July 27, 2014

There is praying, and then there is praying . . .

God’s church is a praying church. Sometimes our prayer meetings can be inward focused with what has been called maintenance prayers. We ask God for health, safety, a good attendance on Sunday, and so on.

While these are okay, another kind of praying appeals to us. It has been called ‘frontline’ prayer, where the focus is on confession of sin, renewal, and the power of God for growth and change. This is hard work and rarer, at least in contemporary North America.

Other prayer sessions might be called emergency meetings. When crisis occurs, we get together and pray concerning threats and disasters. It might be Christians we know or strangers, anyone suffering because of tragedy like tornados, airplane crashes, or medical issues. It was a situation like this that brought the early church together to pray for Peter. Acts 12:1–19 tells the story.

Herod the king was persecuting the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword and went after Peter with similar intent. Peter was put in prison and guarded by four squads of soldiers, but “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”
As this emergency prayer meeting was happening, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains with sentries before the door. Then “an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, ‘Dress yourself and put on your sandals.’ And he did so. And he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’ And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him.”

Peter “came to himself” and realized the Lord had rescued him. He went to the house where the church was praying and the servant girl who answered the door was so shocked that she left him outside and ran to report that he was there.

Of course they were excited, but also amazed, a common reaction of Christians to answered prayer. I don’t know why that happens. Our God promises to hear us, but we are so often surprised when He does . . .  

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ (Isaiah 58:9)
Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. (Isaiah 65:24)
Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (Jeremiah 33:3)
 . . . the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. (Romans 10:12)

In my experience, praying with the idea God will answer just as I asked can be confidence, but it can also be presumption. Sometimes I pray with the strong sense that God can answer, but am not positive that He will, or that He will do it the way I expect. Most of the time I pray telling Him the need and leaving the answer up to Him, but that is not nearly as exciting as praying and being overwhelmed that He not only heard but responded with a totally surprising answer.

Prayer is a mystery. However, answered prayer is part of what it means to be a Christian. God is there for His people. He is listening and able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or imagine.” He seems to love a surprise and we do too.

It is my prayer that the church, me included, moves beyond our usual maintenance prayers. While I cannot ask we have more of those emergency prayer meetings because that is asking for disasters, I can ask that we focus less on our personal comfort and more on issues of eternal significance. From the examples in the Bible and the headlines in the news, it seems God is calling for some serious frontline praying.

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