Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why Would I Tell You That I’m on a Prayer Retreat?

This morning I headed out into the woods with my church directory and a fistful of prayer request cards and spent the morning praying for my flock. I walked about 4 miles praying for each family in the directory by name and focusing specifically on the requests that people had entrusted to me.

It’s a great privilege be a pastor, and I want to be a faithful one that prays for his people.

While I was walking, snapped this picture and posted it on Facebook:

And as I pressed “send,” I had the thought, “Why am I posting that? What is my goal for telling my Facebook friends that I’m prayer-walking?”

That’s an important question to ask about anything we post on social media. But it’s especially important because our Lord Jesus has warned us about putting our piety on display. There is danger in parading our prayer before others.

Bad Reason: To Impress You With My Godliness

If my chief goal in posting this picture was to make you think highly of me and impress you as “Mr. Godly Pastor,” then I have already gotten my reward.

Our Lord said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6, NIV1984).

To my shame, I admit there have been times when that’s been my motivation, and it’s a temptation still for me today. If I don’t have more secret prayer times than announced ones, then my prayer-walks are hypocritical, and I probably won’t have very many answers to prayer either.

At the same time, there are plenty of public prayers recorded in the Bible (Psalms!) and stories of people praying (the Gospels!) and even what they prayed for (see Galatians 1, Philippians 1, Colossians 1, Ephesians 1).  So, if your motives are right, it’s not necessarily wrong to announce that you’re going to pray or have prayed for someone.

Better Reason: #1. To Hold Myself Accountable

Now that I’ve told the world that I’m going to go into the woods and pray, I’ve put a lot more pressure on myself to really do it.  The truth is that I am tempted to be a “functional atheist,” who professes to trust in God but doesn’t live it out by entrusting my requests to Him.

It’s easy to make vague promises to pray sometime, so I’ve found it helpful to periodically make public promises to do so. I’m much more likely to keep them.

It’s kind of like when Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him to be bold: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20). I think that last part, “as I should” was a public reminder to himself of Paul’s duty. The pressure was on.

I’m glad I told people that I was going to pray, and that I could follow through publicly.

Better Reason #2: To Be an Example

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that Jesus went off to solitary places to pray. I’m sure there are many reasons why the evangelists let us in on that little detail–one primary one would be just to encourage us that God the Son needed and desired fellowship with His Father–but at least one  reason would be to give us an example to follow.

I don’t claim to be a perfect Christian (far from it), but I am endeavoring to be a mature Christian who can serve as an example for others to follow. The apostle Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

I know that people are watching what I do in public. How do I act and react at a football game? What do I post about on social media? What are the priorities that shape my life choices?  At times, that kind of scrutiny and fishbowl living can be stifling. But I try to turn it around and use it for discipleship. If folks are watching me, I’ll try to use my life as a teaching tool.

So, setting aside a morning for prayer? Not everyone can do it, but by doing it, I’m setting it out as a valuable thing.

Are you considering a prayer walk? It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t cost anything. Just head out with your heart turned towards the Lord and give Him your burdens. You can do it, too!

Better Reason #3: To Encourage You

It feels great to know that someone is praying for you. You don’t feel so alone. You don’t feel like your burdens are only your burdens.

I know that I’m encouraged when someone tells me that I’ve been on their mind and heart and even more when they tell me that they’ve been praying for me.

This Summer was really hard for me as I dealt with diverticulitis, a perforated colon, and then major surgery. One of the things that got me through it all was the prayers of God’s people.

Would they have been encouraging to me even if I didn’t know they were offered? Sure. But they were more encouraging because people told me that they had lifted me up to the throne of grace.

So, church family, I’m telling you today that I went into the woods to pray. I hope I did that, not to impress you, but to encourage you that you are loved and prayed for. No matter what your burden is, today I was casting it on the almighty shoulders of our Lord.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen, (1 Peter 5:6-11, NIV 1984)