Down To Earth Discipleship    .    Getting real with issues facing young Christians today
Chapter 8
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8. Personal Prayer - how organised?

  • Prayer needs to be central to our lives and express our fellowship and ministry.
  • Intercessory prayer needs to be thoughtful, deliberate and organised.

Prayer is a central and important expression of our relationship with the Lord. Also prayer to the Lord is an outworking of our fellowship and other relationships. The people involved in those relationships are a major reason for and subject of prayer, which can then be seen as a partnership with the Lord to whom we pray. It is important to see prayer as a joining with God in his purposes, rather than conscripting him to support ours.

Most of us do not sufficiently centre the routine of our lives on prayer. It is here that we can expect to deepen our experience of faith, and be open to the unexpected insight or even to an experience of God's Holy Spirit in special ways. There is no substitute for time spent in prayer, informed by and based on our understanding of God from Scripture.

We acknowledge that disciplined "quiet times" may become dry and formal, but it is better to work and pray at enlivening them than simply dropping them or letting them be squeezed out. What sort of solution is that?

And as for the perennial problem of fitting in a quiet time reliably, that in one sense comes down to a matter of arithmetic: what time you need to be out the door in morning, minus adequate time for everything (including quiet time) before that, minus how many hours sleep you know you need equals necessary time to go to bed. Set a loud alarm to remind you! Lamely saying that "I'm not very good at getting to bed before midnight" is a cop out if used to excuse chronic failure.

And perversely, the disciplined quiet time may be a trap too, in allowing us to forget about prayer at many other times of the day. Properly, much of our activity and social interaction needs to be framed and supported by intercessory prayer. This may just be mentally lifting people and occasions up to the Lord, or sometimes it may be short articulate prayers deliberately doing the same.

In the context of this short book we will not try to explore the many aspects of prayer, but simply suggest some practical matters focused on intercession. We suggest that the implementation of them - along with praise, thanks, confession, sorting out our alignment with God's purposes for our life, etc - is best in the context of the daily fare of bible study and reflection on it. Learning to pray with joy for those whom we love is a great expression of our fellowship in the Lord's family! It is not simply to plead for good things for those people but also to seek understanding from the Holy Spirit so that we can more effectively minister to them.

Intercessory prayer in the context of a personal relationship gives one vicarious involvement in that person's life and work when it is sought and requested. This is exciting, all the more so as the Spirit leads one in prayer. Reciprocally it means that where we ourselves have asked for prayer in such a context, the absence of feedback is a significant denial of fellowship and a selfish taking for granted of both God's action and the intercession we have asked for.

Of course, sometimes when people on your prayer list cease to communicate any more it may show the need to pray for them more, not less!

Where complacency is a risk, it may be appropriate for intercessory prayer to be tinged by paranoia! That at least takes the context of spiritual warfare seriously (and if we don't take it seriously, why pray?).

Intercessory prayer can be a great joy! Most of those on a weekly prayer list are likely to be people we really love, and it is such a joy to be able to bear them, and often their specifics, up to the Lord regularly! While one does need to be disciplined about making the time, it isn't just drudgery - often when we get down to it, it feels like you are sharing their fellowship, entering into a sense of communion with them! - but without getting in their hair. Also of course we often are fulfilling an agreement (sometimes too loosely expressed) to pray for them.

One practical matter is to be thoughtful, deliberate and organised. To be thoughtful is at least to be ready to commit much rather than little to prayer, and to be conscious of that so we can rejoice and give thanks for what God does in relation to who and what we pray for. To be deliberate means to think about what is proper to commit to pray for, and to keep on with that prayer until one makes a decision to switch one's prayer effort to others. Being organised means to keep some sort of a list so that many people, organisations, ministries, etc get prayed for on a weekly basis, say, and (fewer) others on a daily basis. Within the daily list it is often helpful to note particulars which are currently relevant.

Being thus organised also means occasionally contacting those for whom we pray so that we keep up to date on their needs. "Lord please bless Joe" is certainly one step up from ignoring him in our prayer time, but fleshing out the sentiment with his specific current needs and being able to give thanks for particular things in his life is a long way better. Always follow through on commitments to pray for people, and expect them to do the same. Reliability is an important virtue. And this kind of prayer gives us vicarious involvement in the lives of those for whom we pray, sharing their joys and burdens - a wonderful and distinctly Christian privilege!

Remember that prayer is deliberately subversive! It aims to undermine the power and effect of circumstances and seek God's intervention to bring about Kingdom values and outcomes. It seeks to cut through the worldly frame of reference and overturn the prevalence of evil so as to give effect to the rule of God. It expresses a godly discontent with the present and a yearning for God's spirit to bring change.

It is important to remember that our ministry begins, and is perhaps most substantially advanced, in prayer. Going blundering into situations where we don't have a real sense that the Lord is doing the ministry job through his Holy Spirit in a person's life is usually unhelpful. Hence prayer. If it is the Holy Spirit who changes, challenges and converts people then our role is primarily in prayer, secondarily in words and contact of our own.

Much of what has been said is true also in corporate prayer, which is important for intercession.

Faithful, reliable prayer requires commitment, some discipline, and a lot of persistence to set aside time and give it priority. On occasions to achieve or express a particular focus, fasting is recommended (see also 4.1). But prayer is worthwhile, exciting, and very important as long as we understand it as expressing a relationship, not just as an activity in itself.

Ch 8 Discussion questions:
To what extent do you see prayer as a joining with God in his purposes, rather than conscripting him to support ours? What's the difference in practice?
How much time to you deliberately put aside each day for prayer?
To what extent are you able to pray during the rest of the day?
Does your intercessory prayer give you a sense of vicarious involvement with those prayed for?
How do you organize yourself so that prayer commitments are not overlooked?
In respect to your own ministry directly to people, do you have a sense of God going ahead of you as a result of your prayer?
Is fasting helpful to your prayer?

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