I recently found myself entering an Islamic mosque shortly before the afternoon prayer was set to begin. I was paying a visit to the Imam (A Muslim religious leader) as he is, in many respects, the gate keeper to the community and I was hoping to get his participation in an upcoming GoTEN event. This was an unscheduled meeting and I had failed to account for the time or to consider that I may be cutting it close to their time of prayer when I chose to stop in unannounced. The Imam was preparing for the upcoming prayer but he graciously received me and we sat on the soft carpet, designed for people to spend ample time each day on their knees. We began to talk even as some of the community started to file into the mosque. They seemed a little surprised to see me sitting there, especially at that time, but they came in and dutifully prepared themselves for prayer. The Imam and I concluded our conversation so that he could perform the call to prayer and I exited the mosque. As I walked away from the building, and the many people gathering there in the middle of their day to pause and pray, I began to reflect on what the practice of prayer looks like for me and for my community.
My first thought was that if I believe that my prayer is a direct communion with the One True God, I am not giving it the time and attention that it deserves. John Calvin compared prayer to a shovel, similarly to how a shovel can unearth buried treasure; prayer digs up the fullness of Christ’s work. In another metaphor, Andrew Murray said that in a battle it is the pivotal position that will determine the outcome of the conflict, this is what prayer is for the Christian. I considered that I recently came across a study of a group of American pastors that found on average they were spending less than 15 minutes a day in prayer. 15 minutes! That is about 1% of their day. How badly the church suffers as a result of the prayerlessness of the minister because it will be impossible for them to preach the Gospel. Now compare that 15 minutes to the 5 communal prayers that a large portion of the muslim community are engaging in every day and it should expose us to the sin of prayerlessness that has seeped into Western Christianity. Now I am not trying to argue that the answer is to have standard prayers that are given at specific times of day. This could lead to a passionless legalism that misses the point almost as badly as not praying at all. Nor am I trying to say that the muslim community has gotten it right and the Christian community has not, it is simply an illustration that I believe God provided me to convict my heart in this matter.
There is a huge lack of prayer in our Christian community today. There can be any number of reasons that this is taking place. It can stem from our tendency in America to individualize our faith. We fail to enter into communal prayer which has been such a vibrant part of Christian life in the past. This also leads to an inward focus, seeking for our desires to be met rather than seeking to be shaped by God’s desires for us. There is also a false sense of self sufficiency that comes from living in America. When I get sick at home I buy medicine, go to a doctor, or seek advanced medical care if needed. When I travel back to the countries of my refugee friends and illness is encountered we petition God by pouring out our hearts in prayer because that is the only option available to us. What we so often fail to realize here in America is that prayer is also the very best option available to us and it should be our go to every time! That is not to say that we shouldn’t take advantage of the blessings that God has given us with advanced medicine, we just need to acknowledge that its power pales in comparison to that of the God who created it. I think that we often fail to do this because we have unknowingly begun to believe our culture’s story which tells us that the best life is found in science, not God.
This can all seem very overwhelming and a bit depressing, rather than feeling defeated though I would offer that this must drive us to consistent and continuous prayer. In order to be shaped into a people that are good news to the world, we must be in constant communion with the God who will shape us. We deal with the sin and evil inside of us and in our world by crying out for the coming of God’s Kingdom. We petition God with our needs and the needs of our community with confidence in His victorious Kingdom work. Develop a rhythm of prayer today, right now, this minute! One that will not become a legalistic straightjacket but rather a freeing rhythm of life that allows for ongoing communication with the God who created us for relationship with Him. I would love to be a resource for you in this, if you have any questions on how to develop a plan for prayer please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I will be praying that you encounter God in your time of prayer and are moved to engage the world with His truth.