This is part of a series on George Herbert’s poem “Prayer (1).” To see other installments in the series, click here.
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about the Christian life is how much dignity and power God shares with his people. It’s the sort of thing that would be untoward to contemplate if God didn’t bring it up, and blasphemous to entertain if it weren’t true. This shared power from God is exercised partly in prayer.
“The six-days world-transposing in an hour–” Obviously Herbert is saying that when we pray, God unleashes the kind of power he displayed in creating the world, and that’s true. James tells us that when Elijah prayed, God shut up the heavens, and then opened them again (James 5:17-18). During the conquest of Canaan, Joshua spoke to the Lord in prayer, and the sun stood still in the sky for an entire day (Joshua 10:12-14). When we pray, God works in a way analogous to creation week (though usually not to scale).
I don’t think that’s all Herbert is saying, however. Given the next line of the poem– “A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear–” I think he’s using the word “transpose” in a musical sense: to transfer into a new key. He’s not talking about the power of prayer to effect that which God did at creation, but about the power of prayer to effect new creation. At the end of his prayer in Ephesians 3, Paul says “now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20). What ‘power’ is that?
A few verses earlier, he prays that “[God] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17). Paul is referring to salvation power, new creation power. He uses the same word in the book’s earlier prayer, when he asks that the Ephesian church would know “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20).
In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul reflects on his suffering in Asia, and admits that he felt he had received the sentence of death. “But,” he says, “that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” How does God raise the dead? “You also must help us by prayer,” Paul continues two verses later, “so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:9, 11).
When we pray, God sweeps us up into his grand new-creation work. When we pray, we exercise the divine right given to us as new creatures, children in God’s family. This work, this right, this power is shared with us so that we might be about the work of God in Christ– “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (Revelation 21:5).
As believers we face such trials and opposition that sometimes it’s difficult to see the newness which has come in Christ, and which continues to come in Christ. We rub elbows every day with unbelievers who seem to grow more and more hard-hearted in every conversation. It is difficult to believe that he could ever repent, or that she would ever confess her sins. Nevertheless, faith says that when we pray, God is at work to make all things new.