A bit ago I mentioned on facebook that I was thinking a lot about prayer. Randi from Seeds in My Heart, who is doing a series on “What pleases God”, told me to keep her posted. So this post is my attempt to do so.
Heading into Easter the organization, WayMakers, has published an annual forty days of prayer and fasting guide. The small group my husband and I are part of has used it the last couple years and the fellowship we were a part of when we lived in Indiana used to use it. I know other groups have done similar things using similar material. Lent seems to be a popular time of year to focus on prayer and encourage people to fast a variety of things. Pre-marriage the group of guys my husband lived with used to drape sheets over their television and stereo equipment as a fast. (Men without sports for forty days seems a thing to behold…from a distance). Anyway…
Prayer has been a foundational piece of the DNA of the fellowships I have attended over the last 18 years. Our current fellowship has a prayer room that is available 24/7 via an outside lock box. (The rest of the building is not accessible through the prayer room except during the Sunday service). As a fellowship we often organize formal prayer leading into a specific event. Our prayer team meets for half an hour prior to the Sunday morning service and we offer post service prayer for both specific alter calls and anyone who needs prayer. Currently eight or more young people from our fellowship have gone off to Kansas City to participate in the International House of Prayer. Some will return to our body and others will move into fulltime ministry from there. The fellowship we were a part of when my husband was in graduate school had a mid-week prayer and ministry meeting and a weekly pre-service adult Sunday school time focused on how to pray for others. The fellowship we came from in Indiana was immersed in the Freedom in Christ and Theophostics prayer ministries and covered all their events, including Sunday morning, with prayer.
One might think with all that exposure and teaching I should not have any doubts or questions concerning prayer. In fact, I have been told by more than one person in leadership that I have a prophetic gift and have been used on occasion by the Lord to give an individual a word of knowledge. Once I was given a tongue and only delivered it after receiving a promise from the Lord (with whom I argued in my mind) that an interpretation would be provided by a specific person, which happened. My experience with prayer and healing has been minimal. Prior to this year I had successfully fended off the common cold in my own life through prayer and resistance. Other than that, my “experience” has been hearing the testimonies of others.
So, given that long introduction what is the point? Approximately ten years ago the Lord stuck two versed in my craw that I have been unable to escape. (I know, not the nicest way to talk about scripture, anyway…). The first verse is I Thessalonians 5:17. It reads: “Pray continuously.” (In the NAS it is: “Pray without ceasing”). The second is Philippians 3:16, “Only let us live up to what we have already obtained.” Granted the Philippians verse is not specifically talking about prayer. Yet, in context referring to our lives in Christ does speak to an intimacy with the Father that Christ obviously achieved through prayer, not to mention the fact that the Spirit seemed to be connecting them for me at a personal level.
I have been disturbed by some of what I have seen emerging in the name of prayer lately. Certainly people are entitled to their own prayer styles and I need to be careful. But, red flags go up for me when people start hyperventilating and calling on God to show up in power. I think I would much rather see God’s mercy and I cannot be sure but if given the option I think maybe Ananias and Sapphira would agree with me.
My son was recently invited to work on a video some of the people in our college and youth group were putting together on the topic of prayer. I have not seen the video nor heard from anyone else involved with the project, but as he started describing it to me my spirit literally felt grieved. The more I thought about that project the stronger the I Thessalonians and Philippians verses reverberated in my head. Finally I did what I should have been doing from the beginning. I shouted (in my head), “What, Lord? What are You trying to tell me?” His response? Don’t laugh. “Live up to what you already know and pray without ceasing.” God is so good.
Now normally my easily frustrated pea size brain would have gotten just a tad upset with God’s answer to my question, especially since He had already been saying that very thing. However, because I finally asked Him I “got it” so to speak. He was assuring me of His presence. He had not taken a bathroom break. He was not out to lunch or off line or out of ear shot. He was there, listening, involved in the conversation, even if we were not asking Him any questions. The whole thing reminds me of a scene I observed when I waited tables in college. A professor, his wife and two high school age sons came into the restaurant and were sitting at one of my tables. The father and sons were having an animated discussion, talking over the top of each other, making big gestures with their hands and generally having an intense (although friendly) debate. Then the mother began to say something. Immediately all attention was on her. The husband and sons were quiet, their hands at rest, she had the floor. She spoke softly. They did not interrupt. She made her point. They even paused as if to give her an opportunity to say something more before saying something else themselves. I had other tables so I do not remember observing much more of the conversation but I am certain the wife/mother had not reprimanded the others; she only added her two cents to what was being discussed. My point is, we often overlook the Spirit’s presence and rarely seek out His perspective. But when it is offered we would be the wiser to listen.
“Pray without ceasing.” How is that even possible? A question for next time.