One of the genres of video games I enjoy to play are fighting games. These games have their roots in 1980’s arcade games, but it was the release of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat that vaulted these games into popularity. Over the years I have gotten into several fighting game series such as Tekken, Soul Calibur, and Injustice. I have a lot of fun playing these games, but I am not terribly good at them. I very much play on a casual level, and in most games I barely evolve past the stage of furiously mashing buttons and see what cool stuff happens. There have been a few games that I took more seriously, but I never advanced to anything that would be considered seriously competitive.
To watch competitive players at fighting games play is absolutely amazing. It requires memorizing complicated strings of button combos and being able to execute that combo flawlessly every time. Being truly skilled at these games though requires more than remembering what buttons to press. It requires split second timing. It requires the ability to read the situation, and know exactly which button combo to press to counteract the opponent, while they are doing the same thing. Skill at these games goes well beyond memorization and it goes beyond a lot of practice. The best players at fighting games know the character they “main” perfectly. They have not just mastered the controls, they have learned the character so well, and they have internalized how to play the game to such a degree that doing so just seems to flow out of them. Playing at this level requires more than just knowing the character, it requires becoming the character. I think there is a lesson here for our faith as well. Faith is not about doing a right set of actions, it is not about knowing the right answers, it is about internalization- it is about the heart. It is about taking the gospel of God’s love and forgiveness and believing that from the very core of our being. Faith requires more than just knowing the gospel, it requires becoming the gospel.
When a gamer internalizes the move set in a fighting video game they can compete at the highest level, when a Christian internalizes their faith they can then pray at the highest level. In the letter named after him, James wrote in 5:16: the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. The prayers of the righteous are effective, because they are prayed by the righteous. Righteousness is the word the bible uses time and time again to describe people who take following God seriously. It is the word used to describe people who internalize their faith. The righteous do not treat faith like a hobby, but it is a fundamental expression of who they are. Experts at fighting games can know, in the same the righteous know just what to pray because they have internalized loving God and following Jesus. The apostle Paul also writes about this in Romans. In Romans 12 Paul writes that when we submit ourselves to God then we can know and approve what God’s perfect will is. Perhaps that is the best definition of what it means to be righteous: submission to God. Having a faith that works is being able to truly say “not my will, but yours be done.” When we believe that, and when we seek to truly embrace that way of thinking then we pray for God’s will, and the world is transformed.
Prayer is not magic. It is not like we can say the exact right words and instantly create the effect we want. I would argue prayer is something more beautiful and powerful. Prayer is the primary way that we join God in transforming this world. When we pray we are not just doing a good luck ritual, we are interacting with the Creator of all that exists. When we ask for something in prayer, we asking the single most powerful and creative being in the entire universe to intervene and possibly change the very fabric of reality to make a miracle happen. In order for that work we need to have an idea of how to pray.
Skill at fighting video games from experience, but it also requires commitment and a love for the game. Prayer that is powerful and effective is the result of having a faith that works. In the same way learning to pray righteously takes a lot of experience in prayer and a lover for God. It requires a faith that we are serious about, that we internalize, and that we feel with every fiber of our being. May that be the kind of faith that you possess. May your faith not just be a hobby that you engage in on Sunday mornings, but may it be a deep, internal part of who you are. May you live your faith out consistently and daily in your thoughts, your words, and your actions May you be so in step with the Holy Spirit, so that you know exactly what to pray about. Through the power of your prayers may miracles happen, and the world be transformed because the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective.