Pray Pray Pray
Tempted to give up and get out, Timothy was instructed by Paul to "first of all ... pray - 1 Timothy 2:1:8. Prayer is one of three fundamental tasks that underlie all Christian ministry. Prayer together with the reading of the Scripture and the giving of spiritual direction are so crucial, so central, so integral to ministry that they determine and shape everything else you do as a Christian.
Prayer is a quiet activity. Because it is quiet, prayer does not call attention to itself (Matt. 6:6). In fact, it is unlikely that prayer will be a major area deacons, elders or mission boards will explore with a prospective candidate for some area of Christian ministry. Prayer will certainly not be the first item on their agenda. In ministry no one will tell at you if you do not pray. It is possible to satisfy the people who judge your competence and give you support without being skilled or diligent in the task of prayer. But prayer is our saviour from the busyness of spirit.
Henri Nouwen states: "Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs."
Prayer is a vigorous activity. Because prayer is a demanding activity if we give ourselves to it conscientiously and unpretentiously, it is easy to slight this central task of Christian life. It is all too easy to become more preoccupied with our image, our standing, and what people can measure. Yet, if we do not "first of all pray" we will be pseudo christians. We will be fakes.
In order to be experts and skilled craftsmen in prayer, we need tools for prayer.
The Psalms, hewn out of the rock of individual and corporate experience, have become the songs and sighs of God's people through the years. They are the "toolbox of prayer". The Psalms are the christian's resource in prayer.
The Psalms are the resource the Lord Jesus unashamedly used in His prayer life - Matthew 27:46.
The Apostles took up the words of the Psalms in their prayers - Acts 4:24-30. We too will find in the Psalms a means of utterance in our own spiritual pilgrimage. The Psalms show us how every human experience and emotion can be harnessed in prayer.
For example, Psalm 137 gives voice to the intense hatred towards the Babylonians felt by the prisoners of war in Babylon. This means that hatred, a potentially destructive force, becomes a first step in prayer, an anguished cry to God. Such Psalms teach us how to pray when we are seething with hatred.
The Psalms force us to be humble and honest in our praying. There is no pretence here. Instead, we have the first draft of the script. From harrowing experiences to the triumphal hallelujahs, the Psalms give us a facility and fluency in prayer. Do you ever feel that your prayers are superficial? The Psalms show us how to engage in meaningful conversation with God.
Eugene Peterson writes: "If we are wilfully ignorant of the Psalms we are not thereby excluded from praying, but we will have to hack our way through formidable country by trial and error and with inferior tools".
Prayer is a vital part of our arsenal (2 Cor 10:2-6). These words of Scripture become an anchor, giving stability (Ps 1:1-6). In His hour of crisis, abandoned and betrayed, feeling deserted by God, what does the Lord Jesus do? He takes up the words of Psalm 22 and begins to pray, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me". In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus echoes thoughts from Psalm 40.
We too will find our deepest concerns and longings being echoed in the words of the Psalmist. We may be the proverbial Humpty Dumpty that has just fallen off the wall (Ps 25:16-18) or we want direction (Ps 25:4-5). Perhaps our desire is to escape (Ps 55:6-8), or we long for the good old days (Ps 77:5-6, 3-4). Life may be overwhelming us (Ps 94:16-19), we are devastated (Ps 56:8-9), growing old (Ps 92:12-14; 71:17-18). As we read, reflect, and perhaps use these words in prayer, we will find that as our hearts resonate with the thoughts and experiences expressed, that our Saviour, the Lord Jesus, makes Himself known to us (Luke 24:25-27). Christian, do not neglect these resources, do not give up on the practice of prayer. "First of all ... pray."
Dr Keith Graham