Steph and I moved from New York City to San Francisco in January of 2014 and when my parents first made the long flight from England, I was especially excited for them to visit Canvas. It had taken us a minute to find our new church home -- let’s be fair San Francisco is a more secular city than most -- but we were sure, and importantly are still sure, that Canvas is where we belong.
I was also hosting that warm Sunday morning, and in the early days this looked a little different than it did prior to the pandemic, so I had two separate opportunities to honor their rock solid lifelong commitment to their faith from the stage – something to this day I consider to be a true blessing and privilege, even if in true English style it embarrassed them somewhat. Best of both worlds, as they say!
It nearly all turned out a little different that morning as inevitably we were running pretty late. You all know how it goes trying to get everyone ready and out of the door. Or, at least, cast your mind back to life prior to the pandemic when we got to go to actually attend (often late) in person events on a regular basis. Seems like a different life, huh? And that’s the understatement of the year.
Anyway, as we arrived in the city we just couldn’t find a parking spot so my mother in a calm and matter of fact voice said, “Father we could really do with a parking spot.” Her tone was one of someone speaking to a trusted friend and confidant. 100 meters down the road, a spot “miraculously” appeared. My mother, in the same voice, thanked God for his providence. Steph parked up (and she has some ninja parallel parking skills compared to me) and we walked into the Presidio Theater with time to spare. That’s the power of prayer right there.
It was a few days after I agreed the subject of this MWKD, my fourth thus far, that I realized I may have made a bit of a mistake – a huge mistake, if I’m honest. Prayer is, after all, an expansive topic. Not only that, it is an intensely personal subject.
Each of us has an utterly unique relationship with God in prayer.
No two people pray the same way. After all, who hasn’t been in a church meeting where one believer has prayed for longer than your average baseball game? Come on, admit it, you just thought of someone didn’t you? I know I did typing this -- cough Travis Clark cough – I kid, kid.)
There are, of course, themes under which we all tend to pray, and I have to believe there is a particularly high percentage of Christians who’ve prayed a desperation style “fox hole style prayer” for some kind of rapid deliverance.
Simply put, though, the prayer relationship between each believer and their maker is a divine one off – entirely personal to you.
In his book “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God”, Tim Keller notes how tough a topic prayer is to write about:
“Prayer is nonetheless an exceedingly difficult subject to write about. That is not primarily because it is so indefinable but because, before it, we feel so small and helpless. Lloyd-Jones once said that he has never written on prayer because of a sense of personal inadequacy in this area.”
Worth noting, too, that Keller is referring to Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones who was a great Evangelical pastor of the 20th Century. In his three decades as Minister at Westminster Chapel in London, his expository sermons drew huge crowds.
Lloyd-Jones preached an incredible 372 sermons on Romans and remarkably, at the time of his retirement, still hadn’t finished making his way through the book – a remarkable statistic, truly remarkable. Lloyd-Jones, like my father, was a proud Welshman. This connection went even further with my Dad actually writing a biography on the widely quoted and highly regarded preacher. As I said above, I perhaps should have picked a more middle of the road topic!
So at the most basic level, why should we pray?
Well, it’s the most personal way to experience God: to encounter him and to know more about him. We get to talk freely with the creator of the universe, whenever we chose, and isn’t that amazing? As the apostle Paul notes in his letter to the church at Ephesus:
Ephesians 6:18 - New International VersionAnd pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Jesus also talked at some length about prayer in some during the Sermon on the Mount. Side note: how incredible must it have been to be there that day and hear those words spoken for the first time? I wonder if those listening realized the words being preached that day would echo throughout eternity?
Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV)“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Couple of things to note from the above scripture. First, prayer is intimate. It’s not a “look at me praying out loud so fulsomely and with such fine four syllable words” at all – not even remotely. And, secondly, prayer an authentic one on one conversation with your maker who knows exactly the desires of your heart before you even say the words.
Pause there with me for a moment and think about the above.
God loves you so much that he knows everything you could possibly ever want, desire or need. God’s capacity for love far outstrips anything we could possibly understand in the natural. Rest in that today as you worry about the many daily concerns you have – and I appreciate, at this time especially, for some of you those concerns might be as bad as they’ve ever been in your entire life.
But know God not only hears you, he knows what you need before you even ask. In this crazy world of ours, we as humans have a tendency to try and rely on ourselves alone. We figure that if we don’t look out for ourselves and our best interests, no-one else will.
Well, Christian, if you feel or think that way you’re not accessing all that our loving Father has to offer. We should pray precisely because we don’t have it all together. Prayer is an act of humility as much as it is a conversation. It’s us recognizing that no-one else but God has us. God is, after all, always available to us through prayer and as he reminds us we need not be anxious. A good thought for today, and every day that’s for sure.
Philippians 4:6 (NIV)Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
So what does this look like on a daily basis?
If I’m honest, I don’t pray nearly enough. I’m a wonderful fox hole prayer warrior and I’m getting better about being thankful but I have a long way to go and much to learn – something I’ve realized researching and writing this piece. So, these tips are as much for me as they are you.
1. Set a phone reminder to pray. Even if it’s just a quick couple minutes, set a regular reminder in your phone calendar to pray. Talk to God about the good things in your life: your health, your family, your close friends, your pets etc. Pray over them and thank God for all they mean to you. Realize, too, that you have more than you think. We’re so caught up in material possessions – a better car, a better apartment, a bigger TV – that we forget that when it comes down to it, it’s all about love – about family, friends and the people who are most important to you. We have a lot more than we realize when we really think about it.
2. Keep a prayer list. I use the YouVersion Bible App which has a really helpful prayer section. You can keep lists and track answered prayers. I think all too often we rush off to the next thing before thanking God for his answers. We pray so much for the answers and are quick to forget when we get what we need. This list of mine helps keep me honest!
And finally, this has been such an awful year, **pray for people you don’t know.**This is known as an intercessory prayer -- when you pray for others that God’s will may be done in and through them. Remember, too, that you might just be the only person praying for them and isn’t that a thought?
As Oswald Chambers, an early 20th Century Scottish evangelist and teacher notes:
“The real business of your life as a saved soul is intercessory prayer.”
You can pray for those in your life in need but you can also pray for everyone around you – people you don’t know, even those who despise you and actually especially those folk.
I know we’re mostly cooped up in our houses right now, but when you’re out on the street, pray for the folks that walk past you. Ask God to meet their needs. Pray for someone who looks disheartened or sad. Pray all the time for everyone. And, if you’re near a hospital pray for hope where there is fear, healing where there is sickness, life where there is death. These are just a few examples and you’ll find your own cadence here too.
James 5:16 (NIV)Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
As I write these final sentences, I’m praying over all of you who are reading this, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I hope these words bring you encouragement to approach God with confidence today and every day in the future.