In Christian life and ministry it is important to recognize that strategic planning, giftedness, administration, preaching and vision-casting only go so far in bringing the change we desire to see. It is a theme that is found everywhere in the Bible that when God’s people or Jesus himself were seeking a certain outcome, they prayed. In the midst of our planning and strategizing, it is so important to remind ourselves and God through prayer that we really can’t do anything without His help.
Often we might wonder what difference prayer can make since God already knows and has determined what will happen in any particular case. Some people place such a huge emphasis on God’s power and sovereignty that they unconsciously think their praying will not make any difference. Their favourite mantra is that “…is is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). At the other extreme in this matter is that we think (quite unconsciously) so highly of ourselves and not of God that we think we have all the wisdom and resources needed to get a particular job done. We are “fix-it” people whose attitude is constantly, “just do it!” And because there are so many resources available to us, both technologically and materially, we quickly resort to these common resources to get the wisdom that we need.
It is important not to minimize the significance of the wonderful resources that God has given to us in order to be more effective in life and ministry. All praise be to God for gifts of wisdom, knowledge, leadership, administration — not to mention miraculous gifts of true healing and prophecy. It’s amazing to see what can be accomplished when the right gifts for ministry are assembled in a room to plan a way forward. But in the light of Scripture, all of this is of no avail without the preliminary and surrounding work of prayer. We need often to be reminded of Jesus’ words, “Without me, you can do nothing!” (John 15:5). So many times in the history of God’s people, He intervened and helped change an oppressive situation when His people waited in prayer upon Him. Just one classic example is the situation Jehoshaphat and his people were facing when the Moabites and Ammonites came to make war against them as recorded in 2 Chronicles 20. It says the people came from every town in Judah to seek help from the Lord. And of course, we know how these enemies of Israel were soundly defeated a day or so later in a place that came to be called, the valley of Beracah — which means praise!
As one who loves to think and plan, it is important for me to be reminded often of the importance of prayer in what can make the ultimate difference in our lives. Here is a key principle of transition work with churches. Churches can’t hope to make a good transition between pastors or to overcome crises unless they invoke the principle of prayer, and more specifically the God who seeks our deep expressions of dependence upon Him. That is why, one of the first things I try to do in a church that is going through transition is to call the people together for prayer. It is there in that place of prayer that we are able to hear one another’s heart’s desires for God’s work, and it is there that the Spirit groans within us (Romans 8:26) for the will of God to be realized.
Over the course of the summer I’ve been challenged to take the matter of prayer more seriously in my personal life as well as in our marriage and family. When we ourselves are stymied by life’s challenges, there is nothing like knowing we have this great resource called prayer in which to access the mighty power of God. I am convinced that prayer not only connects us with God in a very deep way, but actually changes the way things turn out in any given situation. How many churches, problems, personal situations remain unchanged simply because we do not lift our hearts to God in prayer?