If we just stay away from sin and dedicate ourselves to doing good, can we not be good Christians, good neighbors? Do we really need to pray daily?
Agnes Sanford (1897-1982) was a woman who prayed a lot. She was the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary in China and the wife of an Episcopal priest. She spent a lifetime of ministry in praying for healing from the late 1940s through the 70s. Many Christians from a variety of Christian denominations learned to pray for healing from her books and teachings.
Agnes Sanford, in her last few years on earth in the 1970s, moved to San Francisco, California because of her sense that God wanted her to pray for the healing of nature. She bought a home at the heart of the San Andreas Fault, the earthquake zone, and prayed for it everyday.
She spent most of her time praying in her new home. She prayed in her room, prayed in the garden over her plants and flowers, and prayed for the weather. One day as she was walking in the neighborhood, she met some of her neighbors. One neighbor said, “Oh, so you are the new neighbor who moved into that house. We were wondering what you do. Are you a chemist or a scientist?”
She replied, “No, but why do you ask that?”
The neighbor said, “Oh, it’s because we notice some kind of glow forming over your house everyday at a certain time of the day. We thought you might be making some kind of laboratory experiments there.”
She thought about that and figured out that at the times that the neighbors had mentioned, she was taking her regular prayer time, which tended to last for some hours. But she was never aware of the glow that the neighbors spoke about.
When I read about this in one of her books, it inspired me to continue praying every day because it told me that something really spiritual happens when we pray.
“Come to me and
you will have life”
So, do we really have to pray? Why don’t we just avoid sin, dedicate ourselves to doing good and be content that we can count ourselves as good Christians? We can do all those good things, but those are not what God wants us to do first. He has another idea. He says: “Listen now, my people, and come to me; come to me and you will have life!” (Isaiah 55:3).
The first thing that God wants us to do is come to him. Coming to God means taking a time of prayer. That’s what it is all about. Prayer is time spent with God, being with him, conversing with him. It is a time of developing our personal relationship with him.
We see from the example of Agnes Sanford that something really spiritual happens when we have our private meeting with God. That’s what we call our personal prayer time. People may not experience the glow over our house or room, but we know that during our prayer times God is with us in a very personal way. It’s an important time for each of us. That’s why we as a Sword of the Spirit community have put that in our essentials of membership.
Prayer is God’s
invitation to be with him
Now, I ask you, why wouldn’t we want to spend time with God? It is God’s idea in the first place. It is his personal invitation. Let’s not miss those daily opportunities to be with God!
There is a very special reason why we have to seek our Lord in daily prayer. In Scripture, God says, “My thoughts are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours” (Isaiah 55:8-9). When we spend time with him, we grow in familiarity with his word, his thoughts, and his ways.
God wants us to learn his ways and his thoughts and he wants us to be familiar with his voice. Daily personal prayer time is the key to becoming accustomed to hearing the voice of God in our hearts.
Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States during its Civil War in the 1860s, must have been a prayerful man. He said, “I am satisfied that when the Almighty wants me to do or not to do a particular thing, he finds a way of letting me know. I talk to God and when I do my mind seems relieved and a way is suggested.”
God wants us to learn his thoughts and know his ways so that the good things we try to do everyday will be motivated, guided, and empowered by his Spirit. Many well-intentioned people are trying to do good to improve our world, but many of them get frustrated and discouraged. Others get burned out, and some start quarreling bitterly among themselves about how to do God’s work. So, don’t just go about trying to do good. Seek God first in daily prayer.
At the height of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines three and a half decades ago, many Catholic priests and nuns who were engaged in promoting social justice fled to the hills, took up arms and joined the rebels. Why? A study done during the post-Marcos era showed that these priests and nuns became bitter and angry at the sight of people suffering and dying at the hands of abusive military personnel and corrupt public officials. In deep frustration they stopped praying, lost hope, and turned to violence. We can’t give up prayer. It is our lifeline with God especially in our bleakest moments?
But do we have to have a personal prayer time? We already pray in our weekly men’s and women’s group meetings, community gatherings, and we also go to Sunday services in our respective churches.
