Say it with a prayer!

If we wish to minister with power, we must pray. But often we find prayer squeezed out of our lives by the multiplicity of duties that fill our days. The author suggests how prayer can begin again to surcharge our lives and empower our ministry.

Morris Chalfant is pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Norwood, Ohio.

 

When the telephone company tells us "Long distance is the next best thing to being there, " it is reminding us to communicate with someone we love. Hallmark offers its cards for those times "when you care enough to send the very best." It, too, is reminding us to communicate something to someone. The florist suggests, "Say it with flowers."

Why all this emphasis on communication? Because the producers of these goods and services have studied consumers enough to know that most of us do care about our friends, relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances. But they also know that we forget to communicate our feelings to each other. Their businesses depend on reminding us to communicate with their products.

Now, if you and I in the busyness of our lives need to be reminded at every turn to place telephone calls or to send greeting cards or flowers to people we know and have seen, how much more if we are honest do we need help in remembering to communicate with our Father in heaven whom we have not seen! Any relationship that suffers an extended lack of communication eventually becomes damaged or severed. Surely no one in the gospel ministry wants a damaged or severed relationship with God! Yet that is the course we are pursuing if we fail day after day and week upon week to communicate with God in a vital, personal way, sharing our thoughts with Him and listening as He imparts His wisdom and guidance to us. We may pause for a quick, "It's great to know You're up there somewhere, God. Get me through today, and I'll try for a longer talk tomorrow." But this is not real communication. Far too many of us, even among the clergy, tend to ignore the Holy Spirit's prompting His reminding—that we need to take the time to pray!

I hesitate to say it—even more to put it in print—but I believe, from experience as both an evangelist and a pastor, that prayerlessness is one of the greatest sins among God's people today. Not many of us are guilty of great willful transgressions against God, but many of us are guilty of the sin of prayerlessness.

Prayerlessness ties God's hands as well as our own. Electricity and water flow toward my home; but not a watt will brighten a lamp, not a drop will spill into my basin, until I turn on a switch or open a faucet. A law governs the distribution of these things into my home. Prayer is like that. No prayer, no power! I must ask in order to receive. James, the commonsense writer in the New Testament, said under inspiration, "Ye have not, because ye ask not" (James 4:2).

The Bible calls prayerlessness sin (see 1 Sam. 12:23). We usually call it neglect or apathy. Certainly it is one of those seldom-mentioned sins about which many Christians have little sense of conviction.

Perhaps we lack conviction regarding this sin because it is an omission rather than a commission, and we consider it less offensive to God than actual transgression. The Bible says, "Thou shalt not steal," but it also says, "Pray without ceasing." Both are direct commands of God. Are we justified in considering the violation of one less critical than the other?

Prayerlessness or a careless attitude toward prayer is an invitation to spiritual disaster. When the Bible tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17), it underscores the absolute necessity of prayer—not as a mere form or activity, but as a relationship. This is important, for it shapes our attitudes and responses in the matter of prayer.

Prayer is universal in some form to all religions. However, as a relationship, prayer finds its fulfillment only in the experience of one who has met Christ as Saviour and Lord. To the born-again Christian, prayer is more than petition. It is the force that maintains and nourishes his spiritual life.

Prayerlessness is a symptom of deeper spiritual maladies. It indicates a preoccupation with lesser things and a cooling of devotion. It is a display of self-sufficiency that says, in effect, "I do not need divine aid and fellowship."

Prayerlessness causes spiritual deficiency. We are told to ask, seek, and knock in order that we may have, but James tells us, "Ye have not, because ye ask not." How often we lack the spiritual benefits God longs to give us because we fail to pray!

Prayerlessness underlies our spiritual defeats. Had Peter obeyed the Lord to "watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation," surely his course (and the course of the church) would have been different.

Prayerlessness also brings untold loss to the work of God. It languishes and suffers. Yet He has plainly promised to bless and revive His people if they come to Him in humble repentance and prayer (see 2 Chron. 7:14). Behind every revival will be found agonizing prayer. Our greatest failures are prayer failures.

Resolving to be more faithful in prayer is not enough. We cannot overcome prayerlessness simply by struggling against it. It is a sin and must be dealt with as such. We must confess it to God, seek His forgiveness and cleansing, and appropriate His provision for victory. Often when we come to pray we feel the coldness of our hearts. We must confess this to Him and ask that His Spirit will lead in our praying. Then God will work in us a life of prayer that is pleasing to Him. But only by maintaining a close daily fellowship with Him can we have continued victory over the sin of prayerlessness.

One secret to victory in prayer is having a definite time each day to communicate with God. Put it on your agenda of daily activities. And give it the best time of the day. This is not easy, and only as you realize its true importance will you be willing to give it precedence over numerous pressing demands. Doubtless Daniel's great achievements in prayer came from deliberately setting apart time for prayer three times a day (see Daniel 6:10). Each person must find and use the schedule best suited to his own circumstances, but the main thing is to have definite times for prayer.

Scripture commands us to pray with out ceasing (see 1 Thess. 5:17). This does not mean, of course, that we should forsake daily tasks and remain constantly on our knees, but it does mean that we must be regular and systematic about praying. An attitude of prayerfulness in everything is imperative if we would practice the presence of God. Herein lies the secret of victory over prayerlessness.

How much do you pray? Do you excuse yourself with the stress and strain, the hustle and bustle, the multiplicity of things in your service for God? Does your prayer life consist of a whispered word morning and evening, or a thought lifted somewhere in the course of the day? Are you ignoring His direction to "come apart into a quiet place?" Regardless of how busy you may think you are, there is no substitute for the quiet place in your life—the quiet place with the door closed, the world shut out, the soul alone with Him. Whatever else must be excluded, make room for time apart with Him.

When Jonathan Edwards preached, men cried and clung to the columns of the church for fear they would slide into an eternity without God. This man was not a great preacher. He wore thick glasses, read most of his sermons, and had awkward gestures. What most do not know is that he often spent ten, twelve, sometimes fifteen and eighteen hours on his knees in prayer before he preached!

Edward Payson prayed until his knees wore grooves in the floor! Luther rose before 4:00 A.M. to pray. David Brainerd, the great missionary to the Indians, would prostrate himself in the snow and pray until the snow melted beneath him!

Let's be honest. Let's rebuild the damaged or severed lines of communication between ourselves and God. Ask Him to change your "attitude of prayerlessness" to a "habit of prayerfulness." You need not confess your sin of omission to anyone but Him. But if you are sincere, when the work is completed and the lines are repaired, a watching world—your world of family, friends, neighbors, and church members—will witness a transformation in your life that will testify to renewed communication between you and God.

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Morris Chalfant is pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Norwood, Ohio.

July 1984

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