Erika F. Puni, Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary: God’s people today would do well to study and pray while applying Bible experiences of the past to their own ministry journey.
Hannah, in her need for a child, called on God and He rewarded her faith with the birth of Samuel (1 Sam. 1:10, 17, 19-20, 27). Elijah in a test of allegiance and worship, called on the Lord and He brought fire from above that consumed the sacrifice and everything on and around the altar (1 Ki. 1: 36-39). Daniel and his companions faced with the reality of death sought wisdom and deliverance from God, and He answered their prayers even in a foreign land (Dan. 2: 17-19). These few examples from the Old Testament are evidence to the power and provisions of God through prayer. Prayer works. It takes us away from the mundane and the ordinary into the presence of the Almighty. But what is the role of prayer in the life of the Christian church today?
Prayer and discipleship
Prayer was a spiritual fundamental in the life of Israel in the Old Testament, and it was certainly a key component in the lifestyle of the early church starting with Jesus Christ and the twelve disciples. Prayer was Jesus’ communication link to His father during His earthly ministry, and the disciples’ knew of this spiritual dimension to His life. Not wanting to miss out on the power and peace that comes only in connecting with God, one of the twelve came to him one day and said “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1-13). Significant in Luke’s account of this request and the “Lord’s Prayer” in Matt. 6:9-13 is the similarity in the context where Jesus was specifically addressing His disciples. Whereas the model prayer in Luke 11 was a direct response to a need from one of the twelve, the same prayer in Matt. 6 is included as an illustration on how to pray in contrast to the way the “hypocrites” and ”pagans” prayed. Prayer is a matter of the heart!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents prayer as a heart to heart connection with God irrespective of life’s situations. It not about rituals and habits, or about who was looking and listening; prayer is about who we are inside in relation to who God is as our Father. Prayer was not an additional thing to do in a long list of behavioral activities that His followers were to practice daily but the very heart of what it means to be His disciple in the world. In essence, prayer is presented in both of these chapters (Matt. 6 and Luke 11) as integral to the life and ministry of Christ’s followers then and even now.
Prayer and healing
One other important aspect of prayer in the Bible and in the ministry of the Early Church was the emphasis on praying for the sick. When the son of Elijah’s host who provided him with food and shelter fell ill, the prophet prayed to God for healing and He restored the child to life (1 Ki. 17:17-22). This example of Elijah as a man of prayer in the Old Testament was not lost in the eyes of the apostle James who writing to the scattered community of Christians reminded them of the ministry of praying for the sick. “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” Jas. 5:14-5 (NIV). Prayer, for James, was not limited only to the realm of worship and witness; rather it includes the area of physical and spiritual healing. Prayer opens up opportunities for Christians to pray and intercede for others within the faith community and outside of the church. Prayer works!
Prayer and the church today
Given the prominent place of prayer in the life of God’s people in Bible times, I’m led to believe that we, the church, God’s people today would do well to study and apply these experiences of the past to our own ministry journey. I accept that we cannot simply replicate the practice of the past because our situations and contexts are different, but we can certainly capture the spirit and the passion for prayer based on Biblical principles contained in scriptures. So what are some of these principles that we can incorporate into a prayer strategy for the church in the 21st century?
Church leaders must model prayer in their own life and ministry as Jesus and the apostles did for their followers in their time.
Incorporate prayer into the fabric of church life as a key component of every ministry and activity of the local congregation.
Provide opportunity for individuals who see prayer as their spiritual gift, and organize them into a prayer ministry for the church.
Make prayer a natural outcome and experience for members who are modern-day disciples of Jesus Christ.
Teach prayer as a Christian value and lifestyle issue for believers focusing on the heart relationship with God and not simply on the forms of prayer.
My hope is that all of us who are involved in ministry for the church will make every effort to connect and stay connected to God as faithful stewards of Christ in our worship and witness for Him daily.