About Me

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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Burden and Blessing of Prayer

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, ESV)

A few years ago, while working on my worship book, God laid on my heart the place of sorrow in worship. While working through the Psalms, I discovered that of all the forms of worship represented in the songs of Israel, the most common was the lament. When I considered this reality, as well as numerous New Testament passages that talked about the grief of the worshipper, and I compared it to what passes for worship in a lot of churches today, I had to ask, “Where is there room for sorrow?”* While more liturgical traditions have times for expressions of grief and sorrow, Free Church traditions rarely, if ever, do. Of course, a lot of this may take place in the Bible Study hour, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. But I believe that we send the wrong messages to people if we never make room for such expressions in corporate worship. So, what I began to do was to set aside time during our morning services, every once and a while, simply for prayer. I ask all members to pray silently where they are and I invite anybody present to come forward and share what is on their heart with me and then we pray together. This past Sunday was one of those days.

As we entered into the time, people came forward to pray. As we prayed, I was struck by the heavy burden that so many are carrying… sickness, financial problems, family struggles, spiritual issues, and so much more….living in a fallen world brings with it a lot of pain…even for (or perhaps especially for) Christians. After the time together, I returned to my seat. I was weeping. I was weeping for three reasons. I wept over the weight of what I had just experienced and I wept over the reality of how lightly I had often taken prayer. I regularly pray for members, for my own family, and for friends all over the world. But there are times when I just go through the motions; there are times when I forget promises to pray for someone; there are moments when I forget that what I am doing is bearing a brother or sister’s real burdens and taking to the throne of a mighty God, who alone can deal with the hurt.

But I was also weeping because of the awesome privilege that the time of prayer granted me. It is a privilege because of whom we are praying for. To count any person (sometimes otherwise strangers) as brothers and sisters is an amazing honor. It is a privilege because of what we are praying for. That someone else, anyone else, would entrust us with some of their deepest hurts and greatest needs communicates a closeness and a trust that should inspire and encourage. It is a privilege because of whom we are praying to. To be able to call the Creator of everything, “Abba; Father” and to enter into a conversation with Him with boldness is beyond description (Rom 8:15). The privilege of prayer allows us as limited, frail individuals to access the unlimited, robust God who invites us to lay our unbearable burdens upon Him and to let Him bear them for us (Matt 11:28).

Given prayer’s role as both responsibility and privilege, what can we do to more effectively pray for those around us?

~ Learn not to take any request lightly: Corrie Ten Boom once wrote, “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” I want to turn that around – any concern that is big enough to be a burden, is big enough to turn into a prayer. We need to remember this for ourselves and for those who bring us their concerns.

~ Pray at the moment of request: I learned a while back that unless I am absolutely pressed for time at that moment or if circumstances otherwise prevent it, to no longer simply say I will pray for someone when they give me a request. It is too easy to forget to pray and, even if you remember, the opportunity to express real concern and connection is lost.

~ Remember to have designated times of prayer on a regular basis: I wonder if part of our problem in remembering to pray for someone else is that we don’t have a regular time of prayer to begin with. Not only does making prayer a regular part of our lives strengthen our overall prayer life, it provides the trigger we need to remember those requests that have been given to us.

~Remember that praying is always tied to thanksgiving: Most laments in the OT move toward a resolution of thanksgiving – not necessarily because God has moved in the circumstance the way the person praying hoped He would, but because God is good and it is this recognition that moves us through any circumstance. When accompanied with thanksgiving, bearing the burden of another in prayer, becomes a restorative movement towards the greatness of God instead of a wearying exercise that leads us farther away from Him.

May God help us all to grow more passionate in prayer as we “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2, ESV)

*I have addressed this situation somewhat previously in this blog.

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