Saturday, 2 July 2016

Bathing the world in prayer

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

It’s a good job I wasn’t drinking a cup of coffee when I clicked on the email – otherwise I think I would have spluttered it all over the wall…

I had received a message from one of the leaders of the church where I was due to preach on the coming Sunday, and he was giving me an idea of the usual format of the service. At the end of the email he wrote, “Perhaps we might have some prayers of intercession if we have time”.

“If we have time”… those were the words that left me almost reeling. I mean, how is it possible not “to have time” for intercessory prayer in a Christian service of worship! The very idea is preposterous.

To be fair, I don’t think it came across in quite the way he intended – when I met him the next Sunday he made that clear. But taken in the way it first appeared, the remark chimed in with several experiences I have had in the recent past. These experiences suggest to me that, in modern worship, intercessory prayer – which means, of course, prayer targeted at clear, specific issues in either our personal circumstances or in the wider world – is falling by the wayside. We just aren’t doing it much any more.

Three examples…

First, an absolute first for me was a service where there was not only no intercessory prayer, but actually no prayer at all. Oh yes, we sang, and we read scripture, and we listened to a sermon. But at no point did we pray. Extraordinary.

Second, a Bible college student obviously keen that no-one should get bored by a tedious service: “Before we read this passage, let’s just have a quick prayer…” As if apologising for making such a demand upon us!

Third, the Sunday after some appalling tragedy had been on our television screens – I think it may have been the tsunami of 2004 – and we got right through the service without it being so much as mentioned. How could that be?

All right, when I was a teenage Christian I can remember intercessory prayers that seemed to go on forever – all round the world and back again, from a violent revolution in some far-off country to Mrs Biggins’ ingrown toe-nails and everywhere in between. You felt you were likely to die of sheer boredom.

There must be no going back to that!

But perhaps we need to be reminded that the church is “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). And one of the functions of priests is precisely this: to intercede constantly for the needs of the people as a whole. If we, God’s people, aren’t praying for our troubled world, who will be?

Which brings us to Paul here in 1 Timothy 2. Various things are worth noticing about his appeal.

First, prayer must be our priority: “first of all,” says Paul. It isn’t something we just squeeze in if or when convenient.

Second, our praying should be thorough: Paul lists “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving”. To be honest, I don’t really know what the difference is between the first three there. But what is clear is that Paul was keen to cover all bases!

Third, our praying should be comprehensive: “for everyone,” says Paul. Yes, that includes Mrs Biggins and her ingrown toe-nails, by all means – but notice the particular focus on “kings and all those in authority”.

All right, there aren’t that many kings around in our modern world; but we know what this means for us. There are plenty of leaders, local, national and international, upon whom the very safety of our world depends. Shouldn’t we have them constantly in our prayers?

Fourth, our praying is for the health of the world: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives.” Isn’t this every human being’s ultimate dream and longing? And prayer is a key element to bring it about. Our world today is full of division, anger, violence and fear. God help it if we Christians don’t pray!

Fifth, our praying is an essential part of our full identity as followers of Jesus: we are to be marked by “all godliness and holiness”. Prayer in general, and intercessory prayer in particular, is no optional extra.

The person at the front in services sometimes says “Let us pray”.

Well, yes, let us indeed! Our world needs it – desperately.

Lord Jesus, we would pray with your disciples so long ago: teach us to pray. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment