The Heidelberg Catechism calls prayer the most important part of thankfulness. Many Reformed church orders list prayer as the primary responsibility of the minister, elder, and deacon. Yet few North American churches participate in corporate prayer as much as Christians in other parts of the world.
A conference on “Prayer for All Seasons” at Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Pella, IA, stressed the importance of prayer in developing a more intimate personal relationship with God, but also emphasized the crucial role of corporate prayer in the growth of the church.
Rev. Ron Steel, Eastbridge Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Mt. Pleasant, SC, spoke on the evenings of November 1 & 2, 2013, about the power, purpose, problem, and pattern of prayer.
Speaking about the power of prayer, Rev. Steel immediately captured audience attention with statistics showing that as many as 30% of all Christians who’ve ever lived have been converted since 1990. He cited specific examples from countries in Asia and Africa and indicated that Christianity is growing nearly everywhere except for Japan, Australia, Western Europe, and North America. The common denominator for church growth is corporate prayer.
He stressed its importance and effectiveness through several biblical passages, noting especially that the first word of the Lord’s Prayer is “our,” which conveys the community of corporate prayer.
In the section on the purpose of prayer, Rev. Steel defined prayer as “relationship with God,” emphasizing “with” as a proper understanding of that relationship. He said, “We must relate our way into obedience, not obey our way into relationship.”
He spoke of the “practice of the presence” as an awareness of God in every activity. He noted that Jesus described the “essence of fruitful Christian living” as “abiding” (John 15). He said, “You need a brain pickled in the Scriptures and a soul prostrate before the Sovereign One.”
The problem of prayer is that we want to pray because we are created in the image of God, but we can’t pray because “sin is choking our prayer voice.” He said, “Sin stands on our spiritual air hose.”
Rev. Steel noted that prayer isn’t a matter of methodology, but of motivation.
He listed several “prayer resistors” that interfere with our prayers, noting our penchant for “religious fantasies that do not disturb our comforts rather than religious realities that demand we change.” He said, “We are intrigued with God rather than intimate with Him.”
Although prayer can be uncomfortable because it actually intensifies an awareness of our sin, we must “run the gauntlet” until we “come to the place where we see the ineptitude of our prayer life without being overwhelmed.” He encouraged listeners to rejoice in the knowledge that it’s sinners who get to have a Savior: “We won’t accept or enjoy His Saviorhood, if we do not accept our sinnerhood.”
Using several biblical texts, he showed how we have “access to the Holy God Almighty now, like a child leaping into the arms of a dear father.” Prayer is the fulfillment of the ark and “mercy seat” in the holy of holies, but the doorway is an acknowledgement of our acceptance only through the merits of Jesus Christ. We need to be humble. He said, “Self-reliance is the great spiritual problem behind our prayerlessness.”
The pattern of prayer is rooted in Jesus’ teaching to “ask,” which should be done with “an acquiescent spirit.” We shouldn’t fall into the sins of either not asking or asking selfishly. “The heart posture of prayer is intimate, but not irreverent,” he said, “importunate [asking persistently], but not impudent.”
“Intimacy requires honesty,” he continued. “Jesus was honest with the Father. It is the combination of both sincere petition and submissive prostration.” These two elements in prayer strengthen our relationship with God and deepen our faith.
At the morning service on November 3, Rev. Steel preached from Genesis 13 and Hebrews 11:8-11 on “Profiles in Prayer: Abraham, the Man of Faith.” He used the example of Abraham to show how Crises challenge our confidence in God, Our choices reflect our character, Our choices yield consequences, and God confirms His commitment to those who cling to Him.
“Christ has been treated as we deserve so we could be treated as He deserves,” he began. He noted that Abraham was “no tower of moral virtue,” and showed how in the Egyptian crisis Abraham failed to pray for guidance, consulting his own wisdom rather than God’s. He said, “He wasn’t called to live naturally, but supernaturally.”
After Abraham returned to prayerful worship, he was able to make better choices. Rev. Steel compared Lot’s choice of the fertile valley with Abraham’s increasing dependence upon God. He said, “When the Lord is your portion, you can hold lightly to the things of this world.” He noted Abraham’s authenticity in contrast to Lot’s “self-serving religiosity.”
Lot’s choice of temporal gain over eternal gain resulted in his loss of all he held dear, wealth and status—even his wife. Rev. Steel said, “The world and its desire pass away, but the man of God lives forever.” He noted the implications of Abraham’s different actions when he “pitched his tent,” but “built an altar.”
About 125 people attended the Friday and Saturday conference sessions.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12-13 of the December 11, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.