Prayer is a wonderful thing. It is at once the simplest and most profound of all spiritual activities. Simple words like ‘Thank you,’ ‘Sorry’ and ‘Please’ enable even pre-school children to pray from the heart, and yet there are riches and depths of prayers still to discover for those who have walked with God for decades.
I’ve been following Jesus for just over 30 years, and looking back I realise that I have prayed more with each passing year, and that my praying has expanded in numerous ways. Even compared to a year ago, I now pray with more trust in my heavenly Father, with greater expectation of seeing “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13), with more trembling vulnerability, and with a deeper desire for the Giver more than His gifts.
And yet, more than ever, I also find myself echoing the words of the Lord’s first disciples, “Teach us to pray!”
It is rightly said that every answer to a question is the father of a whole new family of questions. So too, every answered prayer inspires not just more praying, but new adventures in prayer, as it emboldens us to give voice to more tender yearnings and more audacious dreams.
I have found that the best way to learn to pray is to set aside time to have a go at praying! More is learnt by persevering in ‘having a go’ than by a wealth of books and seminars. Prayer is not like quantum physics, which students understand most clearly in the few moments after reading their textbook, before the forces of normal everyday life distract them to other matters. Prayer is a life-skill that becomes stronger with every occasion of exercising it.
Do you want your prayers to agitate the heavens, with signs and wonders following? Do you wonder what it’s like to “pray in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18), when the words that you offer to God are words that he has given you, in which you are brought within the fellowship of the Spirit with the Father and the Son?
Now, the following truth is an awkward one for a pastor to confess, but – though I have sometimes wanted and wondered those things about prayer – nine tenths of my good intentions have come to nothing, as I’ve done nothing with them. Almost all of my learning to pray, in those blessed moments when I have ‘had a go’ at more adventurous prayers, has taken place when meeting together with sisters and brothers in Christ, each spurring the other on.
- I remember praying with two friends in 1997 like it was yesterday, when I asked God to develop my spiritual life – and was answered with a touch from heaven that so stilled my mind and soul that I could not speak properly for several days. And the memory of that prayer meeting remains with me today as a check on my ego and a compass guiding me towards the presence of God.
- I remember the first time I prayed with someone for their healing, in a prayer meeting at school, and feeling the swelling in their knee go down under my hand.
- I remember a Tuesday morning prayer meeting, when I felt a song in another tongue rising unbidden inside me, and an older brother sidled up to me and said, ‘God’s given you a song hasn’t he? Now is the right moment to share it!’ And I did, and it led to a time of communal prayer that shifted spiritual realities. And more recently I’ve found God revealing things to me in prayer meetings that enable me to play the part of that older brother, and so to see others set free to pray in the Spirit.
- I remember another Tuesday morning, one of intense prayer for financial provision, which was answered the next day by a cheque for £790,000.
- I remember turning up to an early morning prayer meeting for a church plant. It was at the pastor’s house and no one else had remembered to turn up, not even the pastor! But my turning up encouraged his wife that God was with them, and that morning she became the first person to prophesy that I would one day be called to become a preacher to many people.
I hope that all of this explains why it is the habit of our church to gather for prayer.
In particular, we have a week of prayer every other month. The next one will be Monday 24th to Friday 28th September, and there will be three kinds of prayer time:
- Morning prayer, 7-8am: I will be at the Kings Centre each weekday morning, and invite you to join me in starting each day in prayer, as we pray through some of the New Testament’s ‘apostolic prayers’
- Evenings in Oxford, led by different communities within OCC:
- Tuesday 25th at The King’s Centre
- Wednesday 26th at Tyndale Community School
- Thursday 27th at The King’s Centre
- Friday evening in London: In order to expand our prayer horizons, we will be attending an African prayer concert in West London. It may go on through the night, but with a number of cars going, we expect people to be returning home at various different times! (More details to follow)