Monday, April 07, 2008

Prayer…as our Last Resort?

I was speaking with a co-worker today (who represents himself publicly as a Christian) and he happens to be telling me a story of an incident that occurred recently on a plane ride. During the flight, a man seated across from him had a heart attack. To make a long story short, the plane was diverted from it’s ultimate destination and the stricken man was removed (alive) from the flight. My co-worker in finishing up the story remarked…”all I could do was pray for him”. When he said that, it brought to my mind similar sentiments that I have heard from other people, usually stated such that there was nothing ‘more’ that they could have done, so prayer was all that was left.

Now I know that my co-worker had nothing but the man’s best intentions, and he offers to pray for people’s circumstances quite often, so this post is certainly not meant as a critique (far from it), but it does raise a point that I think is emblematic of a persistent ‘negative’ on the part of some of us Christians. Why is prayer oftentimes viewed by us as “all I could do..” Biblical scholars down through the centuries of written or spoken about the incredible power of prayer. But why does it seem as if this power is lost on us in this current generation? Perhaps it is an indicator of our level of faith in prayer. Never mind the fact that God re-enforces the singularity of prayer as a powerful means of communicating with Him and making requests of Him throughout the Bible. Perhaps throughout too many churches, prayer is relegated to something that the Pastor or Priest “does for you”, as opposed to something that we should also do for ourselves. Perhaps people truly are not certain that God is listening AND just as importantly will act on our behalf in response to prayer? But God tells us anything but this. I did a word search on the word “prayer” in the Bible, and it is stated roughly 102 times throughout : the first was in Genesis 25:21 - Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The last use of the term prayer occurs in 1 Peter 3:12 - For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. In between there are numerous instances of the use of prayer as a means for us to bring our petitions to God. Here are just a few examples:

1 Kings 9:1-3: (A prayer for blessing) When Solomon had finished building the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, the LORD appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. The LORD said to him: "I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

2 Chronicles 30:26-27: (A prayer of Worship) There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place.

Job 42:8-9: (A prayer for forgiveness) So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job's prayer.

Isaiah 38:4-5: (A prayer for healing) Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: "Go and tell Hezekiah, `This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.

Matthew 21:22: (A prayer of faith) If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."

Mark 9:28-29: (A prayer to drive out demonic spirits) After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer. "

Acts 2:40-42: (An example of Corporate Prayer) With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 28: 7-8: (Another prayer for healing) There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.

Romans 12:9-13 (Faithfulness in prayer) Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

James 5: 13-16 (No descriptions necessary) Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

As one can see, God has given us this free access to Him through prayer. We should try not to take it for granted or treat it as an after-thought in difficult circumstances. Seek God through prayer. He will never fail you.


Lisa said...

You know my thoughts on the subject of prayer and how the teachings of prayer, importance of prayer and actual praying are lacking in the American church today tragically as it's a privileged form of communication GOD HIMSELF designed for us to communicate with HIM.

Keep writing...

Ava Semerau said...

Peter - this is a great post on prayer and an important reminder that prayer shouldnt be our final response but our first.

After reading through your blog, I’d like to invite you to participate in a blog book tour I’m having October 1. I think the topic – the Biblical Principles of pleasing God – would be of interest to both you and your readers. If you’re interested, here’s a link with some additional information. Thanks and I hope to hear back from you soon! Ava

A God who sends people to Hell?