Some scatter-brained thoughts on prayer

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.

That quotation is from Robert Murray M’Cheyne. I heard it listening to a sermon last night from the undergraduate campus ministry we attended. (I like to listen in from time to time to see how they’re doing.)

To speak about us instead of Christ for a moment – if you’re like me, you would always give intellectual assent to the idea that prayer is effective, that it can make a difference, but the passion with which you feel that truth ebbs and flows. And, therefore, so does the amount of time you spend in prayer and how excited you feel to pray. After all, it sometimes feels, you should be out there actually doing stuff for people, not sitting “alone” praying!

But then, it seems like every two months or so, I’ll either read something or experience something that reminds me of the real power of prayer. Most recently it was an article in VOM‘s newsletter about an ethnic Malaysian and Christian named “Jon”. He was arrested at a home Bible study in that Islamic nation and taken to an “Islamic purification center”, where he was interrogated and beaten in an attempt to convert him to Islam. He says,

I told them, ‘Even if you chop my head right now, it’s okay. Go ahead – I have my God.’ They got so mad they started kicking me and beating me. But I didn’t feel any pain or humiliation. I believe the Lord came, and I could hear angels and the prayers of my Christian friends. When they stepped on me and kicked me, that’s when I felt the prayers, that’s when I felt the presence of God.

After a few days of torture, Jon was released, and is now free.

We had a sermon last December entitled “Abide and Obey“, and one of the purposes of that sermon was to encourage prayer. The sermon included a quotation from William Law’s book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life – a quotation was thought to be, in fact, ineffective at motivating prayer, but I have to share it because it is so… remarkable.

I take it for granted that every Christian that is in health is up early in the morning. For it is much more reasonable to suppose a person up early because he is a Christian, than because he is a laborer, or a tradesman, or a servant.

Let this, therefore, teach us to conceive how odious we must appear in the sight of Heaven, if we are in bed, shut up in sleep and darkness when we should be praising God; and are such slaves to drowsiness as to neglect our devotions.

For if he is to be blamed as a slothful drone, that rather chooses the lazy indulgence of sleep, than to perform his proper share of worldly business; how much more is he to be reproached, that would rather lie folded up in bed, than be raising his heart to God!

Sleep is such a dull, stupid state of existence, that even among mere animals, we despise them most which are most drowsy.

William Law learned how to motivate people during a brief stint as a drill sergeant, little known fact. But there is, of course, a positive reason to pray, a reason even better than “to help people” or “because it works” – to have communion with God whom we love. To have an enjoyable conversation with God just as we would with any friend. Also quoted in that sermon was Thomas Goodwin.

Mutual communion is the soul all true friendship; and a familiar converse with a friend hath the greatest sweetness in it. So besides the common tribute of daily worship you owe to God, take occasion to come into his presence on purpose to have communion with him. This is truly friendship, for friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits; and these, the more free and less occasioned by urgent business or solemnity, the more friendly they are. We use to check our friends with this upbraiding. ‘You always come when you have some business, but when will you come just to see me?’ When thou comest into his presence, be telling him still how well thou lovest him; labor to abound in expressions of that kind, that which there is nothing more then simply talking with the heart of any friend.

This part of the sermon starts at 18:58, if you’d like to listen in.

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