I want to challenge you to make 2016 the Year of Prayer. More specifically, the Year of Humble, United, Believing, Suffusive Prayer.
There are so many weighty, difficult, or worrisome things going on in the world around us – unstable economics, fear of assault and terrorism, great division in our churches, overwhelming materialism, a nail-biter of a presidential race. To be honest, my first instinct in not to pray. Usually, it is to escape – watch Netflix. Eat. Sleep. (More Netflix.) But deep down inside I know that God cares about all these problems and he is close to us (Acts 17:27). So what do I do when I struggle with something (like not praying)? I sign up to teach it! This spring semester I am teaching a spiritual formation course on prayer at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. I am not approaching this course as an expert on the subject, but rather as a learner among equals. Several of my students have been active in ministry and dedicated to prayer for many years, and I expect to learn a lot from them. I knew that one of the best ways to ensure a commitment to prayer would be to share the journey with others.
If you are willing to make 2016 a year of prayer, here are some themes that I hope will guide your way as they will guide mine.
Humble – prayer must come from a recognition of our utter dependence on God. Christianity has no place for people of assumed self-dependence. Jesus came not to the “healthy” but the “unwell.” All biblical prayer comes from knowing God’s greatness and graciousness, and reckoning with our frailty and neediness.
United – Prayer in Scripture is often a united and uniting activity – hence the Our Father (not merely my Father). Prayer bonds us, focuses us on the divine mission, and has the power to re-prioritize our concerns. When we pray together in worship and mission, we just might let go of petty judgments and grudges as we clasp hands together.
Believing – Faith is not about having particular religious opinions; rather, it is risking our life and fate on Jesus Christ and the power of his way. What would it look like to believe in prayer that God will do unbelievable things in 2016?
Suffusive – Scripture calls all believers to prayer, but it does not call us only to prayer. We are called to trust (with prayer) and obey. Christians must be a people of action, but let those actions be bathed in, suffused with, prayer.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle for prayer, for many of us today, is stopping and being with God. I don’t think I will ever get used to people texting someone else while I am talking to them; this is becoming more common. Just conversing with one person at one time seems like inefficiency! (oy vey!) This may be the biggest challenge to letting 2016 be the Year of Prayer. But we all know it is worth the time and effort.
Join a prayer journey this year – find a prayer partner, start a church group, maybe take a seminary course!
Here are some excellent books on prayer to encourage you this year.
Barth, Karl, Prayer (WJK, 2002, 50th Anniversary edition)
Morse, MaryKate, A Guidebook to Prayer (IVP, 2013)
Wilkinson, D. When I Pray, What Does God Do? (Monarch, 2015)
Williams, Rowan, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans, 2014)