July 28, 2014

Maintenance prayers, or frontline praying?

Christians can be involved in two kinds of praying. One is called maintenance prayer. Defined by its title, this is prayer for the current needs of individuals and the church. The other is called frontline prayer. Its definition is less obvious. In my key verses for this study on the church, it is prayer concerning the words I have underlined . . .

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19–21)

In those early days, the church started in Jerusalem and grew to include many surrounding areas. Then they had another frontline prayer meeting. For it, “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch met; the Bible names five, but there may have been more. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2–3)

From the results, their praying likely included request that God would show them how to reach the world with the good news of Jesus Christ, for it was after this prayer meeting that the world was changed forever. That change happened because these men took seriously the promises of their Lord about prayer.

Jesus said, “I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9–10)

This astonishing promise came after a story that illustrates what the asking is supposed to be about. Jesus said, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’ . . .” (Luke 11:5–6) He wasn’t talking about a personal request, but about asking God regarding the needs of someone else. In the context, this was not mere bread but the bread of life, the need of every person. The story and the promise are about supplying the souls of others with spiritual nourishment. It is about asking concerning eternal matters. In other words, it is about frontline praying.

Frontline praying not only seeks for the ways and means to minister bread to others, it also seeks for understanding about who is hungry for this bread. This is information that is known only by the Holy Spirit, but He is willing to guide our efforts and He did that for these first missionaries. On their journey, Paul and his co-workers “went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:6–10)

I’m convicted by this. When I think about the size of my community and their need to hear the Gospel, I tend to be overwhelmed instead of moving out as these early Christians did and experiencing God directing them as they went. Holding back reveals that I am selfishly concerned about my own maintenance even if I often pray those frontline prayers for the spiritual needs of those around me.

God is challenging me on this, and at least one other person in our church. She is involved in a prayer group that she says are still mainly in maintenance mode, but is excited that one other person wants to see a change. Will this be the beginning of another adventure with God? That is what the Spirit seems to be telling us to put in our prayer requests.

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