short. The Bible is written in the way of doctrine, but not for the goal of doctrine. As if all God wanted to do was put a thought in man’s head. At the very end of his book on the development of theology in church history, Roger Olson talks about the “balance between orthodoxy and experience of God, with the latter having priority and the former serving a protective function.” The Bible, like prayer, has the goal of bringing us into an experience of God as life. Many verses indicate the life element of God’s word (John 6:63, 68; Heb. 4:12; Acts 5:20; 7:38)
Pray-Reading to Convert Doctrine to Life
So how do we progress from mere information in the text to transformation in our life? Prayer! Prayer is the shortest path in converting doctrine to life for a rich experience of God.
Witness Lee has an excellent section on the progression from doctrine to life:
All the riches of [the divine] life are in the truth. Every truth is an aspect of the riches of life. In our experience it is first a doctrine; then it becomes a truth, which joins us to the light, and that particular aspect of the light becomes life to us in one of life’s rich aspects. This is difficult to explain and analyze, but our experience confirms it. When we read the Bible, we first get doctrine, then the truth, then light, and finally life. This is the procedure. We cannot have life first. We first learn the doctrine by reading, then we see the truth, then the light shines, then light becomes life, and we receive the riches of life. Often during one time in the Word, we experience all four—doctrine, truth, light, and life. However, it takes a long time to realize some truths. After knowing a doctrine for several years, in one particular time of prayer with the Lord it may become real to us as truth and the shining of light, bringing us the riches of life.
1. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.1, p. 263. T. & T. Clark, 2004.
2. Witness Lee, Conclusion of the New Testament: God, Christ, and the Spirit, Vol. 1, p. 73
3. Thomas Oden, The Living God, p. 64
4. Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, p. 611
5. Witness Lee, Basic Principles Concerning the Eldership, p. 92