Yes, even with all that we have to have our own personal prayer time. This is a personal time when we can come to God in an exclusive way and stay in God’s company for as long as we want. He desires that. It’s a very private conversation when God can speak as a Father to his son or daughter. We can speak to him of anything that’s in our hearts. We can confide in him the most private and most intimate issues in our lives. And this is also a time when we can grow in our Christian convictions and worldview.
Our daily personal prayer time is also a time of cleansing our minds and emotions, our goals and aspirations, so that they are right with God’s mind and heart. Sometimes, we can get burdened by cares and frustrations. Being faithful to our daily personal time is a good way to prevent us from being overwhelmed. When some brothers and sisters come to me burdened about a lot of things, I usually ask them, “How’s your prayer time?” Quite often their prayer life is not in order.
But we are all busy, working people, not like the priests and ministers who are dedicated to prayer and life in the church. What should we do?
Take the advice of the late Cardinal Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manila: When you foresee a very busy day, spend more time than normal praying at the beginning of the day. It sounds ironic or counter-productive to be spending more time praying when you need more time to work. But some people including myself have tried that advice and it works.
Don’t have time
You don’t have time? Sometime ago a very busy business executive told me how busy he was and how his daily schedule left him with no time for personal prayer. I believed him. I advised him to sit quietly and pray in a corner of his room for just 5 minutes before going to work everyday. He followed my advice and when he and I talked again after several months, he said that in the first week he struggled with doing 5 minutes of prayer every morning. Then he found 5 minutes too short and he had to take 15 minutes until his prayer time grew to 30 minutes each day. Where did he get that additional time? It looked like he gradually recognized the necessity of starting the day with prayer and soon he made the necessary adjustments in his daily schedule.
If you really don’t have time, try waking up earlier than usual. Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian author, advised in his book, The Normal Christian Worker, that normally it is reasonable to allow our bodies 8 hours of rest each day, but when the Lord’s interests require it, we may have to do with less. Try it. But if you have health issues, you should see your doctor first.
What if I have nothing to say to God during some days? Come to God anyway. He is delighted to be with us at all times. Another well known author on prayer, Basil Pennington, a Benedictine monk, writes: “A father is delighted when his little one, leaving off his toys and his friends, runs to him and climbs into his arms. As he holds his little one close to him, he cares little whether his child is looking around, his attention flitting from one thing to another, or if he is intent upon his father, or just settling down to sleep. Essentially the child is choosing to be with his father, confident of the love, the care, the security that is his in those arms. … [in prayer] essentially we are choosing to remain for this time intimately with our Father, giving ourselves to him, receiving his love and care, letting him enjoy us as he will. It is very simple prayer. It is very childlike prayer” (From Centering Prayer).
Pray as a disciple
Finally let’s take a quick look at prayer from the perspective of being a community of disciples on mission.
- Each time we do our personal prayer, we are being formed as disciples. The character of a Christian is being stamped in our hearts during our daily encounters with the Lord. Our goals and intentions eventually get purified, and our zeal for service increases.
- It is important to seek God before doing anything else. We seek God at every step, at the beginning and end of every project. We rely on the Lord for guidance, for empowerment, and for the ability to sustain our interest in God’s work.
- Prayer is part of our mission. God is looking for partners on this earth – those who are willing to work with God. He expressed his dismay this way in the book of the prophet Isaiah: “Appalled at seeing that there was no one to intervene, his own arm brought about the victory” (Isaiah 59: 16).
- Intercessory prayer is part of what God expects us to do. “Christ actually meant prayer to be the great power by which his church should do its work, and that the neglect of prayer is the great reason the church has no greater power over the masses in Christian and pagan countries.” (From The Ministry of Intercession by Andrew Murray.)
- Daily personal prayer is an essential part of being a member of the Sword of the Spirit. Considering the importance of our life and mission, it is essential to pray daily for at least 15 minutes, and find additional time for Scripture reading and study.
|Vic Gutierrez is one of the founding members of the 35-year old Ligaya ng Panginoon community in Manila, Philippines. He retired as its Senior Coordinator in 2004 and four years later, moved to Southern California, U. S.A. with his wife, Agnes. He is currently serving as a coordinator in the City on the Hill, a Filipino-American community of the Sword of the Spirit, which he helped to establish in 1993.|