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In his book, Pray Always, Tony Ash tells of his experience as a young man when he was a something of a legalist. To get back at him, some friends asked him if public prayers were a part of his congregation’s practice. When he said that they were, his friends asked how he and his people could claim to adhere strictly to the Bible when Jesus taught us to pray in private (Matthew 6:6). Tony says that he was caught out and desperate and fled to his minister for an answer.

I have to admit that I have wondered that myself. Are we violating Jesus’ teaching each time we lead a public prayer? When we encourage one another to flock to their shepherds for prayer, is Jesus displeased? Have you ever wondered about this? Are you wondering now that I have brought it up?

I could point out to you that Jesus is making three statements to his disciples about righteousness that have the same point – don’t strive to be righteous just to gain favor with others. Don’t pray like hypocrites who draw attention to themselves. Likewise don’t give gifts or fast just to draw attention to ourselves. Jesus doesn’t exclude prayer, giving, or fasting. And to make his instruction to be secret literal to the point that secrecy and privacy become the goal is just as much a distraction from God.

I could also point out that if Jesus literally wanted us to all pray in secret, then his followers would seem to have ignored him. For there are important examples of community prayer in the New Testament. No, I don’t think they ignored Jesus. Rather I think they understood his point in the Sermon quite well and they also listened when he taught them to pray by saying “Our Father ...”

I believe that Jesus’ followers understood what he was teaching about prayer. And I think they understood from Jesus that pray includes our private petitions to God, but that it also involves our communal and public behavior and the way we express unity and our trust in God’s power. I think they understood that prayer is ministry and that healing and encouragement and forgiveness of sins come through prayer. What else can God’s people do other than speak to their father? I think they knew that prayer was the way that they asked for God’s spirit. They did not presume to command God’s spirit like magicians, but they could ask like servants.

So if Jesus’ early followers knew this, can we? I believe that we can. I believe that we should. I believe that we must.

So let’s overcome the unnecessary reduction of prayer to a secret mental exercise. Prayer is just as embodied as the Lord’s Supper, we don’t reduce it to a picture of a cracker and juice. Prayer can be meaningful when it takes place in time, space, and with others. I am sure that when we are sick we want people to pray for us and we are cheered up to know that they are, but when they come visit and hold our hand or lay a hand on our shoulder or even anoint us with oil, we experience prayer in our body, mind, heart and soul.

And let’s also know that prayer is about God’s power and his spirit. Prayer is not something to add a little religion to our life. It isn’t just invocation. It isn’t the greeting card, preamble, email instruction, wish list that it is often reduced to:

And that being the case, let’s overcome this proud notion that we don’t need prayers. Let’s do away with the idea that prayers are reserved for those who identify as sick or sinners. We have important work to do, we have a mission. The first work of that mission is prayer in everything. How dare we send out missionaries and ministers without praying over them? How dare we let shepherds and ministers do their work without being prayed for!

But we often miss the opportunity because we don’t want to be showy. We must pray for them because we aren’t putting our faith in them, but in God. Who would want a surgeon to show up with dirt in his fingernails and liquor on his breath and have him describe how he’s going to cut us open? We would insist that he sober up and wash his hands (or we would ask for another surgeon). Who accept it if our pilot showed up and said to the passengers, “I’ve been awake for three days straight.” We would insist he get some rest and we wouldn’t buy it if he said “No, I’m good. The technology does all the work.”

You should insist that your ministers and elders have been sufficiently prayed over. Ask them, “Who has prayed for you today – and then pray for them.”

God at work among us – What’s the first work of evangelism? PRAYER (Matthew 9)

Our growth: Love one another, Support Leaders, Prayer MINISTRY

So let our prayers be like Jesus – He was man and he was God. Jesus is not the reduction of God. He is the fullness of God. The gospel is not a slogan. It is a person who came with power. When we pray in Jesus’ name we are reaching out and touching a power that cannot be limited to our mental or emotional experience. Just as Jesus was real, so is the spirit of God that we touch in prayer.

(Invite down people to be prayed for ...)

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 21 February 2010

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