Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.—Philippians 4:6
Pray continually.—1 Thessalonians 5:17
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”—Matthew 28:20
Being a follower of Christ sometimes feels like one long humiliating series of reminders. Through His Word, or His Spirit, or His people, Jesus shows me something I need to do, or stop doing, or change, or gives me a different perspective on something I’m worrying about, and then comes the sinking feeling that this is not the first time I have learned this lesson. This is not the first time I have needed to read Matthew chapter 6 and remember to stop worrying because God is my provider. This is not the first time I have heard a sermon on the Great Commandment and had to admit that I have forgotten to love God above all else. This is not the first time I have been reminded that if I make time to read my Bible, God makes sure there is still time for everything else I need to do. At one point, I learned these lessons and committed myself to live by them, but somewhere along the way I lost sight of them, and so Jesus graciously brings me back, again and again and again.
This week, the lesson I am coming back to is about the power and the importance of prayer. Of course, I know how powerful and important prayer is. I have read books on prayer and preached sermons on prayer. I have attended seminars on prayer and taught classes on prayer and led my church to devote entire weekends and weeks to prayer. I have faithfully attended a weekly prayer meeting for years on end.
But then, life. Moving and COVID, new responsibilities in a new place, years of change and uncertainty and raging forest fires. Of course, all along I have been praying. I pray faithfully for my family, for my staff, for a whole list of people I care about. I pray publicly in worship services and privately with my children at night. And yet somehow, in the midst of that, prayer has lost the place it once had in my life. I have found myself worrying about the future instead of praying about it. I hope for certain things to happen in the church, and maybe even get a little frustrated when they don’t, but am I praying for those things? Worrying and hoping are not the same thing as praying. Worrying and hoping happen in my head; praying is when my spirit communes with God’s Spirit. Worrying and hoping happen automatically; prayer only happens when I am intentional about it.
This past weekend, our elder team met for several hours on Friday night and again on Saturday morning. Our purpose was to assess the health of our church and seek to discern what God wants to do next. But of course, one major factor in the health of a church is the spiritual health of its leaders, so we had to start with ourselves. As we went around the circle and shared the areas in which we would like to see ourselves grow in the coming year, a theme started to emerge: we all recognized that we could stand to do better in the area of prayer. Not that things are terrible, just that they could be better. Everyone in that room loves Jesus and is walking with Jesus. But as the comments started to pile up—My prayer times are rushed, My prayer times are distracted, I give God my requests but I don’t make time to sit still and listen—it became clear that God was bringing all of us back to a lesson we have learned before.
The more we talked, the more we realized things that now seem embarrassingly obvious: We want to see people come to faith in Christ, but are we praying for that? We want our worship services to be alive with God’s presence, but are we praying for that? We want people to mature in their faith so we see lives transformed and relationships healed. We have events on the calendar that we want to be spiritually fruitful. We need a new Director of Middle School Ministries. Are we praying, or just hoping?
And so, this past Tuesday morning, our elder team gathered at 6:00am to pray, first to share and lift up our personal needs, then to seek God’s face on behalf of His church. The plan is that we will do this twice a month, in addition to our regular business meetings. The expectation is that we will grow closer to Christ and to each other, and that we will see God do things in the church that we would not see otherwise. And in our personal lives, each of us is taking steps to prioritize regular, unrushed quiet times before the Lord, where we not only share our burdens but listen to His voice. Of course, time will pass, zeal will fade, and we will need to be brought back to this lesson again. But as we hold each other accountable to this commitment, we believe we’ll find it much easier to keep pressing in closer and closer to the heart of Jesus. As we do this, for His glory and the sake of His church, we would value your prayers.
Do you wish you prayed more? Have you ever thought about inviting a friend to help you? Chances are they wish they prayed more too. There’s no shame in admitting that we are not where we want to be. In God’s design, our brothers and sisters help us to be better than we would ever be on our own. I’ll be praying (really!) that across our church, God shows us how we can continue to grow in this area. May He be glorified and blessed as we seek His face together.