Prayer is much more than a shopping list full of requests, no matter how well intentioned. Prayer is an engagement with God – our Creator and Redeemer. Rather than being confined by our limited vision and perspectives, prayer enables us to move towards God’s big panoramic view of life in the world. We know that, sadly, because of poor human decision-making, and downright evil intent, the world is NOT the place it should be and could be. We understand the damage caused through the abuse of freewill and unrepentant behaviours.
So, we sense the need to pray, if we are to have the wisdom to go forward in God’s will. More than this! If a church is to be effective in its ministry to the community, it must commit to a strategy of prayer, that will prepare the hearts of people to receive and positively respond to the gospel message; as well as impact the spiritual soil of a whole town, thus creating an environment of new and renewed openness. Also, as churches bow to pray with integrity, and express a true heart for God and people, much of our lost credibility will likely be regained.
Reasons to Pray
- (To) Develop our faith
It is through talking, sometimes out loud, to God, that we continually remind ourselves of God’s existence, immense love, close presence, and that God always has our best interests at heart. If we stop praying, we can easily forget about God’s place in our lives. Not only that, we start to rely more on ourselves (in an unhealthy way), forgetting about God’s willingness and capacity to guide us and strengthen us. Then, usually, more things than normal start to go wrong! And we tend to wonder what God has against us, rather than reflecting on how we have left God completely out of things.
As we share time with God, we can become more hopeful, even confident, that the broken and lost will come (or return) to Jesus. We pray for people we know, and we pray for openings of blessing and healing for them. We pray that such people will be able to look at life events a bit differently, with a new perspective – being more open to spiritual solutions. We pray for the removal of obstacles … that the blinds will come up; and in prayer we start to imagine how this will become a reality, and build confidence in how God can bring change.
Thus, prayer plays a critical role in preparing our heart for the future. In being totally focussed on the capacity of God to answer our prayers according to best possible case-scenarios, we are released to trust God completely – without fear, and without the need to over-react or over-reach, or to take things back into our own hands. We can therefore rebuke the enemy, acknowledging that the one who opposes us, has been well and truly defeated. The victory will come in God’s time, and in God’s way; and the faithful will quickly recognise when it happens.
- (To) Deepen our relationship
It is only as we spend time with someone, and talk with them, and listen to them, that we grow in relationship together. It is the same with our relationship with God. We share all our confessions, joys, concerns, hopes and dreams, with a view to knowing God better. Prayer is two-way communication. Prayer is a conversation, in which there are no right words – just honest sincere words. Sometimes only heartfelt groans, that the Spirit interprets. And where this level of prayer happens in a group setting, there can be a multi-dimensional dynamic that staggers the room with new insight.
Sometimes we will hear God’s voice through the prayers of another person. Sometimes we will hear God’s voice coming out of our own mouth, with words never before thought of, nor prepared earlier. Sometimes there comes a deep conviction about the presence of God’s Spirit, such that everything that is said and heard has deep significance – as if it could just change everything. But to experience this, we have to be listening, truly engaging with God and others. I have come out of prayer meetings exhausted (yet inspired) having tried to hear everything that the Spirit is saying. If we don’t listen – we won’t hear!
Prayer is opening the space for God to speak. Prayer is engaging with what God wants to give us. In honest prayer we are being formed by God’s Spirit into the likeness of Jesus. We are learning about God’s mercy and developing a servant heart. We are becoming disciples who live authentic lives, representing Jesus in our town, workplaces, schools and places of recreation. We are bringing hope where hope is lacking, and peace to where peace has gone missing, and healing to where lives are broken. We become disciple-makers and change agents.
It is in the place of prayer that we become positive encouragers, leaving negative and critical spirits behind. In prayer we start to appreciate our spiritual gifts, and how these might be applied toward the common good. As we deeply engage with God in prayer, we come to weep over the things that God weeps over – just like Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem … that had moved their focus so far from God. And, as we deeply engage with God, we come to celebrate the things that God celebrates … and we know what all those heavenly parties are for – people coming (or returning) into relationship with Jesus.
