It looked like I was going to fall flat on my face, embarrassed before my pastor and church leaders who had invested hope and confidence in me. Humiliated before the faithful few who were depending on me. They counted on me to build a new Sunday school class into an environment where we could grow together, welcome newcomers to our church, and learn to better serve the Lord.
I thought I was up for it. I worked hard. I visited and welcomed newcomers to the community. I spent long hours preparing meaningful lessons. It was a season of challenge, a time of grand opportunity. But it quickly plunged into a season of frustration, humiliation, and embarrassment.
Week after week passed, and our attendance hovered around 5-6. I was at wit’s end. Then something – the Holy Spirit, I later understood – prompted my heart to think, Maybe I should pray about this.
And I began to pray. Daily I prayed for the faithful few, name by name. I prayed for the prospects, name by name, for those I’d met and those I had not. I prayed for our hearts to be humble and sensitive to God’s direction, for our classroom to be a haven for the weary and the hurting, the hopeless and the hopeful, the solid and the seeking.
Hallelujah! Almost immediately, change was in the air. Attendance began to grow steadily, and relationships flourished. Our little band had soon grown to almost 20. Furthermore, it seemed that desire for a deeper walk with Christ became a personal goal of everyone in the class. Prayer was the turning point.
But alas, that was then. This is now. Hearing a lot of talk about National Day of Prayer this week, I’ve realized that my prayer discipline has fallen short lately. Seeking to revitalize and rebuild it, I’ve been encouraged by a few solid principles found in the words of Francis Asbury (1745-1816).
Principle #1: Purpose to pray
“[I]t is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works” (Psalm 73:28, NKJV).
The Englishman Asbury spent 45 years as a missionary/minister in colonial and early America, traveling an estimated 300,000 miles on horseback or in carriages.
He once wrote, “I purposed in my own mind to spend ten minutes out of every hour, when awake, in the duty of prayer.” Those probing words stir my heart as I reflect on that challenging season when I came to the end of my rope spiritually, when, quite suddenly, it occurred to me, Maybe I should pray about this. I’m there again, confessing my need for a revival of prayer in my daily practice of faith.
Principle #2: Practice of love
“Direct my steps by Your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me” (Psalm 119:133, NKJV).
Asbury once prayed this prayer: “May the Lord direct me how to act, so as to keep myself always in the love of God.” Nothing is more critical for the body of Christ than to reflect the love of God.
A recent dialogue with a young brother in the faith has reminded me that too often in the body of Christ, diversity and differing opinions on how to deal with cultural issues may lead to disunity, especially when one side confronts or criticizes the other in public forums. The goal of oneness is shattered, allowing the world to question the reality and depth of the love we should present to the world.
A faithful prayer life can help me – and you, I believe – maintain a connection to the love God pours into our lives so that we may demonstrate that love to those around us. Being purveyors of both truth and grace can, indeed, be a daunting challenge. But it’s a tightrope we must learn to walk if we are to safeguard our witness.
Principle # 3: Place of faith
“[L]et us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22, NKJV).
I am humbled and encouraged by Asbury’s declaration that “we live by faith in a prayer-hearing, soul-converting, soul-sanctifying, soul-restoring, soul-comforting God.” Once I have confessed faith in Christ, repented of my sins, and committed to walk with Him, it is incumbent upon me to immerse myself in His Word and to fellowship regularly with fellow Christ-followers.
Prayer is the means He provides for us to have true fellowship with Him. And that God-to-human relationship becomes the very thing that binds us to the body of Christ, one believer to another.
The prayers of the faithful are the key that, if well used, can unleash the love of God and the power of His salvation to sweep the earth. When the body of Christ becomes fully engaged and committed to prayer, we’d better look out. We may be overwhelmed by a sea of change in our churches, our neighborhoods, our nation, our world.
Maybe we should pray about that on this National Day of Prayer – and every day.
Editor’s Note: AFA is joining the National Day of Prayer Task Force for the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer this Thursday, May 5, 2016. Click here to find an event in your area and to learn more about National Day of Prayer.