‘Eighty per cent of life,’ according to Woody Allen, ‘is just showing up.’ So much of life is simply the set of circumstances we find ourselves in – things happen to us. For example, our parents, our genetic design, the weather, much of our education and our government are all things that we experience as ‘happening to us’. In Greek grammar, these things are expressed in what we call the ‘passive voice’. However, we also make things happen. When I initiate an action and do something, this is expressed in the ‘active voice’.
But Greek grammar also has a third voice – the ‘middle voice’. This is neither wholly active nor wholly passive. When I use the middle voice, I am participating in the results of an action.
Prayer takes place in the middle voice. Prayer cannot be in the active voice because it is not an action I control. That would be a pagan concept of prayer: we make the gods do our bidding with incantations and rituals. Prayer is not in the passive voice either, in which I slump passively into the impersonal and fated will of gods and goddesses. In Christian prayer, I enter into an action begun by another – my creating and saving Lord. I then find myself participating in the results of his gracious action.
In one sense, the whole of the Christian life is prayer. We welcome God’s gracious hand in our lives, and we participate in what he is doing in the world. God involves you in his plans. Of course, he could do it all on his own, but he chooses to involve you. He gives you freedom, yet he remains in control.