As April gets closer to wrapping up and summer moves ever closer I want to focus in on a major theme of our summer as a staff team: prayer.
Let’s start, as I often do, with a story.
I grew up in North Bay and went to university in Toronto. In my first year, a family friend picked me up to take me home for Christmas and around 11, as we drove the northern roads, a deer jumped out in front of our car. The driver swerved and missed the deer but because of the road conditions, our car spun out. We turned four or five times and stopped, thankfully, without any significant damage still on the road. But we were no longer in our own lane and the back end of the car, where I was sitting, was now in lane belonging to the oncoming traffic. And into the calm that followed not crashing as a result of the deer, the headlights of an oncoming transport came into view and in a flash, it managed to just dodge the backend of our car. I still remember how close it felt to me as it drove by.
The next morning at church a kind elderly lady came up to my mom and told her that around 11 she shot up from her sleep and felt led to pray for me and my fellow travellers.
I’ll admit this event comes to mind whenever I start thinking about prayer. Because the nature of prayer, at its heart, is something of a strange mystery.
The call to pray is found throughout the Bible.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 says “pray continually”
Philippians 4:6 says “in everything, by prayer and thanksgiving, make your requests known.”
Colossians 4:2 says “continue steadfastly in prayer.”
Romans 12:12 calls us to be “faithful in prayer.”
And really these are just a few of the instances where we are all called to prayer. And it is reasonable to assume that part of the Christian walk to become a person of prayer.
But if I’m honest, and I try to be on these recordings, I’m not great at prayer.
Despite the regular call to prayers, despite a firm belief in the importance of prayer, despite a lifetime of being encouraged to pray, despite an experience like the one I described above: I forget, I get distracted, and I move on from prayer without a second thought.
So as we enter in a season at camp where we focus in on prayer and start taking it seriously I wanted to preface this season with some discussion on the nature of prayer.
The first most fundament question is: why do we pray?
It is here where things begin to get a little more muddied. Depending on your faith tradition, your understanding of the nature of divine providence, your sense the complex nature between that which is ordained and that which is yet to be, your understanding of the Holy Spirit and its role in the wider world, and in midst of the myriad of theological questions surrounding prayer you might land in any of a number of configurations about the nature of prayer.
For some traditions, there is a direct line between my prayer and the outcomes of God’s action in the world. I pray and something happens to meet that prayer. A person shoots up in the middle of the night and prays and saved me from a car accident. Other traditions, will tip that scale in the other direction: God acts and is ready to act, and asks us to pray in order that that action may come into being. Our prayers are inspired and motivated by God in line with the action he already has ordained. God wakes up a person in the middle of the night so that, in their prayer, they can participate in the unfolding of God’s grace which, in this case, was the avoidance of a car accident. These two forms create something of a spectrum between the cause and effect of our prayer. In some ways, the question about the end results of prayer is something of a chicken and egg scenario. What comes first divine action or human prayer? And every Christian tradition holds these two aspects in tension.
But it is possible that by focusing on the tangible results of prayer we miss something of the nature of prayer.
One of the significant cultural differences between us in the year 2020 and the early church is that we value things by the end results and understand things by answering the questions
“What is the thing for?”
“To what end, do I do this thing?”
It is possible then that when we look at a call prayer in the New Testament we see a call to an effective agent by which miracles happen whereas the early church saw prayer not as a means to an end but as an extension of the already existing relationship between the believer and God.
Prayer is swept up in the nature of what it means to be a passionate follower of Jesus and is a relational aspect of our faith and not a functional or effective agent within our faith. Not that prayer can’t be effective but that prayer is not meant to be understood by way of its effectiveness.
This perspective explains why I can’t simply pray for a Ferrari and receive a Ferrari.
Alternatively, prayer is rooted in our relationship with God and, as in all relationships, our commitment to that relationship hinges on the time spent, the experience of life together, and the focus given to the relationship.
And this is what prayer is about: focusing us on the person of God. This idea of focus is one that I want to put at the centre of our discussion of prayer over the next year of camp and life.
Here’s the idea: prayer is the active focus of our hearts and minds on and toward God so that we might grow deeper in our relationship with him.
So, for now, at the outset of this conversation surrounding prayer, I want us to try and put aside the notion that prayer is about praying for something and centre into the idea that prayer is about developing a relationship with God.
***I should note that I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t ever pray “for” things. Instead, I am suggesting that our tendency is to see prayer primarily as a means to an end. That we tend to approach prayer only in the mode of praying “for” things and in doing so we limit prayer to a process, a transaction, and prayer is so much more than that. This is why, at the beginning of this season of prayer, I want to, momentarily, start by focusing our prayer on relationship building and not simply on the transaction between request and result.
An exercise in prayer:
My challenge for you today is to try praying for five minutes a day without asking for things. You can certainly pray more than that and take time therein to make your requests known. But for part or all of your prayer I want to encourage you to pray as follows:
Dear God, I want to build a closer relationship with you in prayer. My heart is for you. My mind is on you. Fill me with your grace, your truth, and your peace.
And then sit in silence focused on God. Still your heart and mind. Let God speak.
You may find the time goes by slowly and that its hard to focus in. That’s normal. But if prayer is relational and God is relational, as we know him to be in the person of Jesus, then in time you will learn to hear, to focus your heart and mind, and in prayer draw closer to God.
An opportunity to pray:
Mini-Yo-We just launched an initiative of prayer called: the 19:46 Prayer Team. It’s an effort to unify us in prayer by setting an alarm for every day at 19:46 (7:46 pm) to pray.
As a staff team, this is the perfect opportunity for us to stand up and take hold of our place as leaders at camp not through our amazing abilities but through a humble commitment to praying for our camp, our country, and the critical issues of the day. A huge part of Christian leadership is choosing to be on the front lines of prayer. Let’s demonstrate our leadership by committing to pray together with our larger community.
Sign up to receive emails: miniyowe.com/pray
That’s it for today. I hope that as we embark on this season of prayer that you and I can be praying for each other and growing in our faith together. In the complex season, we find ourselves in, our prayer lives and the relationship with God that grows out of prayer is all the more important. You can reach any of your summer directors for encouragement and prayer anytime. You can reach me by email at email@example.com.
Pray. Grow in your relationship with God. Focus your heart and mind on him. And who knows just what you will discover. And in the meantime keep being awesome.
This post is part of our Leap of Faith Audio Check-ins. We want to encourage you to leap into your faith and continue to grow at home, at school, and in your church. These audio check-ins are meant to encourage you as live out your faith every day.
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