Prayer is a concept that I think has lost its meaning over the centuries in churches. I say that as a grand hyperbole, but on an individual level, I’m certain I’ve only heard a few prayers in the past year that struck me as being truly God-centered.
What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that the purpose of prayer, in some ways isn’t to simply have our needs heard. As the people of God and followers of Jesus, prayer is supposed to be outward focused and centered on God and His mission. (Reminded of this by Paul Bradshaw in Reconstructing Early Christian Worship.) Sure, Jesus even instructs us to ask for the things we need, but the first thing he has us do in his example is pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
When we pray, do we include the homeless person right down the street? Do we include those trapped in an oppressive system of poverty? Do we include those women and men being trafficked for labor or prostitution in the US and abroad? Do we include the President and government officials? Do we include the refugees in the Middle East who remain in fear of another extremist attack from people supposedly of their own faith? Do we pray for persecuted Christians and other minorities around the world?
If you do, you’ve probably received the most terrifying answer to prayer: “Go. I send you.” Nothing is more striking or anxiety inducing that hearing that answer after praying about the problem of poverty in our city. And yet, nothing is more encouraging or exciting than hearing that answer, either. I mean, think about it: the great God of Creation and Resurrection just hand-picked you to be a part of the mission he has of restoring the world he created. (Insert sound of mind exploding here.)
In that moment when your praying about making sure that homeless people are warm during the winter and your child says, “We’ve got some extra coats in the closet,” how will you respond? When you’ve been praying about feeding the homeless and your child points someone out, what will you do? You actions will determine how your child prays and responds to prayer throughout their life. Be ready when your family receives the most terrifying answer to prayer.