Thursday, February 26, 2015

Don't Feel Like It? So What?

What does a prayer meeting in Iraq look like?

According to VOM's Prayer map Christians in Iraq face a very uncertain situation. They cannot rely on their government or their neighbors for protection against violence. They have almost no one on earth to turn to. I wonder what it is like when they get together to pray. I wonder how many people show up and what they pray about. Are they angry with God? Do they sit in silence? Is there weeping?

I don't mean to over-dramatize the situation. I'm just trying to imagine what I would do. If I were a pastor of an Iraqi church I would be tempted to cancel public Sunday worship services, but I think I would not at any cost abandon some type of prayer gathering. Even if we had to meet secretly in uncomfortable places. Even if the time was inconvenient. Even if there wasn't enough childcare or padded chairs. I would lead my people to pray, to cry out to God for relief.

As the pastor of an American church, I ask my people to pray. And we do. We share prayer requests. We pray in our public services and in our small group meetings. We email out the occasional prayer concern. We pray for the sick and for job opportunities and for broken relationships. We even pray for those who aren't Christian in our community and for opportunities to share Truth with them.

And yet, it doesn't feel that important. We read in scripture that it is important. So we do our best to be obedient. We attempt to incorporate prayer into our daily lives and learn what it means to pray without ceasing. We schedule prayer meetings that a lot of people intend on coming to, but life intervenes. We do studies about prayer and wax spiritual about how if we would just take the time to pray maybe we wouldn't be so stressed about all the stuff that is making us too busy to pray.

I am uneasy about what it might take for prayer to become important to us. How bad does my life have to get for me to become earnest in my prayer?

Before you click away to escape the prayer guilt that you might be feeling (like me), take another moment to consider something. The Kingdom of God is often the exact opposite of the Kingdom of Man. Where we think something is important it is often the least important. Jesus said the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Profound truth here, people.

Those people who are suffering most in this world, especially those who are directly suffering for the cause of Christ, are on the very front lines of God's Epic Work in this world. We might think that God is most at work in places where his church is most visible, but if we are to take the teachings of Jesus seriously then we must realize that God generally works out of sight. The fruit that will be produced will, in the end, come as a great surprise. No one is surprised when a crop produces a 1:3 yield. But if a crop produces a 1:100 ( see Luke 8:8 ) yield that would make world news. That's how Jesus described the Kingdom of God. The unexpected becomes the norm.

So maybe you don't feel like your prayers are very important. Praying for Iraqi Christians sounds like a noble thing, but it doesn't feel very immediate. We won't know if our prayers are doing anything. We usually don't know specifics to pray for. There pretty much zero risk in us praying for them, so it feels a little empty, futile. We don't often get rewarded with an emotional response when praying over a list of needs. We aren't driven by fear or desperation. All we have is the direction of scripture and the call of the Holy Spirit.

In the Kingdom of God that means that even our measly, half-hearted prayers given at least partially out of a feeling of obligation will bear fruit and glorify God. I'm not saying we should be satisfied with that, but it is a start. And until God calls us to deeper and higher things we'd best get busy doing what we can. When the day comes when you really feel like your prayers are needed and like they really do matter it will be all the better if you have been practicing all along. My guess (my confidence!) is that we will find that even our prayers that felt obligatory and thin will have accomplished amazing things we could not have imagined on our own!