I have been writing posts about the spiritual disciplines in a fairly undisciplined way over the past couple of months. The irony is not lost on me, believe me.
One of my deep convictions that I know we as God's people need to grasp hold of is that God still speaks and He is still at work. Often in our traditions we minimize one or both of these elementary truths and the symptoms of such views are legion. They also undermine true and vibrant discipleship to Jesus. In a future post I am going to talk about the disciplines of study and theology (which are not just for pastors by the way, and much harm has come from thinking they are) as necessary to continue to hear God's voice today. In this post, however, I want to offer a brief reflection on the purpose of prayer as it relates to both of those truths based in part on a recent experience I had.
First of all, prayer is deeply related to the truth that God is at work in the world. For the past year or more I have been engaged in the broad effort known as CityFest here in Grand Rapids under the auspices of the Palau Association. It has raised the bar for me of the sorts of dreams I have for what God can do and wants to do through His body in this region. Consequently it has impacted my prayer life a great deal. A central focus of the effort has been to raise up thousands of people to pray for the region and for the church. The invitation for the Palaus to come was in fact birthed out of a growing movement of churches uniting for prayer in the region. The bottom line is that we are convinced that God wants to bring revival in our time and so it drives us to prayer to implore him to do it!
Secondly, prayer is deeply rooted in the truth that God still speaks in the world. As I have been engaged in this regional work of revival, it has become common for me to see God clearly directing my steps in ways I could not otherwise have imagined. A potent example of this came in a recent planning meeting. We were discussing an idea related to the work which we had great passion and vision for, but we were frankly stumped as far as how to get it off the ground. We had set up this meeting and it was one of those times where you know everyone is hoping somebody else came with the silver bullet idea, because you certainly don't have it. As it became apparent that none of us had an answer, someone suggested we pray about it. Of course no one is going to say, in the moment, that that is a bad idea and yet I will confess thinking "I'm not sure this will really help, except maybe to buy us a few minutes." Shameful I know, but pastors are just as prone to faithlessness as anyone else.
I will (I hope) never forget what happened next. We began by confessing to God that we didn't have the wisdom, knowledge and expertise to do what we felt He wanted us to. We prayed against initializing our own plans and asked that He would help us think His thoughts after Him. As each of us prayed, I began to grasp a vision of what it was God wanted to do in mobilizing people for the task we had in mind. Our prayers took on a conversational tone as we engaged in an active dialogue with the Lord together. Afterwards, we looked at each other and within minutes felt we had a plan for moving forward that none of us would have conceived of when we got there.
In other words, we experienced the truth of James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." James goes on to admonish that our asking be in full faith without doubting. It occurred to me that so many times I don't really expect God to answer prayers for specific guidance and wisdom, in clear violation of what He promises to do! The faith of my co-laborers that day encouraged me to confidently ask God for wisdom and he supplied it to us.
Imagine what God is wanting to tell us about what He is wanting to do through us in His world if only we would listen. I'm starting to ask more and more for this kind of guidance. Will you?