By Ps Lee Kok Wah
Over the years, I have heard some remarks repeated about our church’s corporate prayer life.
“I believe our members do pray privately but our corporate prayer life is rather weak.”
“Praying aloud with others is like public speaking and that frightens me.”
“I’m not comfortable with the silence in between prayers when others are present.”
“I don’t like to pray with unfamiliar people. This is now made worse by holding church prayer meetings via Zoom, when we are randomly assigned to breakout rooms.”
“Surely prayer can be deeper than just reading back to God what is in the monthly prayer bulletin.”
“People need a common cause for praying together – such as when someone we know is critically ill or when there is a national issue like the pandemic.”
“We are a ‘Word-centred church’. We are interested in hearing sermons by preachers who inspire us and attending seminars where speakers inform us. We are less interested in joining church prayer meetings. Each church has her strengths. Corporate prayer is just not one of ours.”
These are mainly comments about worded or spoken prayer in our corporate prayer meetings and are some reasons offered for not joining such meetings.
My vision for The Bible Church is not for an improved ‘performance’ in our spoken prayer. My vision is for an enlarged opening to God through prayer.
In his book Opening To God: Lectio Divina And Life As Prayer (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2010), David Benner wrote: “Just imagine how different your life would be if moment by moment you were constantly open to God. Think of how much your experience of yourself, others and the world would change if you were continuously attuned to the loving presence of God and allowed the life of God to flow into and through you with each breath. Such a life would itself be prayer … prayer is not simply words that we offer when we speak to God but an opening of our self to God” (p11).
When the Apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “pray continuously” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), he was alluding to the biblical idea that prayer is so much more than just something we do. While offering worded prayer – what we usually think of as ‘praying’ – is an important part of prayer, it is impossible to “pray continuously” if all of prayer is limited to spoken prayers.
Prayer includes attending - listening, watching, waiting and seeking to discern the presence of God. “We do not pray so that we can get God’s attention. We pray so that God will get our attention” (Benner, 65). Prayer includes pondering – the mental activity of weighing or considering something, not analytically but reflectively. “Pondering becomes prayer when reflection arises in a mind that is open to God” (Benner, 88). Prayer includes responding – in faith, praise, hope, petitions and intercessions. Much of worded prayer falls under this category of prayers. Prayer includes prayer of being with God. This is the experiential knowing of our being in God. Usually called contemplative prayer, this is a wordless way of “opening our self to the ineffable – to something that is beyond us and upon which we gaze with awe” (Benner, 131).
Prayer as life is a continuous relationship with God. “All of life is, in fact, lived in relationship to God. It is no more possible for a human to live apart from a relationship to God than it is possible for us to be our own origin. But what makes life a prayer is the cultivation of the knowing – conscious and unconscious – of being in that relationship” (Benner, 151).
Prayer as legacy is our gift of prayer for the next generation. We will undoubtedly offer worded prayers for those who will attend The Parenting Teenagers Course that commences this weekend and as we dedicate to the Lord precious children from this community of faith next weekend. However, it is my longing for our church that our prayers are not simply words we offer when we speak to God but an opening of our self to God. Perhaps like-minded people who share this longing can connect with one another. We can gather physically and virtually to encourage one another, to minister and receive spiritual direction and to discover prayer as life and legacy.