My last post was mostly about the need for corporate prayer and intercession, so before I circle back around to talk about personal prayer, let’s recap what we learned about intercession.
*Intercession, entychano literally means, “obtaining the promises of God,” “laying hold of the Kingdom and pulling it into our circumstances,” or “causing things to unfold in a certain way.”
*Intercession is absolutely essential to the unfolding of God’s plans and purposes. “You do not have because you do not ask,” says James. Without prayer we won’t receive many of the things God would willingly give.
*We always pray corporately, even when we pray privately. Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the plural – “Our Father… give us today our daily bread.” There is an understanding in Christian theology that I can’t be full unless you are. I can receive my inheritance unless you receive yours because part of my destiny won’t be unlocked until you succeed. Intercession is fighting for the dreams of our friends.
Personal prayer, proseuchomai, has the all encompassing definition, “to pray.” This type of personal prayer includes a wide range of heart postures including petition, thanksgiving, praise, worship, confession, intercession, lament and so on. Every type of emotion or experience can become a seed bed for prayer, as attested to in the Psalter. What is less understood is that personal prayer also encompasses a wide range of activities. You can journal, paint, soak in a bathtub or in music, stand, kneel, dance, lie prostrate, raise your hands or sit by a creek. Any type of activity can be partnered with prayer so long as prayer is your primary goal.
So that is a little bit about what prayer is, but now comes the deeper question – why? Why does God want us to pray? I’ll attempt to answer that question by telling you a story.
On the morning of June 30, 1859, Charles Blondin became the first man to ever cross Niagara Falls in a tightrope. Monsieur Blondin would go on to cross the Falls over 300 times, each time upping the ante. He was famous for crossing the Falls blindfolded, stopping to cook and eat an omelet halfway through and pushing a wheelbarrow filled with 350# of concrete safely across.
Legend says that Blondin once asked the crowd if they thought he could push a person across in the wheelbarrow. Seeing one man cheering wildly, Blondin asked the man if he would like to get in. The man declined.
I don’t know if that particular story is true, but I know this one is.
Several weeks after Blondin’s initial crossing, he showed up to cross with his manager, Harry Colcord, clinging to his back. Before they started their crossing, Blondin was overheard telling his manager, “Look up, Harry.… you are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me – mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we will both go to our death.” The two went on to make a very successful crossing to the amazement and thrill of the 50,000 onlookers.
I love the words Blondin spoke to his manager. They are equally appropriate words for Jesus to speak to us – “Look up. You are no longer you, you are Me. Be a part of Me – mind, body and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do this by yourself. If you do, you won’t make it.”
The goal of prayer is conformity with Christ. It is to make us one in mind, body and soul. It is to help us think how he thinks, feel what he feels and act as he acts. Prayer is anything but a disembodied experience that begins and ends when we enter our prayer closet. Prayer is a continuous, ongoing experience where day by day, even hour by hour, we have an ongoing dialogue with God and are led by His Spirit.
The chief goal of prayer is to pray until God’s will becomes ours and our will becomes His.It is the only goal we need. I get uncomfortable when people offer up a dozen reasons to do something because it feels like they are trying to convince me to do something I wouldn’t want to do. All we need is one really good reason — and letting the Word come alive in our flesh in the place of prayer is the best reason of all.
The only other reason to pray worth mentioning, in my opinion, is that prayer gets us involved in eternal things. When we give ourselves to the place of prayer we become co-laborers with God, bringing about the Kingdom of God. I say this because prayer is not prayer in the biblical sense unless it is accompanied with action. We can’t pray for God to feed the hungry and not do it ourselves. We can’t pray for God to care for the orphans and not take them into our homes. We can’t ask for God to bless marriages and not give everything we have to building up our own. Unless prayer is followed up with action it is nothing more than good intentions – it is powerless and hypocritical.
Prayer is the place of transformation, of conformation. Prayer is where the power is because it is the place where we touch God’s heart and get His perspective. Prayer is where we deal with our own brokenness and sin, it is where we fight our lions and bears so that, when we are faced with Goliath’s in public, we have the power and authority to deal with them. This is why I say that prayer is the proving ground.
I once heard Bill Johnson say, “I can pray for you to do what I can do, but I can’t impart my history with God to you. You have to make that for yourself.” We all need to make history with God and that happens in the place of prayer. It won’t benefit us or the world to work miracles if we don’t have the character and integrity to stay faithful to God and in love with His Son Jesus.
We live in an age that loves individualization. We want our own personal plan for discipleship. We want Jesus to cater to our needs and make us holy without much effort or inconvenience on our part.
That just isn’t going to happen.
The method of transformation and discipleship is unchanged in 2,000 years of church history and has been making high caliber saints the entire time. The plan is to pray. Pray and read the word. Pray and fast. Pray and worship. Pray and give. Pray and serve. Pray for your enemies and everyone who hates you. Pray by yourself and pray with the community. Pray, pray, pray – pray without ceasing and devote yourself to prayer.
Only prayer will transform you. Only prayer will result in a life of communion with God. I don’t want to undermine the importance of Scripture, but many of the greatest saints of history were illiterate. They couldn’t read or study, so they prayed and the course of our world was radically adjusted because of their intercession. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you can read and you should study the Scripture dilligently, letting them form your imagination and give you language and passion for your pursuit of God. My point is simply to say that prayer, more than any other discipline, is essential to the work of sanctification.
Daniel, Peter, John, Paul, Jesus – all these men had set times for prayer. If you want to do what they did, you must do what they did. Before we can go around “doin’ the stuff” we first have to get “the stuff.” And “the stuff,” the anointing of the Holy Spirit, only comes in prayer (see Luke 3:21, Acts 2:1).
There is no single enterprise that is more important, more inspiring and more impactful than the work of biblical prayer and intercession – that is, making a petition with the full intention of being the answer to your own prayer. Did you pray for The Lord to heal Aunt Sally? Then you’d better call Aunt Sally and release healing over her. If at all possible, The Lord wants to use you to answer your prayers; prayer is a full contact sport, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
One last thought. When David wanted to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, he first tried to bring it on a cart. The cart hit a bump and Uzzah payed the price. After further investigation, David found that the Ark, the very Presence of God Himself, could only be carried on the shoulders of the priests. The take-away is this: God doesn’t anoint methods, he anoints men (and women!). No program is going to usher in the Presence of God into your congregation, only prayer. When the people of God step into the Priestly model that Jesus lays out for us in Hebrews 7:23-25 we will once again see the Presence of God being carried by the People of God. Amen, let it indeed be so!