Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I grew up under the influence of prayer. I can still remember my mother tucking me into bed at night and guiding me in a conversation with God before I went to sleep. I didn’t understand everything going on in those moments, but I knew it was important. Prayer is so simple that a child can do it, and yet so profound that Jesus Christ himself found it necessary to pray.

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of prayer. According to research, prayer helps people heal faster, live happier and have overall healthier lives. Although studies such as this have been done as recently as this year, prayer remains an exercise ignored among the lives of many Christians. This is not to say that Christians do not pray, but it is to say that we do not pray enough, and when we do pray, our prayers are often misdirected.

As a pastor I have seen this firsthand. Following 9/11, many of the churches in communities all across America were full on Sundays as well as the midweek prayer service. But it did not last. It was only a temporary surge in faith. According to a survey done by the Barna Research Group in 2006, the surge lasted less than five years. While several conclusions may be drawn from that study, one thing is for certain: We pray when we are in trouble.

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There is nothing wrong with praying in times of trouble. The Bible gives numerous examples of praying for deliverance in moments of distress. But that kind of praying must be predicated on another kind of prayer: prayer for our own spiritual lives. If we wait until we are in trouble to pray, we have waited too long. We must not view prayer as a last resort but as our first defense.

In Matthew 5-7, Jesus taught his disciples about fasting, enduring persecution, the sacredness of marriage, loving our enemies, avoiding hypocrisy and wrongly judging others, just to name a few.

After hearing these demands that are placed upon a citizen of the kingdom, the disciples must have felt like the Apostle Paul when he said to the Corinthians, “Who is sufficient for these things?” How are we going to love our enemies, be pure in heart, reflect Christ in a hostile culture, go the second mile and not worry ourselves to death?

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The answer should come as no surprise to the follower of Christ: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 5:7-8).

It should be stated that this is not a carte blanche request for our material desires and pleasures. Instead, it shows us how to pray for the character of the kingdom in our lives. This kind of praying is powerful.

Again, there is nothing wrong with praying when you have lost your job, or your kids have rebelled, your car has broken down or you’re worried about the election. But those prayers will have more weight if you focus on this first principle of prayer: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Is there power in prayer? You better believe it, and God is just waiting for you to ask.

Rev. Gregory L. Clark has been a Southern Baptist pastor for 26 years, and is a proud husband, father, grandfather and veteran. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

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