Summary: Why ‘work’ instead of ‘activity’ of prayer or ‘picnic’ of prayer? Why does ‘prayer concert’, or ‘prayer vigil’ sound so gray and bland? The answer is obvious. Prayer is hard work! It is rewarding; it is life-changing; but it is hard.
We continue today on our topic, “Learning to serve in a Service-less Age”, more specifically looking at “The refurbished Life”. God refurbishes our lives, in part, through “The Habit of Prayer”.
I confess my struggle with this topic. It is complex yet simple. So complex that we will not even begin to scratch the surface of this profound topic. I can just as easily offer a teaching on quantum physics (I know nothing about quantum physics) as sufficiently address prayer.
A further struggle with this topic relates to hundreds of interpretations of what prayer is. We could list why we should pray, what we should pray for, or how prayer works and still not really grasp it at the end of the day. What we want from prayer is usually not what we get, and the deep lessons of prayer are lost because we do not have the discipline to reach for it until we have it.
Finally, and probably most troubling for me is my insufficient practice of it. I have good intentions and strong passions to pray but interruptions and a thousand other needs and demands seem to overrule my efforts to pray.
However, the subject is before us. God calls us to try if we dare to touch the surface of this mysterious and explosive thing called prayer. I can assure you that while our toes may dip into the water, we won’t get further than that. We will consider ourselves blessed if we manage even a touch.
I selected the title, “Prayer-works” for a couple of reasons. Aside from the obvious, tested experience that prayer works there is a second, more significant emphasis. It is the matter concerning the work of prayer. Why ‘work’ instead of ‘activity’ of prayer or ‘picnic’ of prayer? Why does ‘prayer concert’, or ‘prayer vigil’ sound so gray and bland? The answer is obvious. Prayer is hard work! It is rewarding; it is life-changing; but it is hard.
The Master-Teacher provides some amazing lessons on prayer in Luke 11. Prayer is
1. A Solitary Work
Jesus’ “certain place” was not generally the normal concepts we have of kneeling at our beds or with folded hands in Sunday school or at the dinner table. References to Jesus’ prayer places take us in the wilderness and deserts (Luke 5:16) or in the mountains at night among the wolves (Luke 6:12). Jesus’ prayer habits always involved him going some place that allowed him to get away from people (Matthew 6:5-8).
Bill Hybels, author and founding pastor of Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, IL wrote, “Prayer is not a spectator sport.” It holds true for any of us. If we will be serious about the work prayer entails, there will be alone times and lonely times. There will be solitary experiences of shutting the world out and tuning in to God. This is very hard for a biologically framed being that longs for company and community. It is however, necessary at times to be in “solitary confinement”. We must turn off the flow of demands, priorities and needs long enough to know God is even nearby. Like Elijah who was our protégé a few weeks back, we must find our cave because until we do, we will not hear God. You cannot hear the “gentle and quiet whisper” (1 Kings 19:12, The Message) of God’s voice if your talking or the everything else that is making noise is given first place.
We need to take the solitary work of prayer further however than simply a change in physical conditions. It goes beyond merely blocking out ten minutes before everyone else gets out of bed, while that’s a good start. It especially speaks to a condition of spirit where the soul seeks quiet above noise and silence above voices. Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian once told the story of a man and his prayer experience. “A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening.” Richard Foster offers a striking benediction to this insight in suggesting that silence is “a necessary prelude to intercession.” Before we can do the fine work of bringing our family’s needs, our churches’ needs or societies’ needs to God, we must come first with a sense of our own need (the content of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples in this passage). Having ten minutes before the world awakes is not much good at all if the whole time is spent thinking of the two hundred things I need to get done today.
If we will really experience the power and activity of prayer, we must begin with solitude.
Jesus teaches further in Luke 11 that prayer is