Thursday, May 5, 2011

It Matters if You Pray

Today is the National Day of Prayer. The Continental Congress issued a day of prayer in 1775 to designate "a time for prayer in forming a new nation." As this nation continues to form, it only seems right to set aside time to pray for our country, her leaders, our place in the world of nations.
I'm not one who believes ours is a Christian nation (though I do believe there are biblical principles that form the framework for our country's foundation). I don't see us as godly and those who oppose us as ungodly. It's far too complicated to take that simplistic an approach. But I am proud to be an American. My heart beats a little faster and my emotions move more to the surface as I think about this nation of ours and how fortunate we are to be here. But that's not the focus of my thoughts today.
Does it really make any difference if we pray? That's a question that often comes to mind as I sit (or stand or kneel) in meetings like I will all day today to pray for our nation. I will confess, sometimes our praying (even my own) seems perfunctory, superficial and far too generic to be much good. Does it really matter if we pray?
Every time I ask myself this question I remember something a seminary professor and friend, Dr. Huber Drumwright, taught me about prayer. He had me look at Paul's prayer request to the church in Rome (found in Romans 15:30-32). Paul asked the believers in Rome to pray for him as he journeyed to their city. He asked them to pray for three things specifically: (1) that he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, (2) that his service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints there, and (3) that by God's will he would be able to come to Rome and meet with them. Then Dr. Drumwright had me read Acts 20-28. I smiled as I did. "You see," he said, "it really does matter that we pray."
You'll want to read Acts 20-28 for yourself (I'd encourage you to read it in "The Voice," the new translation of the New Testament published by Thomas Nelson). What is recorded there? It's the story of Paul as he leaves Ephesus and returns, after many years, to Jerusalem with a financial gift for the church there. Along the way he heard people were plotting against him. Many believers warned him not to go to Jerusalem, but he continued on his journey. Initially, he was well received by the church there (the first answer to prayer), but things turned against him quickly.
The story begins to read like a Grisham novel now. After Paul had been there a week or so, those who were plotting against him started a riot and tried to kill him in the confusion. Roman soldiers came to Paul's rescue and stopped the crowd from beating him. Paul is thrown into jail. He needed to be transported to another city far away to stand trial. Men take a vow to kill him while he's in transit. A boy overhears their plot, persuades the Romans the threat is genuine and under heavy Roman guard (about 200 soldiers!) Paul is taken to Caesarea. Answered prayer again as he is rescued from the unbelievers in Judea!
Before Paul is taken to Caesarea God assures him he will testify about him in Rome, the third thing Paul asked the believers to pray for. It doesn't happen quickly. Paul would stand trial several times more before various officials, a process that will take years, not days, before he was ensconced on a ship to sail for Rome. Strong winds, unabating storms and a hurricane force "northeaster" lead to a shipwreck. Again, God intervened several times to save his life. You'll want to read the story for yourself. It really is almost too good to be true, but true it is.
Finally, finally, Paul arrives in Rome where he is able to preach the gospel, meet with the church, and fulfill his mission. Answered prayer a third time!
Every time I wonder if it makes any difference when we pray, I remember this story and I am encouraged to keep on praying. I hope you are, too. Reflecting on the story, I also realize that while God will answer our prayers, those answers may be a while in coming. So I not only need to be positive as I pray, I need to be patient and persistent as well.
As you pray, pray for the churches of Union Baptist Association and the leadership of the UBA. We've got a big job to do as we try to strengthen churches and mobilize them to take on lostness.
As a quick-witted friend from seminary days said to me one time, we definitely need the prayers and you probably need the practice. (*smile*)