Prayer - The Great Omission

Something stirred in me this week while preparing Sunday morning’s message from 1 Thessalonians 5, with its urgent call in verse 17 to “pray continually”.

Peter Baker | 17:15, Thursday, 17 November 2011

I felt it again while spending time with colleagues as we thought through the key messages which we need to keep preaching and living in Highfields. 

Later that day, the whole staff discussed the challenge of being a large church with an equally big heart for corporate prayer. We reflected upon James Houston’s wisdom in his book Prayer - The Transforming Friendship that true prayer is fundamentally about hunger for a relationship with God. 

His critique, albeit from the perspective of the more contemplative Christian tradition, is that Western Christianity has sold out to rationalism, individualism, consumerism and activism.

As such, he’s on the money. We have reduced prayer, in many cases, to an exercise in bargaining with the Almighty (whose existence is open to question) for what we need from Him/Her/It in our over-stretched lives, to deliver a lifestyle without physical, emotional or material gaps. 

I am frequently asked, "What has happened to the corporate prayer meeting?" The answer is probably another question - “What has happened to individual praying?”  

Most churches in my experience can get up for a special prayer gathering or a season of waiting on God. The marketing department of many present day western churches works overtime in the attempt to make prayer 'cool' for the masses. 

But the reality is that our routine corporate prayer is anaemic because I suspect it reflects our personal experience. And all the seminars and sermons in the world, which describe the benefits of prayer, will not in and of themselves turn us into prayer warriors. 

I think there are certain vital elements of Christian discipleship and community living (and an active prayer life is surely one of them) which are part of a spiritual battleground for the very soul of the Church. 

And it seems to me that the only way to turn that situation around is to pray (ironically) for a heaven-sent paradigm shift in thinking and living. In other words, a miracle! 

We need to pray "Our Father" before we ask "Give us today our daily bread". I am a relational being whose search for intimacy with God is prior to my requests as a physical consumer. 

I was recently challenged by someone as to whether I knew God or about God. I am still reflecting on that important distinction because it’s at the heart of satisfying prayer, which is intellectual, emotional and relational.

In other words, does my theology produce doxology? If not, then I may have succumbed to Pascal’s "God of the Philosophers" as opposed to the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". 

And so for me, the spirit and practice of corporate prayer remains the great omission in the contemporary Church.

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