A THREE-LEGGED STOOL for EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER
In our busy and responsibility overwhelmed day and age going on a retreat for several days is often embraced. This year we aim to go on three PRAYER RETREATS inviting 12 people at a time to participate in a three-day (Friday early evening through to Sunday lunch time) non-agenda, multi-day community experience of Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, and worship-based prayer.
Such retreats can be personally transformational, collectively unifying, and missionally clarifying.
Three key ingredients or commitments are absolutely core to this experience. Commitments which the world, the flesh, and the devil oppose:
Without a resolute commitment of Time, Attention, and Community, our efforts to learn to pray in life-transforming ways will always fall short. You could call these elements the three legs of a stool, with the stool being an extraordinary life of prayer.
The Commitment of Time
In his classic book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders notes, “Mastering the art of prayer, like any other art, will take time, and the amount of time we allocate to it will be the true measure of our conception of its importance. To most, crowding duties are a reason for curtailing time spent in prayer.”
The New Testament model is compelling. Certainly, Jesus’ prayer life serves as an inspiration. We see Him committing forty days with the Father prior to beginning His ministry (Matthew 4:2), praying all night before choosing the disciples (Luke 6:12), often praying alone (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16) and with His disciples (Luke 11:1, 9:28). The early church was launched out of ten days of prayer, but too often we launch our day with less than ten minutes in communion with God. Paul noted at the outset of many of his letters that he (and his companions) prayed “always” for the churches.
If we are sincerely committed to make prayer important and influential in our lives, we must give concentrated and consistent time to this vital engagement with God. The prayer retreat experience can be powerful as we seek to devote three days out of our very busy schedules to make it a priority.
The Commitment of Attention
Someone once said that one of the things God asks for is our attention. But today, our prayer lives suffer from Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder. SADD indeed. In a world of sound bites, 30-second commercials, 15-second spots, and non-stop social media notifications, our brains are being remapped to expect rapid-fire stimulation. Extended times of intense concentration and focus are becoming an endangered species.
Today our time with God suffers from relentless exterior interruption and interior wandering. The resolve of David, “For God alone, my soul waits in silence” (Psalm 62:1), seems unattainable for our pressured and preoccupied souls.
What can make our days in prayer at the prayer retreat so rich will be the opportunity to shut down technology, slow our pace, detox our souls, and give God our extended and united attention.
The Commitment to Community
Corporate prayer is a wonderful reminder that transformation is not just something that occurs in private. It is also fuelled by praying in community with others.
The church was birthed in a ten-day prayer meeting (Acts 1:14, 2:1). They coped with crisis and persecution together on their knees (Acts 4:24-31). As the church grew, the apostles refused to become embroiled in administrative problems because of their resolute desire to model prayer in their leadership team (Acts 6:4). Through united prayer, they trusted God for miraculous, divine interventions in times of extreme trouble (Acts 12:5-12). They received ministry direction through intense seasons of worshipful prayer (Acts 13:1 & 2).
If you were then to ask, “Which is more important – private prayer or corporate prayer?” my answer will always be, “Yes!” It is like asking which leg is more crucial to walking. The right or the left?
In our society in general, we have come to believe that it is more important to pray alone than with others. This is a symptom of our basic view of society. In his book The Connecting Church, Randy Frazee describes our culture of “individualism”. He notes that we are no longer born into a culture of community but a “way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything.” Frazee documents this as a problem, especially for those born after World War II. He laments the impact on the church by observing that we have “all too often mirrored the culture by making Christianity an individual sport.”
Michael Griffiths reiterates this consideration when he writes, “In standard English, the second person singular ‘you’ and the second person plural ‘you’ are identical. Thus, New Testament Letters addressed to congregations are read (by us) as though they were addressed to the individuals. It is good and right that we should apply the Scriptures to ourselves personally, but it is unfortunate if we also apply the Scriptures individualistically and ignore the fact that the original intention was to instruct us not so much as individuals, but as whole communities of Christian people.”
In a fresh look at the model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Dr. Albert Mohler explains, “The word ‘our,’ at first glance, seems like an insignificant little pronoun. But Jesus is making a tremendously powerful theological point by beginning his prayer with the word ‘our.’ Jesus is reminding us that when we enter into a relationship with God we enter into a relationship with his people. When we are saved by Christ, we are saved into his body, the church.”
Mohler elaborates, “Do you notice what is stunningly absent? There is no first-person singular pronoun in the entire prayer! One of the besetting sins of evangelicalism is our obsession with individualism.” This obsession with individualism chronically besets us as evangelicals. The first-person singular pronoun reigns in our thinking. We tend to think about nearly everything (including the truths of God’s Word) only as they relate to me. This is why when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he emphasizes from the very outset that we are part of a corporate people called the church.”
Grace for All Three
Time, attention, and community are the three legs on the stool of a life engaged in Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer. I urge you to ask God for the grace to embed these commitments deeply in your daily and weekly routines. Before you know it, prayer will be more delight than duty. Discovery will trump drudgery. You will never be the same.
Adapted from an article by Daniel Henderson
PRAYER RETREAT PROGRAM
06:00pm – 06:30pm Arrival
07:00pm – 08:00pm Supper
08:00pm – 09:00pm Tea/Coffee & Orientation
05:00am – 06:30am Personal Prayer
07:00am – 08:00am Breakfast
08:00am – 09:00am Tea/Coffee & Orientation
09:00am – 11:30am Personal Prayer
12:00pm – 01:00pm Corporate Prayer
01:00pm – 02:00pm Lunch
02:00pm – 04:30pm Personal Prayer
05:00pm – 06:00pm Corporate Prayer
06:00pm – 07:00pm Supper
08:00pm – 09:00pm Tea/Coffee & Feedback
05:00am – 06:30am Personal Prayer
07:00am – 08:00am Light Breakfast
08:00am – 10:00am Corporate Prayer
10:00am – 11:00pm Brunch
11:00pm – 12:00pm Tea/Coffee & Feedback