Prayer Power

Oliver O’Donovan takes note of the power of the church’s prophetic word. That’s sexy. It’s not so sexy to be reminded that “the church’s speech is also prayer, speech addressed to God, from whom it originated, from the whole body on behalf of each charism in it” (Desire of Nations, 188). This power is, or should be, continuous, as the “foundation for every other powerful speech which may be given from time to time” (189). So, prayer is the speech that empowers all the other powerful speech of the church, because it calls on God to empower that speech.

Modest as it appears, “the speech which calls upon God is power. The apostolic church believed that, when it prayed, the powers of God’s kingdom were at work in the very prayer itself” (189, citing Romans 8:26 and Revelation 8:5).

Prayer might be done “non-politically” (?) to uproot a mountain to the sea, but O’Donovan is interested in the “authority which accrues to acts of power, and which is, itself a species of power, the power to elicit political co-operation and community. By ‘the power of the church,’ then, is meant ‘the authority of the church,’ its effective enablement to be the political community that it is, the community of God’s rule, manifesting his Kingdom to the world.” 

This isn’t a “static” power, but an appeal to God for power: “The prayers of the church seek one thing only, the final manifestation of God’s rule on earth. Nevertheless, because it is called into existence in order to witness to that coming manifestation through its own life and word, it prays also for God’s power at work within itself. Prayer is invocation of the Spirit, calling upon God’s power now to witness to God’s power then. But since the Spirit is known through a differentiated multitude of gifts, prayer for the Spirit is also prayer for the various charisms, the graces given to the church’s members individually for service. In praying for one of its members, the church prays for the Spirit to give life to the whole church through a particular calling and endowment” (189).

Insofar as a healthy church is essential to healthy political order, prayer for the Spirit is also prayer for a land and people to flourish.

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