Believing in Prayer

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16b)

Today I have a lot to be praying about: A friend’s mother is having a significant surgery. Upper Room is facing some exciting decision-making in the next week and our leadership needs discernment. We’re praying, and looking forward to seeing how God answers.

Yesterday at our Presbytery meeting, Vera White preached about the importance of prayer in new church development. Her text included Matthew 9:38-39: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” New church development, she reminded the presbytery, is God’s work, and that means our work begins with prayer. Vera cited a recent trip to Brazil where church-plants are thriving as evidence of the importance of prayer.

In American mainline circles, though, I notice a disturbing lack of confidence in prayer. We make comments about how prayer is “really about changing us”, as though the only power in prayer is introspection. True, prayer does change us, but that’s not all it does. I practice contemplative forms of prayer at times, but not to the exclusion of intercessory prayer. Another sign of lack of confidence in prayer is praying without clarity, asking for ambiguous requests rather than making clear petitions to God. Perhaps we do this because we are afraid that if we’re too specific, God won’t answer the way we want. But Jesus’ parables about prayer encourage specific (and persistent) requests.

James 5:17-18 expresses a genuine belief in the power of prayer: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” The story referenced here is in 1 Kings 17 and 18, and it surrounds the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. And that makes it easy for us to say, “Well, that was Elijah the prophet! Of course his prayers were effective!” But James emphasizes that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” What if we took this seriously and believed that effective prayers are not just for prophets, but for all of those filled with the Holy Spirit?

So today is a day for prayer. Please pray with us and for the requests I mentioned above. Read also the series that Mike is writing about prayer over at his blog.

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