2016 has been a year where I've prayed for extraordinary prayer within my life, within the Church, and also throughout the entire world. I've been encouraged as God has shown me people and places where He's answering that prayer. Yet, I witness many times where prayer is offered quickly, and in a perfunctory manner, that is anything but extraordinary. In fact, I sometimes find myself deeply desiring to see a new "ordinary" established within the Church, within the lives of many other Christ-followers, and even within my own life. Here's what I mean...
"Let's say a quick prayer before we..."
It's a phrase I've been guilty of using, and it's one I frequently hear prior to church meetings, meals, and other activities. But let's think about what we're really communicating.
1. It gives a "tip of the hat" to God's presence, but nothing more. We acknowledge God's presence by offering the brief prayer, but it typically goes no further than that. God isn't invited to participate in the time (which, if we're honest, is His to begin with), nor is there any desire for Him to lead or control the time (we want to dictate that ourselves). Is there any wonder why church often appears to many as a glorified country club?
2. It says, "this is a tradition." Going along with number 1, the quick prayer often seems to serve as a place holder. It's something that's done before meals, meetings, or events, that continues a tradition that's gone on for months, meetings, or years past. Again, God is acknowledged (sometimes barely), but the real desire is to get on to the fellowship, the meeting details, or the meal that we're gathered for. Should God be dryly acknowledged as a guest, and then promptly forgotten about? Let's consider our ways!
3. It says, "there's a greater agenda at hand, and we best not waste much time before the 'main event.'" This is the point that most troubles me. The short prayer, or at least the way it's presented as such ahead of time (as quoted above), insinuates that God is not to be the center of attention or focus. Instead, the meeting agenda, the fellowship, or meal is the REAL desire of the gathering, not God Himself. We turn our hearts towards lesser things, and we think we're better off for doing so. Yikes! Should God take second or third place to our bellies or our desire to gab? Should the "fear" of food cooling on our plates really be a consideration or motivation to pray briefly? Again, let's consider our ways!
Let's me propose some extraordinary ideas.
What would happen if the church business meeting turned into a prayer service among the church leaders? What if God dictated the meeting agenda? If the church meeting is yielded to God, and it happens to open with 45+ minutes of prayer, and then concludes with only 10 minutes of meeting details and discussion, could not immeasurably more be accomplished in heaven and on earth, than with a 30 second prayer, 59 1/2 minutes of discussion, arm twisting, and a man-driven agenda? Let's not fear yielding to God. He IS a God of order!
What would happen if, during a pre-meal prayer, God was worshiped and sincerely invited into the meal and fellowship time. What would you say if, during the course of the meal and fellowship, God leads one or more attendees into a place of repentance for their sins? What would you say if God guides conversations to a point where one or more unsaved family members or guests repent and give their lives to Christ? The fear of a few tummies growling due to a prayer that extends for more than 15 seconds suddenly seems frivolous as God and His Spirit are invited to lead and take over the fellowship time.
These things sound extraordinary, however I'm not certain that they should. For a long time, we've treated prayer, and connecting with God's heart, as something for special church gatherings, and not as purposeful, powerful, daily opportunities to witness God work in and through our lives.
To change the quick prayer mindset, we must first seek God to make that change within our hearts and attitudes. One way is to ask Him to grow our love for others to a place where it's greater than our love for ourselves. Also, we can ask Him to grow our love for Him to a place where it's greater than our desire to be accepted, liked, seen, or known in front of others. Lastly, (and there are certainly many more ways to pray about this matter) we can worship God privately, or where two or more are gathered in His name. God inhabits the praises of His people. Worshiping God in prayer opens your heart, and the hearts of others, to experience God in deeper and in life-changing ways. That's where extraordinary begins!
Let's consider our ways, and invest time in prayer.
God first. All others follow after Him.