Pondering prayer is somewhat like looking through a periscope for one object in the vastness of the ocean. Numerous volumes about prayer flood the shelves of Christian bookstores and an avalanche of new releases on the subject from online sources can fill email inboxes. Yet, even with commentaries, multiple Bible translations, and all these resources, many still yearn for intimacy with the almighty God of the universe.
At its core, intimacy in prayer stems from listening for God’s voice and seeking his direction. Jesus said his sheep know and listen to his voice (John 10:4, 16) – a challenge in the midst of the ever-increasing volume of communication pressing in on our daily lives.
Nevertheless, this listening approach to prayer has been recurring in conversation with provincial MB leaders.
Prayer involves listening – highlighted in Matthew 17:5 through God’s command to hear Him (ESV) or listen to Him (NASB). As we read in 1 John 5:14–15, listening is essential to knowing the Father’s will as we pray: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (NASB).
Awakening to prayer
In the last year, church ministries director Ewald Unruh prompted an awakening about the necessity of both intimate and intercessory prayer. He verbalized a stirring to live out a more vibrant faith – we might call it a hunger for revival – and asked those with a gifting and calling to prayer to come together to focus on renewal, both personal and corporate. A small team began to explore how to mobilize pray-ers.
As the Winnipeg office contemplated a national prayer emphasis, through discussions with provincial leaders we learned of active prayer initiatives already in place. Atlantic Canada pastor and leader Paul Francis, Harvest Saskatchewan director Dwayne Barkman, and MBMSI (now MB Mission) leaders like Central Canada mobilizers Lloyd and Carol Letkeman, and MARK Centre director Steve Klassen have been practicing this intimate listening to God and training others in it.
We were encouraged and humbled to learn of the depth and dimension of prayer focus these and other groups are practicing as teams prepare for ministry. One example is a Saskatchewan team that conducts a prayer walk in a community prior to its hosting a ReFocusing event. Listening and looking, meditating on God’s Word, the members ask for and anticipate direction while being made aware of specific needs.
These leaders encouraged us to continue with a focus on prayer, and exhorted us to model it in the national office. Were we serious enough to follow through after introducing the idea in telephone conversations and mentioning it at a provincial conference?
Challenge to practice
At Celebration 2010 last July, our constituents challenged us on our practice of prayer. During a personal conversation, a delegate confronted members of the national team: “You say prayer is important but do you value prayer?” How were we actually demonstrating this value during the sessions? A huge gap existed between initiative and implementation, perhaps even between head and heart.
More might have been done to include seasons of prayer during the gathering or, more radically, some spontaneous prayer breaks during the sessions. But an encouraging shift occurred during the Friday night service as the event’s emcee injected a time of prayer, punctuating the evening with the practice of this value.
At present, we have no specific action steps, but are waiting for God’s timing. We’re encouraged by one provincial conference minister’s request to share prayer concerns with the national team, and by another provincial leader’s initiation of a monthly meeting to pray that God’s Holy Spirit would move in the church.
The Canadian conference is encouraging congregations to rediscover church as a vibrant, outreach-focused fellowship, like those we read about in the book of Acts, where the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was preceded by an emphasis on prayer (Luke 24, Acts 1).
In the vast ocean of prayer, we can focus our periscope on the passion of the early church. Jesus’ disciples asked two things: Lord, teach us to pray; Lord, increase our faith (Luke 11:1, 17:5). We share the same requests. Grant us the clarity to hear your voice, Lord Jesus, and submit to your will.
Let it be so Lord Jesus.