A Life of Prayer
I grew up praying and learning the language of prayer. My grandmother, mother and dad all prayed. Everyone who was important to me prayed. At bedtime it was “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Mother placed above my crib a wooden plaque of a little boy in blue pajamas kneeling to pray, and across the room above my sister’s bed was a little girl in pink pajamas saying her prayers. Then there was “God is great, God is good. Let us thank him for our food,” or “Bless, O Lord, this food to our use and us to thy service.” At church it was “We thank thee, Lord, for this bread and fruit of the vine, which to us represents the body and blood of our Savior Jesus,” and of course, “Guide, guard and direct us to the next appointed time.” Although I have often chuckled at how these phrases were overused, they helped point me Godward. These prayers, and others like them, were faith markers that heightened my awareness of the presence and power of God. Even with these experiences, however, prayer became routine.
Then in my early twenties I met a missionary named Joe. He was not only the most unique person I had ever encountered, but also the most prayerful. For years he kept journals of God’s answers to his prayers. There were hundreds of dates and times of petitions and intercessions, with seemingly as many notations of God’s interventions. He had researched every biblical promise relative to prayer, especially the ones from Jesus, and placed them on note cards that were taped together in accordion style. Each morning he would stretch these cards in front of him and pray and journal, sometimes for hours. He often spoke of the apostle Paul as “a man with a map of the world on his heart.” In that spirit Joe maintained a list of the appointed leaders of every country of the world and kept a schedule of prayer for missionaries to be sent. I spoke with him when the Berlin Wall went down, and it seemed as though he was one with God in the event, having prayed and dreamed of the mission doors that would fly open as a result. For me, listening to Joe pray was almost like a revival. That may sound strong, but that’s the way it felt, like an earnest plea for God to come in great power to lead whole populations to “repent, so that and times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19) More than anyone before or since, Joe was my most remarkable exposure to the “life of prayer.”
Now I am in my mid-fifties, thirty years removed from that experience. To a reasonable degree, I am theologically educated, pastorally skilled, and as maturity would have it, more emotionally and spiritually aware. Dare I say my friend was a bit “too”? Too obsessed, too driven, too simplistic? It would be easy for me to look back and think myself more reflective, more balanced, or in some way more refined that he. God forbid. Joe had something that kept the missional flame burning bright even into his senior years. He embodied the prayer of alignment, “Your kingdom come, your will be one on earth as in heaven.” (Matthew 6.10) I now revisit the memory of my friend, and learn from him afresh.
The spirit of Jesus’ prayer dominates our thoughts this year at HST.”
In a manner much like my friend, the spirit of Jesus’ prayer dominates our thoughts this year at HST. We look to the prayerful heritage of Abraham and Moses, of David and Nehemiah, of Jesus and Paul. We learn from great revivalists who prayed as whole villages and towns were brought to the Lord. We enter the heart of missionaries in underserved areas of the world who wrestle in prayer and keep plodding their row in the garden of God. We carry the torch of nurturing mothers who cover their little ones in protective petition, or weary ones who beseech the Lord to soften the hearts of wayward children. We come alongside men who seek divine wisdom and godly courage to lead their families in the way of the Lord. We partner with shepherds who labor in prayer for their flocks. We join ministers as they quietly whisper, “Lord, speak to me that I may speak in living echoes of your tone.” We pray in solidarity with those who battle in the front lines against all forms of injustice and oppression. With these and all the faithful, we say with Jesus, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Amen.
Professor of Ministry