"There's nothing we can do but pray."
I have heard people say that when a loved one is sick and not likely to recover. I have heard people say that when they are at the end of their options in some other situation, and are reduced to no alternative but prayer. And I've heard a few dear ones say this with a different meaning: that the starting place in such an important situation is prayer.
As I have written in earlier posts, my mother has lived a life of prayer, and taught us to pray in real ways as we grew up. She has always approached prayer as the starting point for all worthwhile projects and concerns, and has strong arms and great passion for action that grows out of her times of prayer. Through her I have come to know that we can converse with God and that He does respond in real ways to us. She taught me through her example and through active instruction, and I am deeply blessed.
As an adult, I have experienced solitary prayer, group prayer, intercessory prayer, repentant prayer, desperate prayer, and rejoicing prayer. I have learned that God does indeed do in response to prayer what He would not do otherwise, and I still marvel at that truth. Why would He care to have me participate in the story like that? And I have learned that there is huge power and authority in corporate prayer -- that is, in the united prayer of a group that is interceding for God to reveal His will and to accomplish His will in them and through them, and just as powerfully in the united prayer of a group that is asking God in faith to change some circumstance or situation.
It is one thing to affirm the above as a "statement of faith", and it is a wholly different thing to know it by repeated experience. When I am still just affirming the truth of the power of prayer, I have to exercise discipline to be faithful in prayer and to take the time to participate in corporate prayer. When I have accummulated enough personal experience that my very core knows that I have God's ear and that He responds to my requests by doing things differently than He would do them if I didn't talk to Him about them, no discipline in prayer is required! And when I have felt the power of the Holy Spirit as I pray in the midst of a faithful group, and then have seen repeated the amazing answers to prayer that God brings in response to the prayers of that kind of group, the choice to participate in a praying group or to use my time "more productively" just isn't a choice.
St. Andrew's has people who know that power that I know, and for whom it is not a choice to pray or not. They are the people in our church that I respect most deeply, and I know that they actually have far more influence over our lives together than do the handful who are "powerful" but who show their real beliefs and values by the choices they make in front of us over time. That handful do not know what they are missing, and have my prayers that their ways of managing their time and influence (that have worked well enough for them so that they are still able to prioritize prayer as less important than some other things) will stop working for them, so that they get to experience the joy of knowing Him as fully as they might through a shifting of their starting point.
Those who really pray never just pray. Through prayer, God also changes them and empowers them, and uses them to address the situations for which they are praying. And action that grows out of prayer is the only lasting effective effort any of us can make. All other effort is the effort of the "religious" who think they can create a good world around them by using God as their tool for their purposes.
"There is a way that seems right to a man, and the end thereof is death" plays out most dramatically in the lives of those in religious cliques who are working together to bring about that little world around them that they together find comfortable. Corporate evil thrives in the self-congratulatory institutions of "good" like hospitals and churches and schools.
As we see instances of people or groups protecting their own control and comfort at the expense of the safety and life and peace of others, our first response must not be to try to fix it, or to confront it. Our first response must be prayer. Our second response must be obedience to the ways in prayer God leads us to minister His love as His grace and truth. When we are faithful in both of these responses, God shows His Kingdom and we live in it, here and now.
Have you tasted enough of the power of group prayer that your life is full of times of such prayer, and you choose it over many other options?
Have you tasted enough of the wonder and intimacy and response of the Living God to your private times of prayer with Him that such time is your first choice when you can choose what to do next?
If not, you don't know what you are missing, and I hope you will be so spurred by what you see in scripture and in history and in the stories of others and in my life that you will be motivated to choose prayer as your starting point in everything you do, and only do anything else as it grows out of prayer.
No, actually, I don't hope that. I have a responsibility to pray for that, and I will.