Sunday, January 31, 2010
A Call to Prayer
This is the second Sunday we have had to cancel church due to snow this winter. While I never like to cancel church, sometimes you just have to. Actually, it's nice to pause and reflect on a snowy day. It seems God gives us snow days in order to force us to slow down, take a break from the normal routine, enjoy family, and spend time with Him.
Since the pulpit will be vacant this morning, I thought I'd share a bit with you about what God has been doing in my life lately. Over the past several weeks, God has been renewing my soul. He had to bring me through some difficult times to do it, but I'm open to whatever it takes for God to have more of me. (You can never get more of God--He's given Himself completely to us, but you can give yourself more completely to Him.) I can see the Holy Spirit doing something new in my life--bringing me to a time of personal revival. I can also see God's Spirit going something new in our church--preparing us for something wonderful.
The first step in revival is prayer. No great move of God ever happened without the people of God first bathing themselves in prayer. In Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit swept through the gathered disciples and the church was first born, prayer ushered the Spirit in. Recently, God reminded me, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8)."
God has spoken into my heart, convincing me more than ever of my need to pray. Prayer is the foundation of a relationship with God. Nothing else is more central. It comes before church attendance (Of course it does, because the Holy Spirit needed the disciples to pray even before He created the church). It comes before reading the Bible (Of course it does--Abraham had no Bible to read, but his time in prayer drew him closer to God). Prayer is the heart of faith. Yet how often do Christians leave off the practice of prayer?
"Early African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, 'Brother, the grass grows on your path' (Today in the Word, June 29, 1992)."
We need to pray. I need to pray. I've learned that I can't survive without it, any more than I can survive without food, water, clothing, and shelter. I wouldn't go a day without those, would I? Then why should I go a day without prayer? I know--you're going to say, "I pray throughout the day. Every time something comes up that I need to pray about, I stop and say a quick prayer." But that's not enough. How would it be if I said, "I don't need to eat meals--all I need to do is pop a few sunflower seeds into my mouth throughout the day"? I'd starve to death, wouldn't I?
Yes--I need a time of daily prayer. An inviolable time, apart from the distractions of the day, when God and I can be alone. According to Daniel Henderson, author of Fresh Encounters: Experiencing Transformation Through United Worship-Based Prayer, the average American Christian spends only six minutes a day in prayer. Six minutes! How can we possibly survive? How can the church possibly accomplish its mission? How can we experience true unity with God and one another like that? So I've committed myself to at least an hour of prayer each day.
For me, that works best first thing in the morning. I'm not naturally a morning person, so this is actually pretty difficult for me. I've tried other times, like during the day in my office at church, or during the day at home, but there are always distractions. Either the phone will ring, or my mind will wander to the other things that need to get done. I need to remind myself that prayer is the very first thing that needs to get done. It's more important than doing ministry, which is what my time during the day tends to be focused on. I've tried praying in the evenings, but of course my kids are home from school, and I'm focused on family. I've tried praying after everybody's in bed, but usually I'm too tired and I find myself falling asleep in prayer. So I've been setting my alarm for o-dark-thirty, getting up an hour before everybody else does, and spending that time in prayer.
It has become the sweetest part of my day. I hope Beth and the kids don't mind my saying that. They could get jealous, except that I think I'm a better husband and dad when I've started my day in prayer. I'm a better pastor when I've started my day in prayer. I find myself resisting temptation more effectively, thinking more clearly, experiencing more peace, and being more compassionate when I start my day in prayer. Our dinnertime family devotions are fantastic. But they can't replace my daily hour of prayer. Praying with people in hospital rooms, home visits, and counseling sessions can't replace my time of private prayer. Just as I don't allow my personal devotional Bible reading to get mixed up with sermon preparation time, so I don't allow my prayer time with others to replace my hour of prayer. I can't allow the quick sporadic prayers I express at a time of need to take the place of my hour of prayer. I need an hour each day, sitting in God's presence, expressing my heart to Him and listening to His voice. I've gotten to the point where I don't know how I ever survived without it.
And now, I invite you to join me.
I believe that God wants to do something great in your life. God wants to draw you close, meet your needs, show you His Spirit, and give you wisdom for godly decisions. he wants to begin a personal revival in your soul. God wants to bless your family, nourish your friends, revitalize your church, and even be present in your workplace--all through you! But He can only do this if you give Him more of you to do it with.
So I invite you to join me for an hour of prayer, each day.
Jesus said, "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:19-20)." The good news is that if we covenant to pray together, we don't have to be physically present with one another in order to be spiritually present along with the Spirit of Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:4).
So over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to ask our church to covenant together--to pray for at least an hour a day, during Lent (February 17-April 4). Like me, you may choose to get up early in the morning, or you may prefer to pray late at night. You may even want to pray for half an hour, twice a day. Either way, I'll have covenant cards at church that we can all sign, or you can leave a comment on my blog, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. During Lent, you'll receive a daily email link to this blog, where I'll share an insight from my personal devotional time, or a teaching on prayer, or a word of encouragement. You'll only receive that email link if you sign up for it--I won't be sending it to every address on my church email list.
I hope you'll join me in prayer. As we covenant to pray together, I pray God will send His Holy Spirit sweeping through His church. I pray He'll renew your soul, give you power for each day, and draw us closer together as believers. May God bless you on this snowy day. May He draw us back together soon.