- (To) Discover God’s plans
It’s as we pray concerning the state of things, and the opportunities that may be present … while, at the same time, we consider how deeply God loves the world, and longs to be reconciled with all people, that we start to get inklings about how we should proceed. We go to prayer with our eyes, ears and senses attuned to the needs of others around us. The ultimate words here, come from Jesus himself: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done – on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6). We want people to experience the best, and the best surrounds uninhibited relationship with the Divine Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit.
For God’s Kingdom to come, means that the perfect future God has in store becomes evident, in certain ways, now! There are spaces and places in which we can experience the best of heaven now. This especially surrounds the quality of our relationships with God, others, and the rest of creation. For the sake of our friends, family and neighbours, we want to pray for that ‘Kingdom’ to be seen here. We want to worship like we mean it! When Jesus came, the Kingdom came with him. And, as we accept and follow the ways of Jesus, we become part of his Kingdom reign, and this renewed reality can become visible to others.
Although living in the world still means we suffer from illness, all sorts of trauma, and the consequences of sin – as part of Jesus’ reign, we are able to cope (and rise above) in knowing that ‘God is with us’! We can faithfully pray “according to God’s will” … acknowledging that only God knows what is ‘best’. We learn to accept God’s answers. Yet this best (of the ‘Kingdom’) always involves the freedom for us to grow; and also to see that any oppression or injustice that impedes life is always alien to God’s Kingdom (and needs to be defeated).
So, part of discovering God’s plans involves knowing what runs contrary to God’s plans. Once we have some level of understanding of God’s plans, and the problems to be addressed, we should adopt the attitude of being involved in the solution. Where are the open doors? Enable us, our God, to enter new fields of ministry, to embrace different people groups, to take on new adventures. Help us, loving God, to think bigger and broader … way beyond ourselves, to partner in growing the Kingdom of God.
So it is, that prayer aligns the hearts of people with the purposes of God. And the ultimate purpose of God is expressed in the ‘great commission’, again expressed by Jesus, in short: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching them” (Matt 28). If we love God, and sense how people are lost and broken, then this is what we will want to do. And we find our pathways to addressing this … in the place of prayer. Part of this will be discerning the (often hidden) hindrances that get in people’s way, understanding what to do about them, and ultimately turning defeats into victories.
- (To) Dedicate our efforts
As we minister and work together, completely out of the resources that God has gifted to each of us (for the community good), we recognise that we need God’s blessing over all that we do! We are quite powerless in ourselves, but can be hugely effective with God working through us. We pray to ensure that what we do … will be clearly seen as the serving ministry of God to others, using us as channels (of this blessing). It is the Jesus in us recognising the Jesus in others, and providing the spiritual care that only God can bring.
We prayerfully share our life stories and testimonies of faith, in the hope that God’s Spirit will touch another individual at their point of need. We live out our life under the glare of the cameras (so to speak), praying that it triggers hope in another person. We want others to recognise how following Jesus works for us. We want to be released in our worship of God, exposing God’s presence and reality – that despite our weakness and vulnerability, we know SOMEONE who makes sense of life, gives us peace, and a reason to live well. We want to point to the primacy of the God who saves. This all starts with prayer.
It is in praying this way, that we will see untold breakthroughs. We have already seen many such breakthroughs – which if we analyse them carefully, would have had their origin in someone’s prayers (or in group prayer somewhere). It’s NOT that God depends on our prayers, it’s that God desires us to engage in prayer, and partner in the redemptive and transformative outcomes that God wants to bring.
If we pray like this, then we will no doubt fill the new worship centre, for there will be untold breakthroughs – with the opposition, the blockages, and the reservations all stripped away. As God's church is more faithful in prayer, then God's own stunning presence will be more observable and recognisable; and we will see transformation everywhere – in individual lives, and across whole communities.