My grandmother prayed as a warrior. In the truest sense. She never “sent up a little prayer”. Never “talked with the Big Man upstairs”. In my favorite vernacular, my Grandma Taylor “Got After It” when it came to praying. No small prayers.
I fear the American evangelical church has drowsily fallen into a prayer nap. Our prayers are so small, so centered on ourselves, that we have become bored with our own offerings. The effect of these “little prayers” has arrived at our altars – with silence from both heaven and our pews. When we pray with little substance or simply quit praying altogether because we are bored, the silence rings in our church ears like a bad case of tinnitus. It’s deafening.
That was me. Bored. Fruitless in prayer. Fruitless in witnessing. Living on stored up manna from days gone by. Then the Apostle Paul rocked my world like an unexpected Oklahoma earthquake that everyone has to post about on social media.
I first saw it – felt it – in Romans 10:1-2 “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Paul’s prayer life didn’t sound “bored” to me. His heart was in it. He wasn’t “sending one up” on behalf of some folks he cared about. He was burdened. Passionate. This “heart’s desire” sounded more like a plea for someone’s life than a quick mention of their salvation like “by the way God, save Johnny. Amen.” Not even close. Romans 9:2-3 pulls the curtain back further to reveal the embers of the apostles heart that erupt into a prayer fire – “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” His heart’s desire! I’d say so! Sounds like he is about to die! How did this happen?
As I started reading back through Romans, it struck me. Romans is applied theology. A theology of salvation. Of knowing the greatness of God in His provision of salvation through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Paul was on fire to pray for lost Israel because he had been thinking (writing) about all the HUGE aspects of salvation from a theological perspective. Not centered on man, or me, or the church or church growth strategies. Paul’s “heart’s desire and prayer to God” was HUGE because it was theological. His focus upon God fueled the fire of his prayer. Prayer was his theology ablaze in communion with God. He understood how utterly cut-off from God the people of Israel were because of sin. He knew that the consequences of sin were real and deadly. On this side of Damascus, Paul could see that Israel had failed to grasp the meaning of the sacrifice, the temple, and Messiah. And while sinners persist in their sin, even as enemies of God, only God could do something about it. And He did. It all had pointed to Jesus Christ. The Crucified and Resurrected Christ changed everything for Paul.
And Romans has changed everything for me.
My praying grandmother believed God for my salvation. She didn’t encourage me to change my behavior because she knew I couldn’t. So Grandma Taylor prayed theologically. Like Paul. I remember her taking me by the shoulders and praying out loud that I would be saved. I don’t remember the prayer exactly, but I know it was about my sin and hell and God’s love in Christ. She prayed that God would open my eyes so I would believe and confess. And she prayed all this while shaking my shoulders in rhythm with her prayer. “DEAR…LAWD…JESUS. OPEN HIS EYES TO SEE…” You know the idea. No small prayers. Because she prayed theologically. Scripturally. Those are the only big prayers because they are about and to God. Not about puny people.
God has developed in me a burning desire to see the lost saved. It was developed as I saw Paul’s prayer. But the fire has been stoked by seeing WHY Paul had such a desire. I pray he will set the church on fire to see the lost saved. Wake us up Lord and let us pray deep theological, Scripturally based prayers for the lost.
Next post…How the Romans Road changed the way I pray.