Taking Prayer Seriously

 Posted by on 11 May 2007 at 7:12 am  Religion
May 112007

If you’re not of strong mind and body, you might wish to skip these May 3rd remarks by President Bush on our “National Day of Prayer”:

As Shirley mentioned, since the days of our founding, our nation has been called to prayer. That’s exactly what our first President did, George Washington. “It’s the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and to humbly implore his protection and favor.” It’s interesting that the first President said those words.

For two centuries, Americans have answered this call to prayer. We’re a prayerful nation. I believe that makes us a strong nation. Each day, millions of our citizens approach our Maker. We pray as congregations in churches and in synagogues, and mosques, and in temples. We welcome people of all faiths into the United States of America.

We pray as families, around the dinner table, and before we go to sleep. We pray alone in silence and solitude, withdrawing from the world to focus on the eternal, spending time in personal recollection with our Creator.

We pray for many reasons. First, we pray to give thanks for the blessings the Almighty has bestowed upon us. We pray to give thanks. We give thanks for our freedom. We give thanks for the brave men and women who risk their lives to defend it. We give thanks for our families who love and support us. We give thanks for our plenty. We give thanks for our nation.

Second, we pray for the strength to follow God’s will in our lives, and for forgiveness when we fail to do so. Through prayer, each of us is reminded that we are fallen creatures in need of mercy, and in seeking the mercy and compassion of a loving God, we grow in mercy and compassion ourselves.

We feel the tug at our souls to reach out to the poor, the elderly, the stranger in distress. And by answering this call to care for our brothers and sisters in need, our hearts grow larger and we enter into a deeper relationship with God.

Third, we pray to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in our lives and our complete dependence on Him. This is probably the toughest prayer of all, particularly for those of us in politics. In the humility of prayer we recognize the limits of human strength and human wisdom. We seek the strength and wisdom that comes from above. We ask for the grace to align our hearts with His, echoing the words of Scripture, “Not my will, but thine be done.” We ask the Almighty to remain near to us and guide us in all we do, and when He is near we are ready for all that may come to us.

Finally, we pray to offer petitions, because our Father in heaven knows our cares and our needs. We trust in the promise of a loving God: Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and ye shall find. Inspired by this confidence we pray that the Almighty will pour out His blessings on those we love. We ask His healing for those who suffer from illness, for those who struggle in life. We ask His comfort for the victims of tragedy, and that the injured may be healed and the fallen may find comfort in the arms of their Creator. We implore His protection for those who protect us here at home and in far away lands. We pray for the day when His peace will reign in every nation and in every land until the ends of the earth.

The greatest gift we can offer anyone is the gift of our prayers, because our prayers have power beyond our imagining. The English poet Tennyson wrote, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Prayer has the power to change lives and to change the course of history. So on this National Day of Prayer, let us seek the Almighty with confidence and trust, because our Eternal Father inclines his ear to the voice of his children, and answers our needs with love.

May God bless America. (Applause.)

Isn’t it comforting to know that the leader of our nation and of the free world is guided by thought-beams to and from his imaginary god? Seriously, I’m flabbergasted that modern people who drive cars, listen to iPods, and send e-mail actually take prayer seriously as a real means of changing the world. Yet it’s undeniable that they do.

Perhaps because my childhood was 99.9% devoid of religion, that was a fairly recent discovery for me. It wasn’t even a serious possibility to me until I read the booklet “30 Days Muslim Prayer Focus” last fall. (I acquired that when I attended Sunday services at the evangelical “Faith Bible Chapel” megachurch.) Each page of the book gives a few paragraphs of information on the religion of some country, with specific recommendations for prayers at the bottom. For example, the page on Syria recommends:

  • Pray for the publishing and distribution of relevant evangelistic materials, and for the provision of finances to fund these materials.
  • Pray for minority groups, such as the Alawites, Druze, Shiites, and Yazidis, to be reached with the Gospel.
  • Syria has been in an economic slump for about six years. Pray for the poor, that God would provide for their needs, and also open doors for them to hear the Good News.
  • There have been many reforms under the new President, Dr Bashar al-Assad. Pray that there would be further modernization and true religious freedom. (Currently, those who are born into Muslim families may not legally change their religion.)
  • Many churches are afraid of Muslim-background believers and do not want them to come into their churches, fearing that they are spies or that they want to marry a Christian girl. This is a difficult problem which does not have simple answers. The Apostle Paul had a somewhat similar experience (Acts 9:10-16). Pray for Muslims who trust Christ to be able to find fellowship with others of similar background within their cultural context.
  • There are few Muslim-background believers in Christ. Pray that each one could remain firmly in their cultural context, and would be used to win their friends and family.

The page for the Congo recommends:

  • Each January a large Pastors conference takes place in Kinshasa, the capital. Pray that the pastors will continue in the unity of Christ for the good of the country and outreach to the Muslims.
  • A constant prayer request from the Pastors conference is for Bibles! Pray that bible organizations would hear and that large shipments of French bibles would come to the Congo. Pray too that corrupt customs officials would allow the bibles into DRC without exacting any tolls or bribes.
  • The theft of resources continues, while Congo still lacks the infrastructure to provide its people with food, clean water, health care and education. Pastors desperately want to help practically as well.
  • In the Congo, rape is a cheaper weapon of war than bullets, also among Muslims. Pray that young women will not associate this horror with “Christian” Rebels.
  • Church radio networks are growing, but the state-controlled broadcasting network has the greatest reach. Pray that church radio would increase without denominational competition and that state broadcasting would use Christian content.

These prayers are thoroughly religious. The sole overarching goal is to win more converts for Christ, not to solve any real-life, this-worldly problems, not even serious ones like repression, rape, and corruption. In other words, these prayers are not like those of a desperate kid who wants to do well on an upcoming exam or a distraught wife of a soldier who wants her husband to come home safely. These prayers are serious devotions to Christ, performed with full belief in their power to physically change the world, with the sole aim of winning more devoted converts to Christianity. In the modern age, that’s damn scary.

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