What is prayer?
YESTERDAY WAS celebrated as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season when many Christians are given to fasting, prayer and repentance as one gives a concentrated look at the life, suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday occurs 40 days, not counting Sundays, before Easter.
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christians to make the sign of the cross. This ought to remind Christians that they are dust and to dust we shall return and in light of this reality one should repent of sins and engage in praying to God.
Prayer without works is dead
But what is prayer? Recently, Reverend Al Miller, pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle and director of the mentoring programme in the Office of the Prime Minister, in speaking to a gathering of men at breakfast at the Boulevard Baptist Church, expressed some thoughts on prayer. He claimed that prayer without works is dead. He stated that if prayer alone worked then nobody would have any problems. To prove his point he related the story of how Jesus acted in light of the storm when He was in the boat with His disciples. He humourously stated that some Christians would have called first for a prayer meeting before trying to calm the storm. He, therefore, told the men to pray and act in order to deal with the challenging problems facing Jamaica.
It is apparent that Al was right in highlighting the abuse of prayer. Some of us treat God like Santa Claus; giving him a wish list and a want list. Prayer is about desiring and discerning the will of God. It is not about our wants, our will and our way. It is that God's will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Our needs must take second place to God's desires. In prayer there is no room for selfishness. Our needs, even the genuine ones, must be secondary to God's will. Prayer ought to be God-centred.
I believe that too many prayers, including some at prayer breakfasts, are used as opportunities to tell God what we want and what we want God to do. In other words, we pray, to God saying "Lord silence the gun" when we ought to pray and say "Lord what will you have us to do to conquer the crime and violence and for Jamaica to experience peace and prosperity"?
Sometimes our prayers are selfish; to glorify self; to show our vocabulary and verbosity. Our prayers are loquacious, long and loud. In our public prayers we use foreign-sounding names and pray in unknown tongues with the intent to impress hearers.
Taking the Lord's name in vain
Recently, I was watching a Jamaican religious programme on TV in which the prophet was claiming healing for a young man who had visited his church. The prophet told the young man that one of his legs was shorter than the other (which is true for most people). The visitor did not say to the prophet that he wanted both legs to be the same length, nevertheless the prophet said, "I command this foot to grow in the name of Jesus" and then he told the young man and congregation to watch the shorter leg grow. I did not notice the growth but the prophet was claiming healing. The prophet was apparently taking the Lord's name in vain.
Prayer is seeking God's presence and desiring His power to do His will and to be His children.
Devon Dick is a pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church and author of 'Rebellion to Riot: the Church in Nation Building'. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org