Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prayer? Why bother?

John 14:12-14

It has been said it is essential that those on staff and in leadership positions of the Church, paid or not, must be a people of continual prayer.  If they are unwilling to pray, they are unable to lead.

While it is true that leadership positions in the Church require a special brand of devotion, it occurred to me there is no one who claims the name of Christian who is not in some position of leadership on some level – for what is leadership if not a measure of influence?  What do we do with our devoted lives if not try to influence others to follow Christ with us?   It happens when we freely choose to hitch our wagons to Jesus.  It is not true that we were ever guaranteed a smooth ride all the way to Glory Land with Jesus doing all the work!

Prayer is probably one of the most neglected of the disciplines of the Church, and I’ve often wondered why.  I have no doubt there are many individuals who pray in their own time and in their own devotions and according to their own needs, but the neglect of the Church is that prayer is not an intentional focus of the corporate structure; that is, a practice of The Church as a whole.

There are moments in the order of worship when there is prayer.  There is the opening prayer, the prayer of the offertory, the prayer of petition, and often a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer which we probably know by heart but understand only with our heads.  As a practice of the greater whole, however, The Church may have lost its prayer footing.  We need only to take note of the many denominations of Christianity which proves we cannot – will not – gather at a Common Table.

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was taught a “form” of prayer.  It was not only the written prayers as part of the Rosary; the “form” was as much a way of kneeling or standing (never sitting), the way we held our hands clasped together, and an appropriate environment (“closing the door” for the sake of quiet) as it was a way of expression.

Over the years we’ve made prayer to be so casual a thing to the point of taking it for granted.  Perhaps too casual to the point that we do not put too much effort or thought into it.  For instance I know many who claim to pray while driving a car.  To me, however, that is as dangerous as talking on a cell phone while driving – that is, IF we are praying properly.  “Properly” as in “closing the door” to the outside world, shutting out all distractions, and giving The Lord our total, undivided, and uninterrupted attention.  We cannot do this while we are otherwise occupied.

We also do not consider that when we pray, we are calling upon Heaven itself (or should be) to grant to us not merely our petitions but to also give us undivided attention (even as we often do not offer that same courtesy!).  This is to say, of course, that in prayer we expect to be in the Divine Presence of the Almighty, the Eternal God and Father of all creation, and the center of His attention in this profoundly intimate moment in Eternity.

If this is all true, then, what should our prayer posture be?  Should we stand?  Must we kneel?  May we sit?  Should our hands be folded together, or should we open our hands and lift our palms to Heaven?  Can we pray while driving or doing anything that requires our attention?  Finally, can prayer be as casual as a conversation we would have with a loved one?

The common answer to these and many more questions hinges on our state of mind, especially when we get hung up on praying “in Jesus’ name”.  Even that “sign off” has become as habitual as The Lord’s Prayer itself – just something we say to perhaps make it “official”, something we say but give very little thought to.

The reason and need for prayer can be summed up in the Scripture reading (John 14:12-13): “that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.  By what means?  “Whatever you ask in My Name, that I will do … so that the Father may be glorified in the [WORD]”.

So prayer is not strictly a matter of form or even content.  Prayer is an intent.  Prayer has been given to us and taught to us through the ages for one reason and one reason only: “that in the Name of Messiah, the Father may be glorified.”

We must re-embrace prayer, therefore, the way in which it was entrusted to The Church.  Rather than to think strictly in terms of personal petitions and hoping The Lord will find glory in submitting to our will, we would do well to first consider that if we are going to pray “in Jesus’ name”, we must do so with the primary intention of glorifying the Father – just as Jesus sought to do with every step, every healing, and every blessing.

When we do this, when we learn to do this, I suspect our lives and the life of the Church will change … and for the better!  So let us pray, so let us do.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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