When I became a Christian (still thinking about the right way to say that …) I had lots of advice from all kinds of well-meaning people. There were those who told me about behaviour, those who warned me about dangers and those who gave me instruction about the things I had to do and the rules I had to comply with. I heard them but largely ignored the advice.
It seemed to me that the most important part of being a follower of Jesus was that I should have a relationship with him. Few gave me any advice on how that might happen. I struggled initially through reading the Bible, attending worship services and joining fellowship groups. All were helpful in one way or another.
The common thread was prayer and I began to explore prayer as the way in which I could best relate with God. I found the old classics on prayer, Rosalind Rinker’s “Conversational Prayer” and O Hallesby’s book on prayer. I was drawn into this space and now spend a few hours in the early part of every day in conversation with God.
Of course, its not like a human conversation, but I speak and I listen. In my listening, (or meditation) I “hear” responses to my speaking. This has been the pattern of my forty years of building this relationship with Jesus. I used to write prayers in my journal, now I post them on Facebook. And while I get many “likes” each day, this is not what prayer is really all about. The written prayer is simply the end result, or summary, of a conversation.
There are many different ways of praying.
What I have described is the approach in my personal life. There are also community prayers, where prayers are prepared for or spoken out extemporaneously in the public space, particularly in worship services. I usually encourage people to say those prayers in their heart as the leader prays, rather than simply listening to them. In this way they “own” the prayer for themselves. I must admit that I do struggle with public prayers still, I am often too focussed on the human listeners, and getting the words right, rather than the Divine Listener but this is an ongoing journey. We also need more space to listen back in our public prayers.
On Sunday May 14, the Uniting Church in Australia begins 40 days of preparation to commemorate the 40 years of our existence since 22 June 1977. It begins with a 40 hour prayer meeting beginning on Sunday 14 May. The call to prayer has come from the President Stuart McMillan, and the Moderators and General Secretary’s from each Synod will be gathered in Melbourne for this time. Please join with us wherever you are in this time. If you are on social media, tag us using #40prayers.
I love the fact that the 40 days are being marked as Forty Days of Prayer. It is putting the focus in the right place – not on what we have done but what God has done through us. There are moments when we have been able to take strident steps, in the area of First People, Congress, Refugees and other human needs. The current Social Reinvestment WA program is particularly important. The program seeks to address ways of keeping people out of jail through focussing on correcting the conditions which might lead to offences. There have, of course, also been times when we have been unchallenged by the evangelistic call of the gospel, and even limited our involvement in sharing the Good News.
2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” It is a call to prayer, humility and repentance with the promise of restoration. We need this so much in the world today, and it will only begin when those who are already followers of Christ apply this in our own lives.
Rev David de Kock