Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
March 22, 2015
Is prayer more than our imagination?
years ago this week, at age 19, I was granted a license to preach by the
Methodist Church. A freshman at Auburn University (then API), I had been pondering
a career in journalism. I longed to write for a newspaper. However, the compulsion
to preach seemed stronger so I yielded to what I believed was the call of God
to the ministry.
I wish I could say that I
made my decision after many days of agonizing prayer. At that young age I knew
little about prayer. However, I did pray. I spoke to God. I asked him for
guidance. Did God speak to me? I believe he did but not audibly.
It would be fair to ask if
I “imagined” God calling me into the ministry. Is the whole idea of talking to
God our imagination at work? Is there a Supreme Being who actually hears and
responds to our prayers? These are legitimate questions.
My search for answers has
led me repeatedly to the Bible. The Bible tells of a God who speaks. This
Creator God carried on conversations with people. He spoke to people; people
spoke to him. Sometimes his voice was audible; at other times it was not.
The best evidence that
prayer is real is the record of Jesus praying. To Jesus God was his Father. He
prayed to his Father and his Father answered him. For me it seemed reasonable
to believe what Jesus believed about prayer so early on I followed the example
of Jesus by talking to God.
As it is with so many
things in life, the proof is in the pudding. The best way to find out if prayer
is more than imagination is to get on the knees of your heart and pray. Ask for
guidance. Thank him for your blessings. Plead with him to throw his light upon
the darkness of your life. Then listen for his answers. He will answer. He will
guide. He loves us too much not to respond to the petitions of our hearts.
We can learn about the reality
of prayer by studying some of the heroes of the Bible. Take Daniel for example.
The stories of Daniel highlight the validity of prayer.
Daniel prayed. Daniel
prayed for his nation, the people of Israel. Daniel was confident that God
heard his prayers. Daniel’s prayers were so real that they still show us how to
pray. No one around Daniel would have dared ask if he believed in the power of
prayer. To hear him pray would have convinced even the skeptics that it makes
sense to take your burdens to the Almighty.
Daniel’s example to the example of Jesus and you have no doubt that
intercessory prayer must have a vital place among the disciplines of genuine
Christian disciples. Jesus prayed. He expects us to pray. Praying is not
optional. Prayer is as natural as breathing for it is the lifeblood of the
believer’s relationship with the Father.
As we grow in grace Jesus
teaches us how to pray. We learn to move from selfish, childish prayers to
prayers of submission and surrender to the will of God. Eventually
we discover that intercessory prayer is both a privilege and a sacred
responsibility of those who follow Christ.
spirit in which Daniel prayed is impressive. He included himself in the sins of
his people. Observe his words, “We have sinned and done wrong.” Like
Isaiah, Daniel felt the shame of his own sins as well as those of fellow
Israelites. Once Isaiah had seen the King, Almighty God, he confessed, “For I
am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (6:5).
uses beautiful imagery to make his passionate plea for God’s mercy. He invites
God to demonstrate his forgiveness by letting his “face shine upon” the people.
This idea calls to mind the beautiful words the Lord gave to Moses about how to
bless the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make
his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face
toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).
is a beautiful truth! A child can experience no greater joy than to look upon
the smiling face of an approving father or mother. On the other hand it causes
agonizing pain for a child to observe angry disapproval on the face of
disappointed parents. Imagine what joy Jesus must have felt when he heard his
Father say, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
Like Jesus we all created
with a need for the affirmation of our heavenly Father. Daniel was wise. He
knew that the shining face of the Lord, beaming with affirming love, would
bless and transform the people as nothing else could.
example in intercession should inspire us to take more seriously the privilege
of praying for others. Richard J. Foster, in his acclaimed book, Celebration
of Discipline, observes that “the work of prayer involves a learning
process.” He explains, “One of the most critical aspects in learning to pray
for others is to get in contact with God so that his life and power can flow
through us into others.”
we do that? By listening to God. Foster says:
“Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and the third
thing necessary for successful intercession.” Before we can know how to pray
for others, we must learn to “listen for guidance” from the Lord.
day our dear friend Sara walked in the front door of our home. It dawned on me
that she had come because she had been listening to God. God
told her to come. She obeyed God. She brought food but the food was incidental.
She had come to pray for my wife Dean who was just home from the hospital.
three of us held hands as Sara prayed. What she asked the Lord for was exactly
what we needed. The doctor had “shocked” Dean’s heart to restore its normal
rhythm. Sara asked the Lord to “seal what the doctor had done so
that Dean’s heart will continue to beat normally.” She asked the Lord to
strengthen Dean and continue to make her life and testimony a blessing to
others. We felt Christ present with us, keeping his promise to be present “when
two or three gather in his name.”
departed our hearts were overflowing with joy. A friend had come and prayed for
us, reminding us once again what a powerful difference it makes when others
pray for you. It is a privilege and a ministry that followers of Christ must
to explain his success as a preacher, Charles Spurgeon said, “My people pray
for me.” Foster writes, “Your pastor and the services of worship need to be
bathed in prayer.” Miracles happen when people fill the church with prayers.
Foster quotes Frank Laubach saying to his audiences, “I am very sensitive and
know whether you are praying for me. If one of you lets me down, I feel it.
When you are praying for me, I feel a strange power. When every person
in a congregation prays intensely while the pastor is preaching, a miracle
happens.” Indeed miracles do happen in church, and outside the church, when
people are praying.
must not suppose we have no time for intercessory prayer, as though this is a
ministry for retired people. Intercessory prayer, Foster says, “is not prayer
in addition to work but prayer simultaneous with work” so that “prayer and
action become wedded.”
helps us relax by inviting us not to make prayer “too complicated.” This is a
good word. We are prone to think of prayer as an exercise for professional
prophets and priests, monks and nuns. Not so. Foster reminds us that Jesus
taught us to come like children to a father. He says wisely, “Openness,
honesty, and trust mark the communication of children with their father. The
reason God answers prayer is because his children ask.” Oh, Yes! And I plan to
keep on asking!
sixty-four years in the ministry I have no doubt about the reality of prayer.
The Voice I have heard is not the product of my imagination but the God and
Father of Jesus Christ, who is in fact the Word of God. Though I have been
losing my capacity to hear, I will continue to pray for ears of the soul to hear
the sweet voice of my Savior. I am confident that if I will but listen he will
direct my life until the day he calls me home. + + +