Prayer: A Routine or a Happening?


Tools for effective service in today’s world


The modern church has focused on reaching people with the Gospel but many churches leave it to the individual believer to grow in his or her faith after salvation. There are some bright spots: Campus Crusade and Navigator training; going to a YWAM training center or Bible School or seminary.

Unfortunately, people still come out of such programs without a clear understanding of prayer. Many pastors are happy to teach and preach but reluctant to deal with people who have personal problems. The church’s answer for today is to send its members to a counselor, Christian or otherwise, and hope for the best.

Christianity is being defined as powerless for today but a ticket to Heaven for tomorrow, hardly an incentive for the Non-Christian to seek the church or Christ on such terms.

Connie and I guided one man, a Bible School graduate, using the Prayer Resolution tools to bring resolution to issues that had created a dark cloud over his life up to then. His comment, “You know, I never realized before that when we pray something actually happens.”

Like him, many Christians see prayer as an empty routine. Most of the time nothing changes but, in some vague way, we feel better afterwards. When we become Christians, however, our relationship with God changes and with that change should come a greater awareness of the importance and impact of prayer. How can we make prayer a dynamic part of our lives—and see God answer—not only for ourselves, but also for others who seek our help?

Be Specific

Connie and I directed a weekly prayer time in the Mennonite guesthouse in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This was during the Communist rule. There was a lot of fear and panic, lots of rumors flying around. The pessimists had their bags already packed while the optimists thought we had about 90 days more.

We could have had some tense prayer times based on ‘what might happen’ but I had a rule: nothing could be brought up for prayer or comment unless it was based on fact. Rumors were not allowed. I strongly encouraged people to pray in specifics. It is nice to ask God to bless us but better to ask him in specific ways to meet our needs. Jesus talked about a fish, a loaf ― not just food.

People began to ask for little things. Michael asked for a special filler for a notebook, not an easy request in war torn Addis Ababa. It was exciting to see the answers to prayer that started coming back week after week. God blessed Michael by taking him down an unfamiliar street where he “chanced upon” a sidewalk vender who had his notebook filler!

Evie, a Mennonite missionary, asked if it was wrong to pray that God would supply the money for her to go to Israel on vacation. We all felt it as right to do so, not sometime but in the next month. So we all joined with Evie as she prayed, still hesitant, for this special thing, just because it would be special.

A month passed without an answer. A week after that, Evie phoned us all excited. The guesthouse secretary had accidentally misplaced a letter for her. When she read the letter she found that her church—that seldom gave her anything except her ‘needs’ ― had sent her an extra gift. It was enough for her trip to Israel.

A Relationship, Not a Ticket to Heaven

Christ did not die so we could just get a ticket go to heaven; he died so we could relate to God without our sinfulness getting in the way. I am a sinner saved by grace, though faith in Christ. True. While the payment for sin is absolutely necessary, Christ’s death created the grounds for me to be in God’s family, to be his son or daughter. That changes my relationship. God is now my Father; that makes a difference. My being his son or daughter is why I can come boldly into His presence without fear or hesitation.

When we read the parables and teachings of Jesus, we see that he constantly referred to God as Father and encouraged us to treat God as father on the same terms as we would our earthly father—assuming our earthly father was a good one. Seems terribly irreligious but Jesus gave us the ground rules.

Prayer is a Special Happening

There are different kinds of prayer depending on the purpose. That is a topic for another time. Prayer is a special happening for me personally because I am coming face to face with God as my Father. We are his children and that makes us privileged. I have my Heavenly Father’s full attention. His desire is to bless me (but I must keep this in the bounds of His holiness and justice ― He cannot violate His nature).

We can think of the perfect earthly father and all that we would have coming from such a person because we are his special children. It is not wrong to use that picture to help us anticipate how our Heaven Father looks at us. Jesus, over and over again, referred to God as Father and wanted us to begin to seek him for our daily needs. Jesus prayed, “Heavenly Father.” We should follow his model. Jesus would be horrified today at our behavior when we ignore re the Heavenly Father and operate as “Jesus only” Christians. Our Lord and Savior has his place in our lives, as our sacrifice and as our great High Priest, but it is our Heavenly Father who answers prayer.

Prove it

I encourage you to prove that what I have said is true. Look at Paul’s emphasis as he begins each Epistle; reread some of the parables and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Pray and ask your Heaven Father for some indication that you are accepted as a full son or daughter. Ask for something specific, keep it small, and watch his hand at work.

God never intended that we have salvation as an end in itself. Salvation is but the beginning of a walk with God as a child of God.

Later I will talk more about status and role: our position and performance, our relating to God and others because of our status and role. How we view ourselves makes a difference in our relating to God. I know some Christian workers who can only relate to God as His servants. Sounds good but this is a distortion of the truth.

© 2010, 2015 by Richard D. Smith



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