Eugene Peterson says that prayer is like the middle voice.
Active and Passive voices we know fairly well. Active means the subject is doing the verb; passive means the subject is being acted upon by someone or something else. Middle voice “is that use of the verb which describes the subjects as participating in the results of the action.” Peterson uses the example of “counsel.” “I counsel my friend” is in the active voice. “I am counseled by my friend” is in the passive voice. “I take counsel” is the middle voice. In the middle voice the subject participates in the results of the action which is initiated by someone else.
In prayer, we are invited to join the deliberations of the heavenly assembly and particularly, we are invited to participate in the council and deliberations of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We, like Abraham, reason with God; we, like Moses, are invited to present our case before the Godhead. But we have been granted participation in God far beyond what the faithful patriarchs enjoyed. We have the status of sons; we have been given the Spirit which cries out to God, “Abba, Father!” We are joined to the Son by the Spirit and are welcome to speak with the Father about the state of our life, the state of our family, the state of our world. We are invited to participate in what God is doing in the world. We are not the primary actors or initiators, but we are expected to participate in and join in the action through pleas, through our intercession, through our cries for mercy.
Peterson explains: “Prayer and spirituality feature participation, the complex participation of God and the human, his will and our wills. We do not abandon ourselves to the stream of grace and drown in the ocean of love, losing identity. We do not pull the strings that activate God’s operations in our lives, subjecting God to our assertive identity. We neither manipulate God (active voice) nor are manipulated by God (passive voice). We are involved in the action and participate in its results but do not control or define it (middle voice). Prayer takes place in the middle voice.” (The Contemplative Pastor, 103-104)
Of course when we think of results we usually think about what we want to see happen or change. But participating in the results doesn’t necessarily mean that what we want actually happens. Of course in the cases of Abraham and Moses we see instances where prayer does prevail with God. But if we have been granted the status of sons, and we have the Spirit of Christ, then we have to remember that much of our prayer may be like Christ’s prayer. And some of the clearest glimpses of Christ’s prayer life are seen in the garden just before his arrest and betrayal. Christ’s prayers participated in the results of the action of God in the world, but we know from Christ’s own words, he struggled through that, he argued and pleaded with his Father in his circumstances, while perfectly trusting the will of his Father. Praying like sons may mean facing similar situations as the Son in the garden, the Son before Pilate, the Son on the Cross. But of course that should come as no surprise since that same Son invited us to follow him by taking up a cross. But the hope of course is that the same result as came to the Son comes to every son. Resurrection awaits all every son of God.
You know when Greek grammar has taken hold of you when your attention is drawn to posts titled “the Middle Voice.” You can also tell when it causes you to comment on the post.
Jason Farley says
Is that book by Peterson any good?
Actually, Jason, I found it to be very good, aside from the annoying stylistic he/she references throughout the book (in reference to a pastor). He’s a thoughtful, orthodox, mainline presbyterian pastor with a good deal of experience and wisdom.