by Rory Christensen
This week, I thought I might start with a riddle. Here it goes. What flows from the desperate, is practiced by the persistent, entrusted to the believing, and central to divine communication? (Hint: It is difficult but essential, learned but never mastered, innate but needs explanation, seems insignificant but interrupts heaven.) What is it? …drumroll please… prayer, of course! (If you guessed it, you get two gold stars and a brownie.)
Prayer is that well-worn word we use to talk about communicating with God through talking or listening. It’s also a subject we’re well-versed in. We all know, for instance, that it’s one of the central ways we connect with God and through which are changed by God (John 15:5). We know it’s our primary means of “doing life” with God, motivated and empowered by Him. We know that Jesus taught his disciples to do it (Luke 11), and the early church was faithful in it. We know more biblical teaching about it as well: that prayer rises from the believing (Romans 11:36; 1 Timothy 6:15-16), is motivated by salvation (1 Timothy 1;13-14; Ephesians 5:20), essential to service (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4), and pivotal to perseverance (Ephesians 6:18; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 7).
But my reason for bringing it up today is to encourage us to continue to be faithful in it, not just because it’s on every elder’s job description (Acts 6:1-7; James 5:13-18), but because prayer makes a real difference. As Corrie ten Boom said, “Prayer is powerful. The devil smiles when we make plans. He laughs when we get busy. But he trembles when we pray – especially when we pray together.”
I love our Acts 12 reminder of that. You know the context: the early church is being persecuted – James has been executed by Herod Agrippa I; Peter has been thrown in prison and is awaiting his own execution. It’s a dark situation. But verse 5 gives a ray of hope: “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Mark Moore tells us that this verse has an “on the one hand … but on the other hand” sort of vibe to it. Our summary: “On the one hand, Peter is in prison and the mission of God looks to be in jeopardy. But on the other hand, the church is praying to God.” In other words, the verse provokes us to expect, to anticipate, the difference prayer will make.
What gets me the most about this account, though, is the disciples’ absolute conviction that their prayer would make a difference. Dallas Williard said it this way: “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.” For these disciples, this was not the case. They went to God, believing that he loved them and would care for them; believing that he would act on their behalf. And, because of their fervent prayer and the belief that motivated it, they experienced God’s salvation.
Brothers, may the same be true of us. As we push into the back part of 2018, we can’t forget to pray. Pray because spiritual opposition is great. Pray because our families, fellow elders, and church staff need it. Pray because people are lost and God’s mission is essential. Pray because it changes, fuels, and directs us for the Lord’s work. Pray. We know why. It makes a real difference.