This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.
What’s the first thing we give up when life gets busy? Time for ourselves. We can easily ignore our personal needs with fewer immediate repercussions than skipping commitments at work, church, in the community, and with family.
But I’m going to suggest there’s something that’s pushed aside even before our personal downtime. Take my life as an example. I juggle two paid jobs (a 60/40 split), which is nice in theory but anyone (and not just those in ministry) knows that those who do not punch a time clock don’t keep track of their hours. That’s just the first challenge. Within my congregational call I’m assigned as interim moderator at two congregations (one of which is a multi-staff mega church which recently endured a split) and I chair the committee which oversees my ministerial association’s summer Sunday evening worship. (I was enticed into the job because it involved high-level oversight and chairing a few meetings. That was fine for the first year until key volunteers left or aged out, no replacements could be found, and I was left doing almost everything. Thankfully, my colleagues heard my cry for help and much of the burden is being lifted.)
I’m not looking for a pity party. I know that this is just a season which will pass. The point is this: when there are conflicts to resolve and decisions to be made which affect other people, we put aside things “that don’t immediately matter”. That’s code for “what doesn’t affect other people”.
Are any of you sensing one big omission in all this? God. Not once did I mention my prayer life. I’m not talking about the obligatory prayers to open and close meetings and the silent (and sometimes verbal) prayers when you’re alone for a few minutes muttering under your breath or driving from one commitment to the next. No, I’m talking about the kind of prayer that involves carving (sometimes literally) space and time to be alone with our heavenly Father.
It’s the type of prayer that Jesus modelled for us. You know, when He retreated to be alone in a remote place. This wasn’t “getting away from it all” like going to a quiet place to escape the city and the demanding crowds in order to listen to the birds. Rather, it’s being still long enough to allow true communion with the all-knowing, omnipresent, all-powerful Creator. It’s about focusing on our triune God and allowing the Holy Spirit to give us the words. It’s about admitting all that and submitting to His power working through us, which can accomplish more than we can do or even imagine.
While I know that and agree to that without thinking, I don’t practice it much anymore.
I know I’m not alone. Ministers are under increasing pressure to be jacks-and-jills-of-all-trades in their volunteer-challenged congregations. An aging church yields fewer able helpers. Yet the show must go on.
I had the pleasure of five days off last week. My wife and I joined some friends at a Christian-operated lakeside resort. There was a nice dining room, wonderful daily teaching in the chapel by a gifted pastor and a golf course at our door. We enjoyed kayaking, hours of off-road cycling and daily morning runs. A sandy beach. Rest and rejuvenation for the body and soul. I even took a book or two and did some deep theological thinking – which is good for me because I don’t get the opportunity for that in the daily rigmarole. But something was missing. Wanna guess?
Dedicated prayer: the type in which everything stops and we are focused – either alone or in a group – on the only human activity that really matters. That’s what was missing.
It’s absent in our busyness and even in vacation mode because we are unable and unwilling to carve out the time. We need external discipline. In the same way we have school bells and start times, we need the same for prayer. We need a gentle push. We are sheep.
It’s one reason Renewal Fellowship has our 7:14 call to prayer. We pray 2 Chronicles 7:14 at 7:14 a.m. and p.m. daily. Some of us set our phone alarms to those times. It would have been really nice if that lakeside Christian resort – in addition to the 9:30 a.m. devotional time Monday to Friday (twice on Sunday) – had a daily 7 p.m. or 1 p.m. prayer gathering, a dedicated space and time, perhaps with a faithful prayer-kicker to start it off. Half hour, 45 minutes, whatever. But make it a routine. I, for one, need that. I would have been there.
The power of prayer goes without saying. Whether it’s alone in a private prayer closet or in a small group or in a stadium of 20,000 souls in prayerful silence – it’s the power of God at work.
It’s why Renewal Fellowship started dedicated prayer groups many years ago across this great land of ours. Like many initiatives, it’s dwindled and now boasts only two regular gatherings – in the Ottawa and Hamilton areas. The time has come to kick-start that ministry. With the Board’s blessing, I issued a call in my July 27 blog to establish new prayer groups and I received a very encouraging response: eight firm offers and three maybes from faithful prayer-ers. Wonderful.
The immediate need for prayer is the theological state of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, whose presbyteries are faced with a momentous decision in the months to come: whether to approve a proposed redefinition of marriage. The Renewal Board has taken the position that the changes are not based on sound theology. We are encouraging presbyters to say no.
I am in the midst of working with our current and budding prayer groups. The times and days and approach may be different in each one, but the focus will be on the renewal of the church, “leading ourselves and the PCC to authentic Biblical thinking, powerful, Spirit-led prayer and effective Gospel witness.” It’s our mission.
Which leads to a request. We know that personal encouragement is more effective than a phone conversation or a face on a computer screen, which is why Renewal is going to do its best to kick-start prayer groups in person. It’s a big country and travel comes at a cost. Yes, we have a small budget for travel, but it doesn’t begin to meet the needs. It’s never easy asking for financial assistance, but here goes: Would you prayerfully consider a donation of any amount to help us hit the road and meet face to face with our new prayer partners? Click here. In the comment or message section, please indicate “travel”.
I know that some of you are asking “why?” You believe the time for renewal has passed, the battle has been lost, and we’re better off charting a new course outside the confines of the PCC as we know it. That may be the case. But what is more true is that no matter what happens, we need prayer more than ever to pave the way. Is there a future for true believers in the PCC? Will we be able to practice the true faith in a sea of apostasy? And if not, how do we graciously carve out new prophetic territory to worship our unchanging God and follow His will rather than our own?
Prayer – dedicated, disciplined, and focused on seeking and knowing God’s true will in an unbelieving world – is so badly needed. Help us make it happen.