Yesterday I quoted D.A. Carson’s concern – two decades ago – that Western Christianity’s most urgent need is to know God. Today I pick up the quote a couple sentences later, as Carson grounds this concern by highlighting where it is that we have chiefly gone astray from our pursuit of God as a Church.
One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer – spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer. Writing a century and a half ago, Robert Murray M’Cheyne declared, ‘What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.’ But we have ignored this truism. We have learned to organize, build institutions, publish books, insert ourselves into the media, develop evangelistic strategies, and administer discipleship programs, but have forgotten how to pray.
Most pastors testify to the decline in personal, family, and corporate prayer across the nation. Even the recently organized ‘concerts of prayer’ are fairly discouraging from an historical perspective: some of them, at least, are so blatantly manipulative that they are light-years away from prayer meetings in parts of the world that have tasted a breath of heaven-sent revival. Moreover, it is far from clear that they are changing the prayer habits of our churches, or the private discipline of significant numbers of believers…
But we may probe more deeply. Where is our delight in praying? Where is our sense that we are meeting with the living God, that we are doing business with God, that we are interceding with genuine unction before the throne of grace? When was the last time we came away from a period of intercession feeling that, like Jacob or Moses, we had prevailed with God? How much of our praying is largely formulaic, liberally larded with clichés that remind us, uncomfortably, of the hypocrites Jesus excoriated?
I do not write these things to manipulate you or to be engendering guilty feelings. But what shall we do? Have not many of us tried at one point or another to improve our praying, and floundering so badly that we are more discouraged than we ever were? Do you not sense, with me, the severity of the problem? Granted that most of us know some individuals who are remarkable prayer warriors, is it not nevertheless true that by and large we are better at organizing than agonizing? Better at administering than interceding? Better at fellowship than fasting? Better at entertaining that worship? Better at theological articulation than spiritual adoration? Better – God help us! – at preaching than at praying?
What is wrong? Is not this sad state of affairs some sort of index of our knowledge of God? Shall we not agree with J.I. Packer when he writes, ‘I believe that prayer is that measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face’? Can we profitably meet the other challenges that confront the Western church if prayer is ignored as much as it has been? – D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers, pp. 16-17
“Men of God are sure to be men of prayer.” – Charles Spurgeon