Teaching elders (also called ministers of the Word and Sacrament) shall in all things be committed to teaching the faith and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph.4:12).
–PC(USA) Book of Order G-2.0501
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
God is amazing. He is fully worthy of all our hope and trust. I have been a pastor now for two years. I came into the job knowing that I didn’t know nearly enough, despite three years of seminary, four years of college, and many years of hard knocks life. The only thing that was clear to me was the desperate need for prayer. One of my seminary professors had suggested that we plan to pray for a minimum of five hours each day. He wasn’t joking. I didn’t make it to five hours a day, but I did pray daily. I think it was the clearest thing I talked about with the church, or at least I hope it was. I worried that I was putting too much emphasis on prayer and not enough on broader or deeper theological issues. I worried that I wasn’t pointing to action enough. Today I am renewed in my resolve and understanding that prayer is worth all the focus and all the reminders and as much of our time as we can put to it. God in his infinite kindness has shown me just enough of the outcomes of prayer to strengthen my resolve that the most important thing we can do is prayer. It is of the utmost importance and far more effective than we dare to imagine.
A few weeks ago there was another mass shooting, this time at a college in Rosenberg, Oregon. The internet was full of political statements about mental illness and gun control. This time people were also posting something more disturbing—posts against prayer. When something traumatic happens, we often see posts about praying for the victims. This time we also saw posts belittling the prayer response as being pointless and an excuse for inaction.
When the apostle Paul wrote to encourage the church in Ephesus, he warned them about this sort of thing: “With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him.” (Ephesians 4:17-18) The world is full of wonderful, well-intentioned people who, like all the rest of us, are doing their best to make their way in the world, but they’re doing it without God. Some of them just don’t know how amazing God is, or even who God is. Some of them do know God, but have doubts about the need or effectiveness of prayer.
Sometimes praying is just hard to do. I have days like this, too. On these days, I write. Somehow the action of putting pen to paper helps my brain get where it needs to be to accomplish prayer through words on paper, even when I can’t seem to form prayerful thoughts. I know what the words need to be, so I just write them out. “God, I’m stuck today. Help.”
It was in this writing today that I realized that there is a resilient spirit of hope pervading our lives that continues to grow. We could certainly find reasons to despair instead, but instead we are resonating with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians: “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called--his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.” (1:18)
Because of all this, I am now thoroughly convinced that there is no better way to equip the saints for the work of ministry (the core of my job description) than to encourage everyone to persevere in prayer. And if they are anything like me, than they will need ongoing reminders of the value and importance of prayer . . . which changes our hearts and helps us to see God’s work in the hearts of those around us.
Yesterday’s Our Daily Bread devotional reading said, “When God looks at us, He is more interested in our hearts than our height, the state of our soul than the structure of our face. He doesn’t see us as too old, too young, too small, or too big. He zeroes in on the things that matter—our response to His love for us and our concern for other people (Matt. 22:37-39).”
Prayer floods our hearts with God’s light and enables us to respond to his love and reflect his love to others. Prayer connects us with God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think! (Eph. 3:20)
Keep on praying!