G. Clair Sams
Prayer, like the words of the Prophets are sometimes expressions of the poetic and emotional aspect of life. Prayer is not initially an avenue for social reform or an influence for changing culture. It is first and foremost the vehicle of interaction between persons. It is most effectively felt, when it rises from the eloquently and vibrantly expressed words of the person praying.
In other words, finding a way to explain those most deeply held thoughts, burdens, joys and hopes rises through feelings and thoughts to the heart of God. The eloquence and vibrancy does not need to be clearly articulated. It is rather the heart-felt expression of one spirit to another.
In our culture, we often think of prayer in practical and rational terms. We want to talk, to tell our list of needs. We want to explain to God the situation and provide a solution to resolving those concerns. But far deeper is the Biblical understanding that prayer is actually a relational and emotional interaction between the Eternal God and a finite person. He knows our needs and burdens and invites us to bring them to Him. Yet, in an infinitely deeper sense He invites us into His presence, list or no list.
Prayer is Relational
True prayer is actually a relational interaction between persons who care for one another. Prayer allows our praise, battles, yearnings and emotions to be expressed through faith. It allows hope to rise. It allows interaction to be expressed and felt through words and thoughts.
Prayer is a discipline that challenges each Believer. It seems to me that one great hesitation to participating in prayer rises from a misconception about the discipline of the practice. Too often we make prayer an exercise that rises from human strength and ingenuity. As a result it becomes a time of human thought and expression that is primarily one-sided.
Thomas Merton wrote, “. . . (It) is not sufficient to rush into church with a desire for contemplation or to do a lot of good works and acts of virtue with a desire for sanctity. In all the aspects of life supreme contemplation and virtue are nothing. The first movement in all prayer, together with faith in His presence, ought to be desire to know His will and to abandon oneself entirely to His disposition and intentions for us.” In other words, prayer should be seen as much more than a discipline, it is active involvement in relationship and “The first movement in all prayer, together with faith in His presence, ought to be desire to know His will. . .” – Thomas Merton communication. The heart of this expression for the Christian is a heart open to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s presence. It is about being surrendered to Divine will.
A Blessing of Prayer
One of the great blessings of prayer is the joy of conversation with God. Matching that joy is the ministry of service under His direction. The joy and ministry then focus on His presence in our lives.
Through the joy and power of prayer real ministry rises. From that ministry comes the affirmation of spiritual life. The interaction with the Lord and the people to whom we minister strengthens our involvement with both. Even when there is passionate interaction with the Lord over what appears to be slowness or lack of change, there is the strength of relationship.
The reality of actual interaction between, we, the supplicant and God, the recipient, builds strong relationship. The interaction, even when we think that God is not listening or responding as quickly as we would like, can build a deeper long-term connection, because then we exercise faith in His Word.
True interaction includes the knowledge that God knows and cares even when appearances seem to be otherwise. The result of the interaction is a living and deepening relationship.
Whether we are always aware of His investment in the relationship or not, He will remind us, from time to time, that He is there. He allows people to embrace His expectations and disciplines or refuse them. For instance, His anger at sin reminds us that He is real and just. On the other hand, when we respond to His Word, in love and worship, He responds by affirming the investment He has made with a sense of His presence.
You see prayer is not just about your good feelings. It is not about crying a few tears and walking away to live your day. It is about the joy and pain, it is about the time and attention, it is about investment in a deep and eternal relationship.
Daniel Henderson references the human-Divine interaction in his book Transforming Prayer. He writes, “In a sense, prayer is a continual conversation between our hearts and God’s.” Part of our interaction with the Lord God is the influence and power of His Word and presence in our lives. You cannot truly pray and not be influenced and changed.
C. S. Lewis is said to have expressed, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” True prayer will impact the person who engages in the practice.
Again Henderson wrote, “. . .(The) crucial component for transforming prayer . . . is from a heart passionate for Christ and with a language springing from His Word.” He quotes Andrew Murray, “The entrance His words find in me will be the measure of the power of my words with Him. What God’s words are to me, is a test of what He, Himself is to me, and so of the uprightness of my desire after him in prayer.”
A central component of prayer is understanding that it is a conversation between the supplicant and the benefactor. The Lord gives us His Word and Spirit to speak to us as we intercede with Him.
The present call to Bible Methodists is a question about corporate prayer. The question is, will we immerse ourselves deeply in a culture of prayer?
Connectional Chairman Dr. Michael Avery has repeatedly expressed the desire that the Bible Methodist community of churches be a people who embrace a culture of prayer. Knowing that the Lord invites us to prayer and that Scripture illustrates the power of praying together with other Christians, will we participate?
Passionate personal worship and prayer will influence how we participate in church. Carrying that passionate, personal worship to church will influence the worship and ministry of your local church.
Understanding and engaging in interaction with the Lord God, creates a desire to bring that same sense of worship to other Believers. When you participate in worship and prayer you will want the people with whom you worship to enjoy that communal communication as well.
The Book of Acts repeatedly reminds us of the power of praying together. They prayed together as a discipline, they prayed together for boldness, they prayed together because there was persecution, they prayed together in times of blessing, they prayed together for direction. They prayed because they had watched their Lord talk with His Father, they prayed because the needed the strength of God with them.
The Book of Acts chapter 6 tells of the Church facing a conflict over responsibility for ministry. There was dissension over who would care for some of the widows. The Apostles gathered for prayer and concluded that their primary responsibility was to give themselves to the Word and prayer. Their decision and direction was not from a lack of care for or interest in the needs of the widows. They were clearly cared for them and appointed men like Stephen to help, but they understood the critical role of leadership.
The early church understood the importance of prayer as a tool of united participation. Prayer united them, encouraged a sense of trust, gave them a clear path to mission and enabled spiritual worship.
Daniel Henderson wrote, “When leaders pray openly and honestly with their people in pursuit of the face of God, hearts are united with Spirit imparted affection and understanding. Health overflows.”
When prayer is a primary focus of the Church the door is open for an invasion of Divine presence and participation. That does not mean simply an influx of people, it does mean meaningful and effective ministry to the unbelievers and the church.
I have been deeply influenced by the Christians in the Philippines. During my time among them, watching and listening to them in prayer was both challenging and convicting. They take seasons of prayer seriously, and gather with the intention of spending significant time in the Lord’s presence. May the Lord inspire us to make prayer central to our lives and the lives of our churches.