In my denomination we have been spending a lot of time lately wondering about the future. We are in decline. We wonder about and search out church growth strategies. Sometimes we want to jump on the bandwagon of whatever innovations that seem to work in other congregations. And we forget the one necessary thing.
Those people who have been listening to my preaching the past few years will tell you that one thing I say over and over again is this: “It is not an accident that the Holy Spirit came when the church was in prayer.”
We read in Acts 2: 1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. (The Message)
This was the original model for church growth, and as we continue through Acts we keep reading that the believers met regularly for worship in the Temple, and then gathered in homes for prayer and the breaking of bread… and that God added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.
It really is that simple, and that profound. The problem is that we don’t feel comfortable engaging in prayer. We aren’t sure that we know how to pray. We are afraid that God won’t listen to our prayers. We don’t know how to begin.
The place to begin, is at the beginning. Pray. Just pray. Babies don’t sit down and worry that they don’t know how to talk to their parents. They simply try talking, one word at a time. Sometimes those words are so unclear that only the parents understand what they really are. But they are those first awkward attempts at speech, attempts which the parents encourage over and over again, until one day that baby is a fairly fluent toddler who talks non-stop.
That is how we learn to pray. By praying. I have been re-reading the book, “The only necessary thing” –a compilation on Henri Nouwen’s books on prayer. In the preface Wendy Wilson Greer writes, “On several occasions I asked Henri to recommend books on prayer to me…He always said emphatically, ‘You learn to pray by praying.'” Yet Greer was so grateful to have had Nouwen as a guide in her journey of learning to pray, and so after his death she compiled some of her favorite lessons on prayer gleaned from his books. Those lessons comprise the book, “The only necessary thing.”
This book begins at the beginning. Just pray.
Nouwen writes in “Prayer and Ministry”
The more we pray–in the sense of living a prayerful life–the more we desire to pray. If we live a prayerful life, then there is a growing desire to spend more time with God and God alone. It is always the opposite of what people think. It is not, “oh my life is prayer so I don’t have to say prayers.” Rather, the desire to pray and to spend time with God and God alone is always growing.
I have to say that since starting to blog about my own prayer journey, I have discovered that I think about God more often, I meditate on the spiritual dimension of events, I am more aware of my need to pray. Do I still have unsuccessful days. Of course. But the discipline of sharing my journey with you, has caused me to pray more which has caused me to desire to spend more time with God.
Prayer is the route of blessing, the source of strength and the beginning of passionate service. It begins in individuals and then flows into the congregations with whom they worship. My prayer for you is that you will enjoy prayers’ blessing, strength and passion, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.