Prayer is essential to the Christian life and ministry. Everyone says this. But how few really pray. I wonder about the frequency and depth of our prayer lives because of the condition of the church and the lives of individual Christians. Is it possible for us to be praying as we should and things remain as they are? Where is the advance of the gospel? Where are people being converted in significant numbers? Why are so many Christian marriages falling apart? Why are so many teens raised in the church no where to be found as soon as they have the freedom not to attend? Why can't Christians get along with each other? Why are so many Christian pastors and leadership teams so easily sidetracked with worldly agendas that keep them from focusing on what is most important?
My suspicion is that there is little serious prayer. Prayer meetings, where the church comes together to seek God's face, are almost non-existent today. And even where they do exist, they are not well attended. I know, I know, people are busy!!! But all those busy people always seem to fine time to do lots of other things. That is why I have a difficult time taking their "I'm so busy excuse" seriously. The fact of the matter is we are all busy. And I would be prepared to argue that pastors who are doing their jobs properly are just as busy as anyone else and more so... busy without statutory holidays, a 40 hour work week, a pension after 25 or 30 years... incredibly busy without a lot of the basic labor reforms considered common place in the society at large. So busy is a lame excuse. It is a relative term. Who isn't busy?
No, more to the point is a lack of spiritual appetite, which is often indicative of spiritual disease and even death. I say this because Jesus tells us to pray. He expects us to pray in the secret place where we are alone with God. In fact, if we are not praying we are hypocrites, plain and simple. In all areas of life, the depth of our spirituality is not what we are when we are in front of a crowd, but when we are alone with God, one-on-one.
As encouragement to pray let me review a small portion of the biblical data. According to Jesus there are some kinds of problems that can only be resolved with concentrated prayer (Mk.9:14-29). Furthermore, he told the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) to encourage people to pray and not give up. Jesus, himself prayed when he was here on earth and he especially prayed when he was on the verge of a major decision or event in his ministry (Luke 6:12; 9:28; 11:1; Matthew 26:36-46). In the book of Acts the apostles believed that they were called to two ministries; the ministry of pray and of the word of God (6:4). In the Pauline letters we have numerous examples of Paul praying and requesting prayer on his own behalf. If this was true of an apostle like Paul, how much more do we stand in need of intercession.
Tomorrow I will talk about prayer in connection with spiritual warfare and what Paul means when he says, "Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers" (Ephesians 6:18). Suffice it to say that this is one area of the Christian life that we need to re-discover and quickly if we are going to impact our generation.