We have just come through the annual eight-day Bible Conference here at Light and Life Park in Lakeland, Florida. The speakers were Rev. David Ensbrecht, of the Missionary Church, Napanee, Indiana, and Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, superintendent of the Free Methodist Mid-America Conference in Oklahoma. At weekday services — morning and evening — the church was quite full, and both speakers were warmly received.
But one daily event was not as public as these meetings. At seven each morning between 20 and 30 people gathered for prayer at the dining hall. We sat in a circle and, with heads bowed and eyes closed, in reverence we voiced petitions for the the events of the week as well as for a variety of other needs near and far – friends who were ill, the concerns of the nation, gospel efforts being advanced against resistance in remote places in the world.
To an uninitiated onlooker this little circle might have appeared strange or mysterious. There were no props. One petition after another was offered as though to an Unseen Presence. The uninitiated onlooker might ask, “Who are these people talking to?
For Christians themselves, prayer begins as a mystery and ends as a mystery. We pray not because we understand completely the dynamics of this spiritual exercise but because God has revealed himself to us as a mighty, caring Father and our hearts are moved to respond in praise, petition and intercession.
We have the example of Jesus to guide us. He interspersed his great miracles with retreats to pray and renew his own spiritual resources. He taught us to pray.
When God’s Spirit, in a special way, moves his people to pray, He sometimes responds quickly. When I was a young man, not yet even ordained, I preached for a week in a midwestern church. The working people put forth a special effort to be at the evening service 30 minutes before the 7:30 service was to begin for a time of prayer. That quickly changed and they came an hour early. Before the week was over they were coming directly from work and the prayers were fervent and moving.
On the final weekend a man came to me privately to ask a favor. Eleven years earlier he had been a church treasurer and on one occasion had taken $25 from the offering, intending to pay it back. But he never did. The fervent praying had apparently moved his heart to correct his wrongdoing. He wanted me to figure out for him what the compound interest on that $25 would be for the eleven-year interval. He would pay that amount back. Fervent prayers among God’s people can awaken consciences.
Thomas Hooker was an English Puritan of the early 17th century. He came to America and was influential in the early developments of both church and state. He was called the father of Connecticut.
He was a clergyman of great influence and achievement. Yet he wrote, “Prayer is my chief work, and it is by means of it that I carry on the rest.”