Committed to Prayer

Alec Hill
November 13, 2002

“The capacity to pray passionately is born in solitude and nurtured in community.” – Tim Dearborn, Dean of the Chapel, Seattle Pacific University

InterVarsity's Core Commitment #3 Prayer: “We express our faith, love and dependence on God through lives of prayer and worship.”

When I first became a Christian, I had the habit of talking out loud with the Lord anywhere and everywhere – in the car, on walks and in school hallways. Perhaps the most memorable dialogue occurred one day in a public restroom. Seeing no legs under any of the stalls, I launched into a free-flowing conversation. Not too long after, I heard a toilet flush. As a man left his stall, he apparently expected to see more than one other person in the room. Realizing that no one else was present, he gave me a look that I will never forget.

Prayer is a precious gift

As sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, we are privileged to enjoy such child-like divine-human communication. For many in our world, however, this closeness seems unobtainable. A few years ago, while I was still a professor, Mary and I hosted a weekly Bible study in our home. When I mentioned that I spent time each morning in warm conversation with the Lord, one of the participants—a Cambodian-American graduate student—stated with moist eyes, “I’ve burned candles in the [Buddhist] temple many times but have never felt God’s presence.”

Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to converse with the sovereign Lord of the universe, one who is infinite yet personal, all powerful yet tender, transcendent yet imminent. We are able to go to Him, not because of any merit of our own, but because we are invited to do so.

InterVarsity prizes prayer. I read examples of zeal for prayer in reports from all over the country. Last year, for example, nearly 60 students at the University of Florida committed to praying for forty days and to engage in a two-day fast. Similarly, staff at the University of Vermont covenanted to pray with each other three nights a week. At the University of Oregon, staff members John and Mia Kubu observed:

Prayer works! This quarter we started a daily prayer meeting. People share breathtaking stories of non-Christians actually saying Yes to studying Scripture with them.… People show up to pray; God moves and we share fun stories–and the cycle repeats itself over and over again.

Prayer is a serious discipline

When Henri Nouwen asked Mother Teresa for spiritual advice, she responded, “Spend an hour a day in contemplative prayer and commit no conscious sins.” In a similar vein, Dietrich Bonhoeffer told German seminarians, “The prayer of the morning will determine the day. Wasted time, temptations, listlessness in our work, indiscipline in our thinking very frequently have their cause in neglect of the morning prayer.”

Is it any coincidence that great church leaders had deep lives of prayer? Martin Luther and John Wesley prayed for hours each day. John Hyde, a missionary to India, prayed so often that he became known as “praying Hyde.”

Prayer is about listening to God

I must confess that such examples leave me feeling grossly inadequate. I am not nearly so faithful. I tend to talk too much, listen too little. I get restless and impatient for action. I want to tell God some things and then get going. But that not only misses half of the value of prayer, it also affronts God’s purposes in my life. “The problem with describing prayer as speaking to God,” Richard Foster notes, “is that it implies that we are still in control. But in listening, we let go.” I have to keep learning to keep prayer a conversation.

Earlier this year, one of InterVarsity’s early staff member, Rosiland Rinker, passed away. Her book, Prayer: Conversing with God, was an evangelical best-seller and awakened a whole generation of believers to the importance of relational communication with God. We do well to build upon such a legacy. Roz would no doubt applaud our third Core Commitment: “we express our faith, love and dependence on God through lives of prayer and worship.”