09 March 2011

Prayer is good for us... and the world - Part 3

This is the third and final post in a series offered to reinforce the first emphasis in Summitview's 2011 Vision, namely, to grow in prayer as a church.

4) Pray for your neighborhood.
Aaron Ritter (my co-pastor) shared this great idea with me recently. He had a burden to know each of his neighbors by name and to pray for them consistently. So he printed out a map of the neighborhood and set out to meet them and put a name next to each address. Now he and his family have a map that they pray through once a week.

Our family isn’t nearly as organized as Mr. Ritter’s, but praying for our neighbors has definitely opened our eyes and softened our hearts to the folks we see every day. Our family is now strategizing about how to serve our neighbors and open up conversations about the Gospel.

There is something immediate and everyday that happens when we pray for the people across the street that doesn’t happen when we pray for lofty and faraway things (which we should pray for as well). We are more likely to unite our sweat with these prayers and see them answered. But this is critical: you will soon find it is not enough to know their names and pray for them – you must know them and that takes time. Busy families might legitimately ask; “When would we have time?” And the answer is, hopefully, sometime in this life (2 Cor. 5:16-21). Start with praying for them. Drop off some cookies. Have them over for dinner. Serve them. Your Spirit-soaked, broken heart will find the time.

5) Pray continually (1 Thes. 5:17).
“I will pray for you.”
Chances are you’ve said it and if you have said it, chances are you didn’t do it. It’s an occupational hazard for the pastor. It began to wear on my conscience and move me to ask some simple questions. Why do I need some formal, set-aside “prayer time” to present these requests to God? Do I believe in some formula that will enable God to get better reception of my prayer signal? As silly as it sounds when I spit it out, I think I do.

Unceasing prayer requires us to pray as life comes. A prayer queue often ends up being a prayer graveyard. We can pray when the need arises. Simply, honestly, right then and there, present your requests to God. He is looking for our dependence not our assistance in His hearing.

There is a positive spiritual momentum that develops with this habit. Our sensitivity to each moment and our desire for God’s interests in every situation begin to increase. It affects our hearts. This is important because the other reason I’m not faithful to pray for situations as they arise is my lack of boldness and concern to simply ask, “Can we pray right now?”

6) Pray with each other.
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:19–20)
I learned to pray at 5:45am on a hogsback overlooking Fort Collins in 1996. The crazies I had just jumped in with thought it would be a good idea to pray at this spot every day at 5:45am for 40 days (they read it in a book or something). Looking back, those crazies laid the foundation for my understanding of prayer.

Collective prayer exposes you to the impulses of God’s spirit in a variety of people. Hearing their passion and burdens awakens the heart in a way that private prayer just can’t. I recall a time when a dear friend and I were praying while hiking on the last day of a weekend backpacking trip. He was crying. His cracking voice was begging God to save his friend. It was simple, heartfelt and deeply convicting. Laziness or hesitation on that day would have stolen that life-changing moment.

There are obstacles. It’s always awkward to begin and our self-consciousness can be distracting. That never changes and it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. It simply means you are moving in a direction that is unnatural. Push through and you will find a “liveliness” and focus in praying together that may explain Jesus’ promise in Matthew 18:19-20.

A few thoughts that help keep my “many words” in check (Matthew 6:5-7):
  • I need to pay attention to my words. Is this how I normally communicate? Do I say things to buy time to think or to fill the void? Would I speak this way to a friend? It may mean my focus is more on impressing God or others than on honest communication.
  • Keep my prayers short. Long prayers may cause others to drift and lose focus. 
  • “When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than your words without heart.” – John Bunyan
    If I don’t have anything to pray, wait. I shouldn’t expect more from rushed prayer than from a rushed conversation with a friend. Prayer is not something to “get through” or “check off.” In fact, these approaches may relegate my prayers to nothing more than religion.
The Gospel begins with our utter dependence on God and, actually, it ends with our utter dependence on God. This means that the life of someone who believes this good news should be shot through with simple, dependent prayer. May it be so.
The whole life of a Christian should be nothing but praises and thanks to God; we should neither eat nor sleep, but eat to God and sleep to God and work to God and talk to God, do all to His glory and praise. - Richard Sibbes
Additional Resources
Praying is good for us.... and for the world – Part 1
Praying is good for us.... and for the world – Part 2
Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
The Weapon of Prayer E.M. Bounds


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