Every last Friday of the month we meet to pray for our church, community, nation and world. Pastor Ian shares with us why we pray and encourages us to join in this elder-led prayer service.
Behavioural scientists have often demonstrated a curiosity about the personal benefits of prayer.
Clay Routledge is Professor of Psychology at the University of North Dakota. He is not a believer. He considers himself to be a 'compassionate atheist' and often watches Christian movies, “just to see what the arguments are for being religious.”
In 2014, Dr Routledge wrote an article for Psychology Today in which he outlined five scientifically supported outcomes of prayer. In his preface, he wrote that “our species has probably been praying for as long as we have been able to contemplate our existence. And…research suggests that prayer may be very beneficial.” He goes on to list five scientifically-supported outcomes of prayer:
- Prayer improves self-control.
- Prayer makes you nicer.
- Prayer makes you more forgiving.
- Prayer increases trust.
- Prayer offsets the negative health effects of stress.
From the Christian perspective, I agree that there are beneficial outcomes that Routledge (and science) can easily measure. I disagree however, that these outcomes come from the practice of prayer. The Bible reminds us that self-control comes from His spirit who lives in us (Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Timothy 1:7), not from prayer. If I am nice, if I am forgiving and full of trust, it is far more likely to come from the New Man growing in me than it is to come from the depraved and dying old man, who is nevertheless tenaciously engaged in the discipline of self-improvement through prayer. For the believer, prayer is not the thing that changes us; we pray because we have been changed!
Prayer Demonstrates our Need for Something More
When we bend the knee in prayer, we are confessing that what we need most in this life and the next cannot be achieved through our own efforts or merit. We are acknowledging that despite personal discipline, great effort and a pride that misinforms us, we are yet unable to add even one heartbeat to our lives. When we pray, we are recognising that our efforts are insufficient. We are confessing that God and He alone is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us!
Prayer Develops Intimacy
Intimate conversations create the soil from which relational stamina grows. It is true of our relationship with each other and it is true of our relationship with God. We often don’t think about it, but the bonds that keep families together even during the deepest of crises were formed over dinners when family members shared life and food together. When relationships are close, we don’t have to choose to be together, we long to be together. When relationships are close, family counsel means we get our strength, encouragement and wisdom from our family rather than from an outside counsellor. Intimate conversations do not feel like work because they flow out of personal devotion.
David had a personal counsellor. His name was Ahithophel (1 Chronicles 27:33). It is interesting to note, however, that nowhere in the Bible do we see David consulting Ahithophel. However, nine times in 1 and 2 Samuel, it says, “…David enquired of the Lord…” David’s life reflected a consistent pattern of seeking the Lord. He awoke, called out to the Lord and then he watched with intimate expectation (Psalm 5:3).
Prayer Draws us into God’s Confidence
In Exodus 33:11 we read, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” It is in the most intimate conversations that friends share 'confidential information'. Friends share things with friends that they do not share with others. This is why Jesus told His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15) Friends talk. Not because they need something, necessarily, but just because they enjoy one another. And in the process of enjoying one another… knowledge of each other blossoms.
When practised along with the reading of His word, prayer represents the natural daily rhythm of the most intimate relationship. A praying people lacks a daily sense of nagging anxiety because every day is filled with confidence that this day and every day is put in place by the One who knows and loves us best, and who orders all our days in ways that are consistent with our good and His glory.
On the last Friday of every month we meet in the Upper Room (Room 519) for Elder-Led Prayer. This is a special service in which we pray for our church, community, nation and world. We would love you to join us, and to make this a regular family priority each month. Our next Elder-Led Prayer service will be held next Friday on 26th January at 8pm.