I’ve been sitting on this one for a long time, but with the Free Church’s National Day of Prayer on Thursday, it seems prescient.
On Sunday I did something I have done only a handful of times. Each time, there was some sort of whisper or confused looks. On one occasion, my wife was sitting next to the minister’s wife. What I did was this. After the service I clasped my hands together and bowed my head. I overheard my wife and the minister’s wife having a conversation about me, her opening gambit being “is Ewan OK?” On the first occasion I was a teen visiting a friend’s Anglican church. After receiving the bread and wine during the Eucharist I sat down, clasped my hands and bowed my head.
“what…what’s he doing?” someone asked their friend.
“I think he’s praying.”
I may have placed more emphasis on the word “praying” than was actually given at the time. But those were the actual words spoken. I remember, because I found it strange.
Why should the act of praying be such a bizarre thing to do in a church?
The church, which should be seeking after God.
The church, which is commanded to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The church, the people for whom Christ’s prayer is that we would have complete union with God (John 17: 20-23).
The church, the people for whom the spirit intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).
Why should the first sign that I may not be ‘OK’ be the act of praying? Ought it not to be the other way round? Shouldn’t the act of not praying be a sign that I’m not OK?
Praying should be one of the most natural things we should do. Even as an introvert, I love spending time with my friends talking about the things we love. So it follows that as God has bought us back into a relationship with him, so we should love him and desire to spend time with him.
But we don’t, partly because we don’t realise what riches we have in Christ.
And partly because we say ‘tomorrow’.
Moses says “you don’t have to live with the frogs anymore, Pharoah. I’ve got Frog-Be-Gone. Say the word – they’re history. Ready?”
And Phraroah thinks, “… Maybe if I’ll wait, the frogs will decide to go away by themselves.”
Pharoah has learned – he can live with the frogs. He can tolerate a frog-saturated life. It’s not great. There’s not much joy in it. But he can survive. He prefers is to the change that would be required by surrendering to Yahweh.
“I’ll try another night with the frogs.”
– John Ortberg, God is Closer than you Think
We do the same as Pharoah. I know I do. I so often like the theory of a better life with God, but don’t so much like the actual giving up of the very stuff I need to.
But there’s more.
What matters most is this: God is present in this instant, offering to partner with us in whatever we face. The failure to embrace “the sacrament of the present moment” will keep us from being fully present to God right here, right now.
Not because we consciously say no to God.
We just say, “tomorrow.” Spiritual akrasia. Another night with the frogs.
– John Ortberg, God is Closer than you Think
That is why I always pray after communion, and occasionally pray after a service. In a way, my minister’s wife got it right: I wasn’t OK – I needed Christ.
And I still do. I need him every day. Every moment every day.
I am normally praying to say “I believe, help my unbelief!” I am normally asking God to help me follow through on whatever I learned in the service.
Because I am not good at praying. I don’t pray often enough. I use the same excuses as you do. Mostly I forget. If I don’t do it right there and then about the service, I probably won’t.
But I want to be better at praying – by which I simply mean ‘pray more’. There are loads of great words written about the deed, but the fact is: we ought to pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray within our own room. Pray with others.
I want to be in a place in my faith where the point that people ask if I’m OK is the day I don’t pray after church. I want the church to be a church in which the people pray individually and together often.
So why have a national day of prayer?
Well, why-ever not? What could be greater than seeking God with other people? Praising the creator and sustainer of the universe, and of us; the orchestrator of our faith; the one who will keep us trusting Him; the one who gives us brothers and sisters and life in abundance. Today.
If we truly want to know God, we must ask him to reveal himself.
If we truly want God to change us, we must let him.
If we truly want rid of our sin, we must trust him.
If we truly want our leaders to be wise, we must ask him.
If we want our friends to know him, we must ask him.
There is joy in unity with God; there is joy when the church is united in Him.
Yes, I can and should pray today. But I will be joining others on Thursday because there is different type of nourishment there. I have learnt as much about God from hearing others pray than I have heard in sermons or books.
So my prayer this Thursday is that as a people we would be more prayerful (and that I would keep up the habit of praying after church services). And that we’ll all say no more nights with the frogs.