The team I serve with is blessed by the presence of an 80-year-old saint. He has lived a full life, including serving in high levels of government, so he’s garnered significant insight and healthy scepticism. In the last few years, he says he has realized the power of the Holy Spirit and the centrality of prayer far too late in life.
Recently he celebrated a renewing wind that is blowing through his church and changing lives, something he and a small group of octogenarians have been consistently gathering to pray specifically toward for eight years! For a tenth of his life he has been petitioning God for this. I’m his team leader, but he’s leading me.
Is it a stretch to say that prayer is the missing component of the life of Christians and the churches they populate today? We spend enormous energy debating, writing—says the writer, arguing our positions and even petitioning our governments. But how much energy is spent petitioning heaven?
I am coming to this conviction that the North American church is essentially a prayer-devoid institution, and this is why we have ceased to be a powerful change agent. Before we balk at that statement, assess your response in proportion to the prayerfulness you have invested in the issues of the day, the state of your church, the welfare of your city and sideroad, or the well-being of your neighbour. It’s not that we’re not busy doing good things or have lots of intelligence, it’s that we pray token blessings over our good ideas, rather than see the kingdom birthed among us out of prayer.
Sin, in the New Testament, is “missing the mark.” It is to miss the standard of God. It is to see the bullseye and be incapable of hitting it. Hitting the mark requires the sight, steadiness and energy of God. In I Timothy 2, the church is exhorted as a first activity to entreaty, prayer and intercession for all people. In particular, those who govern and influence are to be prayerfully engaged. Anabaptists—at least in my experience—have embraced this call in light of the next words: “that we may live a tranquil and quiet life in godliness and dignity, which is pleasing to God” (I Timothy 2:2-3). Dangerously, this can become about our own comfort, selfishness masked as prayerful concern for those in authority. This misses the entire point of the call to prayer.
The work of prayerful intercession is to seek the bullseye of heaven on behalf of our world, and this is the work of all God’s people, not just a few die-hard prayer warriors. In intercession, we reorient ourselves around heaven and seek an intervention led by God in our time and place. And, ultimately, we are aiming for all people to experience the transforming peace of heaven—the will of our good God.
And what is the will of God? God’s target is for all “to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” that has come, and is coming, in Christ (I Timothy 2:4). This bullseye, this end of missing the mark, is what the church is to be praying for. This spiritual aim and intervention is our work. This is the target. This is the only hope for a tranquility and peace that is for all people—not just ourselves—for we are ultimately powerless to move the big stuff that is rooted in human hearts and cultures. To not engage this is to entirely miss the point of being the church in any age. So let us be truly honest: Are we missing the mark?
Phil Wagler keeps asking Jesus to teach him to pray on target. He and his family live in Surrey, B.C.