Thursday, January 15, 2009

Amateurs at Prayer

I don’t know about you, but I constantly feel like an amateur when it comes to prayer.  I do pray – for you, for the church, for myself, for the world.  My prayers are not always smooth or eloquent or even consistent.  Sometimes, I get distracted.  Sometimes I get bored.  Often, I’m simply at a loss for words.  I know people often consider pastors professionals when it comes to the spiritual, but truth be told, I’m no professional prayer.  Maybe, that’s not a bad thing. In the book of James, the apostle presents Elijah as an example of prayer, not because he had some supernatural gift of intercession, but precisely because he “was a man just like us.”  He could get frustrated, tired, doubtful, just read his story a little later on in 1 Kings 17 and 18.  Clearly, the man had his ups and downs.  And yet, he was a man whose prayers changed the world.

In our slick, glossy, overly marketed world we’ve been taught to think poorly of amateurs.  Nobody wants to do an amateur job at anything, we think.  But the word amateur comes from the verb to love and means “for the love of it.”  Being an amateur means doing something for the sheer love of it.  Amateur athletes play the game not for a paycheck but because they love the game.  So too, we amateur prayers.  We pray for the love of it, or more specifically, for the love of the one who first loved us.  We pray because we serve a God who makes himself known in the depths of our troubles and the heights of our joys.  We pray, because we serve a God who heals our broken bodies and makes whole our broken souls.

We could (and often do) wish prayer was easier, like so many of the sermons and books and talks make it out to be: a method, a formula, a magic incantation.  But prayer, biblical prayer, is not magic and there’s no set method.  It’s communication.  It’s a relationship with the God who is able.  So pray when you can, and where you can, and how you can.  Mess up and make mistakes.  Be an amateur like Elijah and pray for the love of it that the world might be changed (and you right along with it!).

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. – James 5:13-16

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