“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16)
Several years ago, a former pastor of mine lamented from the pulpit that prayer was losing its appeal among Christians. It’s a sad commentary, but I agree with him. In fact, my own Christian experience has convinced me that a lot of us don’t take full advantage of the power and privilege of prayer.
Stop and think about it. How often do you see a family in a restaurant stop and say grace before they dive into their meals? Have you ever stopped and prayed with a friend at work? When you tell someone that you’ve been praying about something, have you really prayed about it, or have you just been thinking about it?
The world does everything it can to convince us that prayer belongs only in the home, the church, and maybe the funeral home. If you don’t believe it, just try to pray somewhere else. Then turn around and look at the reception you get.
Several years ago, I missed an opportunity to personally experience the miracle of prayer. I was in a hospital waiting room with a co-worker that I cared a lot about. Her husband was undergoing surgery and you could just feel the anxiety, doubt and fear. Can you think of a better place for prayer?
Just as we were about to leave, my wife turned to me and said, “Would you like to say a prayer?” Well, I looked at her with utter surprise and said, “No, I don’t think so.” Fortunately, my reluctance to pray didn’t rub off on my wife. She said a beautiful prayer, and I soon saw God answer it.
Words cannot describe the conviction I felt. I thought a lot of that family these many years later. I cannot think of another situation where prayer would have been more appropriate. Sadly, I turned my back on the opportunity because I was afraid of what others might have thought when they saw me praying.
When we become Christians, there is a struggle between good and evil that is waged every day in our Christian walk. Paul says in his letter to the church at Rome: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. ... So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being, I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:18, 21-24)
All of us understand exactly what Paul meant by the spiritual struggle that goes on in our minds and hearts. The truth is there are a lot of Christians who would have reacted the same way I did to my wife’s invitation for prayer.
That experience taught me that the only way to beat a habit is to replace it with another one. Prayer is a learned behavior. It’s not some supernatural quality that God gives us at salvation. It involves a relationship. And just like any other relationship, it takes hard work, commitment, and to some extent, failure. After all, we usually don’t learn our greatest lessons from success.
Today, my walk is much different. My relationship with the Lord is stronger. I’m no longer ashamed when I’m asked to pray for a friend. I’ve learned to look up, not around. Paul said it this way: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
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