Prayer is a sacred covenant. We usually associate it with solemnity and holy words. Of course, there are humorous situations which come with it.
Let’s take the case of little 8-year-old Mary Lou. In planning a picnic her friends purposely leave her out. It isn’t until the very last minute they give in and issue an invitation. Her mother offers a sigh of relief. She calls out, “Hurry, dear. Wash your face. Slip on a clean dress. I’ll fix your picnic lunch.” Mary Lou slowly walks up to her mother and despondently explains, “Mother, it’s no use. I’ve just finished praying for rain.”
Then, there is a group of farm families waiting for their new preacher. It is a scorching hot summer day. The crops are needing rain very badly. When he arrives, they immediately ask him to pray for rain. He responds positively and offers a beautiful prayer. Slightly before the benediction is pronounced, a great storm breaks lose. Fields are flooded. Crops are washed away. Bridges come tumbling down. Monday morning two of the farmers are observing the disaster. One grumbles to the other: “Well, that’s the way with these new preachers. Everything they do, they overdo.”
Finally, we must not forget about little Tommy. In just seven days he will be six years old. His prayers are getting noticeably longer and louder. It comes time for his usual bedtime talk with God. He kneels with his forehead on the blanket and begins praying in a voice which can be heard for several yards. He lists the many thing he wants for his birthday. His mother quite irritatingly says, “Don’t pray so loudly. The Lord isn’t deaf’. He pays no attention to his mother. So, she goes into his bedroom and taps him on the shoulder. He looks up at her with an angelic innocence. He whispers, “S’hh, Mom, I know the Lord isn’t deaf; but Grandma is in the living room, and she is.”
In a more serious mood, do we see in all three instances that we have expectation and a sense of fulfillment born from a trust in God? Mary Lou knows the picnic will be ruined. She has prayed for rain. The farmers and their families believe their new preacher can get rain for them. He does! Tommy knows the Lord can hear his prayers. Yet, who could carry them out better than Grandma?
The prayer-life for dedicated Christians around the world is a series of sacred covenants with God.
The word “covenant” indicates the heart of the God – Man relationship in the Old Testament . . . God, Noah, and the rainbow; God, Abraham, and circumcision; and the entire Book of Exodus.
Both in theory and practice the First Century Church finds and utilizes prayer as a sacred covenant. In a highly meaningful way it is their “prelude to power”. Listen to a few words out of that great Book born in the First Century (Acts 4:31): “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (NIV)
How shall you and I approach our God? What special prayerful offer shall we make in exchange for a power-filled religion? This is not to imply we can manipulate God; it is simply to recognize with awesome appreciation the dynamics at work nineteen hundred years ago and today. You and I have three very important parts to play. Shall we state them? Yes. Shall we believe them? Yes. Shall we prove them? Yes.
Oh God, we shall refuse to give up those who desperately need Your Church! This is part one.
Every human being is precious. The old man who take the name of God in vain so often he doesn’t realize what he is doing . . . The old woman who finds sadistic enjoyment form depicting the younger generation as “a bunch of desperadoes going to hell on a push cart”. . The disturbed man who chronically complains everybody is against him, including the Man upstairs . . . The vain woman who visualizes every community organization as a private weapon . . . The young fellow who accepts God solely as Creator and ignores His Son, the Savior . . . The young lady whose every motivation is geared to catching “any” man who shows promise of rising socially and economically . . . The little boy who cheats at basketball . . . The little girl who steals her friend’s doll. All are precious to God . . . and to you and me. There are others. Those who give an angry “No!” to our every invitation to the services of the Church . . . Those who try again and again to justify themselves apart from Christ and His Church . . . Those who feel they must belong to a particular church because of the social status involved . . . Those who refuse to see the lay and professional ministry as a continuous undertaking through the centuries, regardless of the personalities involved . . . Those who offer infantile excuses for not paying their church pledges. Christ “has and continues to die” for all of them. You and I had best do a little dying for them, too.
The glorious Resurrection of Christ is never seen clearly apart from the shadow of the Cross on our Blessed Lord’s empty tomb. Great spiritual victories are wrung out of turmoil, turbulence, and travail. Oh yes, from time to time we all search in the spiritual realm for something for nothing. Sometimes we find it and learn it costs us nothing. It goes under many labels. It is best described as “emptiness mixed with indifference and served up in jiggers filled with hypocritical offensiveness”. A generous financial contribution once a year will not put your arm around the shoulders of a friend. It will not tell him – not matter the size of it – how much you want him to come to terms with Christ and His Church. Serving on a committee – no matter how many hours are expended – is not the same as falling on your knees and earnestly praying for one who in countless ways has spurned the love of Christ and His Church.
Immortality is a natural part of every soul. Along this line there are those who are asking some thought provoking questions. Is our careful concern about economic and social rights for the here and now a facade which labors to cover up souls that have lost contact with the Eternal God? Is our wrangling over matters of the institutional Universal Church at all levels a mask for souls that “deep-down” fear they are lost? Is our busy work in organizations – both in and out of the Church – another illustration of our failure to come to terms with a salvation which can only be bestowed by God Himself? Is our religion more than just a “sometime” beneficial force operating for a few centuries on a tiny planet?
