On Sabbatical I have had more time than normal to think. It is supposed to be a time of reflection and input instead of output, but because I think as I write, a blog post has appeared. It helps me put my thoughts in order, and maybe it will help you too.
Something that has struck me from a few different angles has been the importance both theoretically and practically of prayer. Of course, this is nothing surprising for most Christians. I would be somewhat shocked if a Christian told me that they thought that prayer is irrelevant! It seems God is determined to get through to me on this topic and I find the topic of prayer being raised as a significant component in different areas.
Prayer and evangelism
I have always been excited about evangelism, and this Sabbatical time has already included some very encouraging conversations. And I tend to read a lot on the topic of evangelism as well, including a book this past week by John Dickson called ‘The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission’. (Will review this another time, but in short a helpful and broad practical treatment of the issues around evangelism for everyday Christians).
But the real danger for people who see the great need in the world around us is that we can put together good programmes or build up our personal skills and we can meet that need. If only we said the right thing at the right time that person would believe! Well, no. Yes we need to reach out and be creative and build up courage and skills; that is most true. But we can no more make someone a Christian than we can make someone who is dead alive. The great news is that we do know Someone who is pretty good at resurrection and He is the one who does all the hard work.
If that is true theologically, then surely prayer is essential to the process. When I pray for someone specifically, or just in general for God to give me opportunities and use me well, I am reminding myself of something as well as asking God for something. I am reminding myself that I am not in control of the process, God is. And that should lead to a greater boldness than before.
Prayer and encouragement
Last week I attended a pastor’s conference, and we had great preaching and also good times of prayer as smaller groups and sometimes one to one. In some very positive conversations with people who are having a hard time in their ministry, there is nothing more encouraging for them to be prayed for and with. You can teach, you can explain the logic of God being in control, and that is needed, but it is in prayer that we get greater encouragement.
See, prayer is where theology meets practice in so many ways. We can know in our minds that God is Lord and not doubt it. But you see that is true if you pray about it. Then you know you are practically submitting to someone who can do what you cannot do.
Prayer and worry
Another book I have just finished is a new release called ‘Living without worry’ by Timothy Lane. I would heartily recommend this book as thoroughly Biblical and helpful in explaining what worry is and what drives it and how we deal with it. And a recurring theme, unsurprisingly, is prayer. We need to pray so we don’t worry that it all depends on us.
On a similar note, the point was made at the recent conference I attended that so many of the psalms can be classed as laments before God. Yet our modern songs often don’t include many laments. We need to include this type of song into services to give people Biblical words to express their frustrations and struggles in this world more effectively. We don’t want to think that Christians are happy all the time and only need joyful and boppy songs. Life in this world is difficult due to sin and we need to admit that and ask for help.
Prayer as really happening, not theoretical!
So, as it seems clear that God is trying to teach me something through all this, I thought I should start getting my prayer act together while I have the time to start new habits. Like most Christians, I don’t pray as much as I should. That reflects my tendency to be too self-reliant and not reliant enough on God. If I am theologically convinced that God is there and cares for me and is in control prayer needs to be a large part of what I do. And as a pastor, doubly so.
I have never recommended an app before in this blog, but I will now. I have been using PrayerMate (I use the Android one but am pretty sure you strange Apple people will have a version that works too). It is free and simple to use. Why it works well for me is that you can enter all the things that you want to pray for in categories and then set how often you’d like to pray for those things. Once you’ve spent a little time setting it up you just open the app and it gives you the list, one at a time, for you to pray for. For someone who likes regularity and logic like me it works well. If I don’t have a list I will forget things and end up with shallow prayers like “Lord, be with me today” or “God, thanks for everything.” As a plus, it means when I promise to pray for someone I can just add them to the list and I will do it.
Prayer is so critical to the Christian life. In many ways it is a barometer for how your Christian life is going. Are you convinced prayer is a good thing? Have you then taken the next step to actually pray, regularly, specifically, in a way that perseveres over time? If not, why not start today? Your Heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts to his children, and he is always there.