Thirty five years ago my life was changed after listening to a talk on prayer and spiritual warfare.
I had been converted as a teen in a Presbyterian church where doctrine was regarded as the most important thing and God was known to be sovereign, ordaining everything according to his good purposes. But this doctrine left little place for prayer. After all, if God knew everything, he already knew what was best without me advising him, and if he was good and all-powerful then he would assuredly do the good thing whether I asked or not.
So I rarely prayed in my everyday life. Until 35 years ago, that is.
This blog is mostly about better understanding the Bible and postmodern culture, following Jesus in a world far removed from when he lived, and being a better and more faithful church. But all of these are means to the end of “seeing Jesus more clearly, loving him more dearly and following him more nearly”, and so playing our part in his mission of seeing God’s kingdom established on earth.
And for me, what I am writing about here is the most necessary aspect of that mission.
Prayer and a sovereign God
The big change in my thinking came about quickly and simply. Dean Sherman, in a series of talks in Sydney, pointed out that just because God is sovereign doesn’t mean he must inevitably exercise his sovereignty and control everything that happens.
A parent, who owns the house, can give their child the freedom and responsibility to keep their room tidy or allow it (against the parent’s actual wishes) to become a mess. So likewise, I believe God has given the human race the freedom and responsibility to manage our lives and our planet. God still knows what is best and still has the power to do it, but his choice is to (mostly) let us have our freedom, so that we become his daughters and sons.
And now we can see prayer in a new light. Prayer is inviting God into the situation that we have some responsibility for, asking him to act on our behalf and do what we cannot do, just as the child can ask their parent for help in tidying up a messy room.
There is a lot more to it than that, a whole Biblical justification for this understanding which I won’t go into now. But it means that prayer and God’s sovereignty can go together. Prayer now becomes super important. – it invites God’s power into situations where he might otherwise allow events to take their course.
You don’t have because you don’t ask? (James 4:2)
At the time we were raising three children approaching their teen years and we wanted the best for them. We knew we couldn’t care for them when they were away from us at school, nor did we have the wisdom and awareness to properly care for them even when they were in the same room.
We wanted them to grow up to be thoughtful believers, and we knew we could only do so much to achieve that.
And we believed that God loved them more than we did, could care for them better than we could, and wanted them in his kingdom more than we did. As parents, we had been given the task, both a joy and a responsibility, to oversee their growth until they could make their own mature choices, and we could attempt that on our own. Or we could use our parental authority to invite God into this responsibility.
It made new sense to ask him, everyday, to do all these things for our children, so we resolved to pray together every morning for our children. Soon those prayers grew to cover each other, our friends and wider family, the ministries we were doing, our everyday lives and the choices we were making.
And because we were both committed to this, we kept each other focused, and, apart from days when I was away overnight for my work, we have barely missed a day in the 35 years since then.
The most important choice
We both believe this has been the most important choice we have made in our lives as christians. Our children have grown to be adults who are still following Jesus, each in their own way. We have changed churches and jobs, taken holidays, ministered to people and changed our understanding of God’s truths, all under the umbrella of this daily prayer together. We still haven’t got everything right, not by a long shot, but we feel confident that we have done better than we would have done otherwise.
These days, now I’m retired, we have time most days to read the Bible together, discuss it, pray together and interrupt our praying if we have ideas about what we are praying about, believing that if the Holy Spirit is going to guide our thinking, this is the most likely time. And it is hard to live with unresolved arguments and tension when we are praying together very day.
We are sometimes asked what we think is most important for new christian couples, and we always say praying together every morning, even if just for a few minutes.
But sadly, it seems few christian couples are willing to commit to daily prayer together. Busy-ness, embarrassment and spiritual laziness seem to take their toll.
The 40 day prayer challenge
Which brings us to the book shown at the beginning of this post. I came across it recently and it encourages christians to pray together just for 5 minutes a day for 40 days, initially, to give this life of prayer a good try.
I found the book helpful in its emphasis, although it is written from a christian culture that I don’t easily relate to. I really appreciated the inclusion of a large number of real life stories about changed lives and circumstances due to prayer. I totally support the idea of encouraging couples, which includes friends as well as marrieds, to commit to disciplined, daily prayer and not give up.
I hope and pray this post would encourage you to do the same. Start tomorrow!