For the moment let us pose a question with a clear-cut answer. What special prayerful offer shall we make in exchange for a power-filled religion, transcending and yet giving incentive to, life at its best? In sincere sanctity we covenant: “Oh God, we shall refuse to give up those who desperately need Your Church!”
This answer is truly our first movement in the prelude to power. Gracious God, please accept it. What else shall you and I offer to our God?
Oh God, we shall call upon You every day in honesty and humility! This is the second part we play.
Join me as we take an excursion together.
Our Father, we discover the morning is excellent. The birds sing and our hearts sing with them. The day offers opportunities galore. We cannot humanly utilize all of them. Our proper attitude is to be obedient to You all day long. Our burdens from yesterday we leave at our altars. We must not carry them into a new day, unless it be Your Will. We praise You, OH God, for not disowning us during the darkness of the night. May we help somebody today, somebody along life’s narrow way. We take the thoughts of Christ and His Church with us, wherever we go.
Our Father, we discover the afternoon is superb. The frustrations of the morning are but a gouge to spur us to greater heights. We repent for not pausing to thank You for the noontime lunch. Grant us strength to invite a fellow pilgrim to Church. May we use no questionable tricks or gimmicks to accomplish this purpose. An authentic religious experience sells more convincingly than all secular techniques.
Our Father, we discover the evening is fine. We are not spiritually exhausted. The forces that press upon us have strengthened an otherwise proud countenance. The sun which warms the earth is hidden. Your Son, Jesus, Who warms the hearts of men is also hidden. Yet, He like that great ball of energy is hidden only from our eyes; and even this is temporary.
Our Father, we discover the nighttime is splendid. Some of us are about ready to retire to bed, some about ready to cease work, and others are preparing to begin their work. This neither bothers nor confuses us. You are the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow. You know our every need. We believe You will speak to each of them as we believe on Christ and in His Church.
We praise You. Time does not really matter nearly as much as our sacred covenant to call upon You each and every day in honesty and humility. This is our second movement in the “prelude to power”. Father of our Lord, please receive it. Is there another special prayerful offer to be made in exchange for a power-filled religion? The answer is “Yes” and it is very important.
Oh God, we shall put away those things hindering our communication with You! This is the third and final part you and I play.
Old hatreds are buried and new ones are chased away. As we are getting ready to lift names up to God, we must not allow incidents that occurred years ago or minutes ago prohibit this elevation. Nothing – absolutely nothing – eats away and rots our prayer life more disastrously than a regiment of hatreds parading across our mental horizons to the tune of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. One dreg of hate can stop up the most beautifully constructed pipeline to Heaven.
It is difficult not to be caught up in a “near worship” of the progress being made in the space age. Sometimes our amazing technology seems to blur the majesty of God. Indeed, something about the strides that are being made cause a real uneasiness. Perhaps it is because the human family has not learned to live together in peaceful brotherhood. Millions upon millions have been destroyed by their faulty relationships with one another. To be a reactionary in the eyes of many is to be a great sinner. To fail to react in favor of men becoming brothers is surely to be a greater sinner.
Pleasure items should be given their proper places and times. Why should a catchy new television program cause us to postpone our afternoon prayers? God deserves prime time. Why should our neighbor’s new sports automobile cause us to question God about unearned prosperity in our nighttime prayers? No place in the Scriptures do I read God promising any of His followers a flashy car. Why should the new swimming pool at a friend’s home cause us to reschedule our evening talk with God? The oceans are God’s and all that dwell therein. Does that new filter-tip have to be given some of the precious time set aside for morning prayers? God has more to offer than a few inhalations.
Dear Lord, we resolve to let nothing at the chosen hour come between us and You! Please accept this as the final part of what we believe to be the “prelude to power”. As we put the final touches to our sacred covenant, we await Your stamp of approval.
Our heats and minds return to the First Century Church. We ask for no more and no less.
Are you and I willing to pay the price of a sacred covenant? The difficulties of the present spiritual life are as nothing compared to the future glory with God. Disciplining ourselves to the program of the Church is empty drudgery divorced from that scintillating spiritual spark. God genuinely cares for us. His Son suffered and died for us. He continues to suffer and die for us. He loves us with a love that is beyond human comprehension. How else could He put up with you and me??
The power of the Holy Spirit is what the Early Church had which we shun and sometimes – I fear – spurn.
When we tie the ribbon on a gift package, we consider it finished. We might summarize by saying “We shall refuse to give up those who desperately need Your Church, we shall call upon You everyday in honesty and humility, and we shall put away those things hindering our communication with You.” Let’s make the ribbon an exciting brief proclamation: “Oh God, our prayers shall be persistent, consistent, and resistant!”
Donald Charles Lacy is a retired Methodist pastor in Indiana.