Series Theme: Looking at Prayer Afresh
Phase Two : Thinking into the Issues
Title: 4. Corporate Listening Praying
(A cry for Spirit-led corporate prayer that is freed from unbelieving ritual)
Warning! You may look at the contents and be tempted to jump to the end part. Please overcome that temptation because your faith will be built to accept and understand that last part, I believe, when you work through the earlier parts. Please pray for grace and understanding and then start reading.
In the first page in this series – the Introduction – I expressed my concern over shopping list prayer meetings and prayer meetings that deal in a surface manner with the subjects for pray and aren't concerned about answers to prayer. In this page I will not deal with the question of ‘shopping lists' but consider a form of prayer that listens to God and then responds to God and is able to look with integrity at what God did afterwards. In the first page I used an illustration and I would like to use that as the basis for this alternative approach, so may I reiterate what took place:
Alan, (an imaginary Christian) comes to the weekly church prayer meeting and shares about the difficulties he is having at work. There are several issues:
Alan asks the group to pray. Very well, let's see how this different church responds.
2. An Alternative Approach and Outcome
As they start to pray and thank the Lord that He is in charge of our lives, one person stops the group praying.
“Alan,” she starts, “just as we started praying, I had this picture of your young member of staff and they were in their home, sitting with their head in their hands, crying. I believe the Lord wants you to reach into his life and help him.”
The prayer group leader joined in. “That's great. One thing I noticed about life in the Old Testament, was that they sought the Lord for an answer, got a sense of it, and then prayed for it. Would someone like to pray for Alan then in respect of this young man?”
One of the other group members prayed and asked the Lord to give Alan an opportunity at work to speak to the young man, and another asked the Lord to give Alan wisdom to know how to gently ask about his home life.
There was a pause after the prayers and then one of the others in the group spoke up, “Well, this seems a bit weird. I'm sorry about this Alan but I saw your boss in tears as well.” There was laughter around the group. “No, no, this wasn't because he's in trouble,” the other replied, “it seemed to be for some other reason, but you were sitting across his desk from him, Alan, so I don't know what was happening.”
The group leader broke in again. “Well it looks, my friend, as if the Lord has got something for you to do with your boss as well.” He grinned.
Alan grinned back, “Well, I don't know about that; he's a hard-bitten old something or other, and I can't ever see him in tears.”
“Well, somebody pray for Alan and his boss then,” the leader suggested.
Another of the group prayed: “Lord, this is starting to get heavy. We can't see how Alan's boss is ever going to be in tears, but will you help Alan to be on the look out for opportunities to talk to him, and give him wisdom to know what to say or do when those opportunities arise. Amen.” The group responded with an ‘Amen'. Alan sat there wondering what was coming next.
Someone in the group giggled. “I'm sorry, Alan, I don't have a picture of your angry client in tears. In fact, quite to the contrary, I see him getting even more angry, but somehow you say something and I see him smiling. I know that's not much help, but that's what I see.”
In came the group leader again, “Well that's all right; it may start out worse but that looks like a good outcome. Sorry, Alan, you're getting dumped with rather a lot here tonight because it looks like you are the catalyst that will change him from fury to smiling. OK, folks, this is getting harder. One or two of you pray for Alan and his client, would you please.”
One person prayed and asked the Lord to give Alan a gift of faith to believe in this possibility, another prayed that the Lord would give him grace to just cope with this client graciously the next time he spoke with him, and another asked the Lord to give him wisdom in speaking to this client.
Alan sat there wondering why he had risked asking for prayer, yet he realised that deep down there was a sense of excitement within: three people had received pictures for him and a number of them had prayed with real care and concern for him. Yes that was good, but what would the future hold?
3. And so what do we learn?
And so what do we learn from observing this alternative prayer meeting? I suggest the following:
4. So what happened?
In order to see the interaction between us and God and other people, in bringing about changes in circumstances when we have prayed, let's observe the outcome, the things that happened in Alan's office in the following week.
i) With the Office Junior
When Alan went onto the office the next morning he went with a slight sense of apprehension. What should he say or do? The easy answer was nothing but just watch. In his interactions with his junior over the next couple of days, he was particularly careful to be open and friendly and gracious. Nothing happened. It was on the third day that things started to change. As he happened to be passing the young man's desk, he noticed he was just sitting there staring ahead and doing nothing.
He paused. “Kev?”
No response. He pulled up a chair. There was no one within listening distance. He tried again, very gently. “Kev, what's up?” Kevin seemed to suddenly realise he wasn't alone. “Oh, sorry Alan, it's nothing.”
“Are you sure? Do you need to talk about something?”
“No, not really, no it's fine, it really is…. well …. I don't know what to do. My wife's has been diagnosed with cancer. We've known about it for a number of months, and it's the bad sort and now at the hospital yesterday they say it will be touch and go, and…” his voice trailed off as he fought back tears.
Alan found he had tears running down his own face. “Oh Kev, I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
“There's nothing anyone can do. Anyway why are you crying, you don't even know her!”
“Well that's right but I just don't know how I would feel in your shoes. I am so sorry. Look you're not going to be able to concentrate on some of this stuff you've got on your desk at the moment. Let me get one of the others to lighten your load. What can I take from you?”
They discussed the possibilities and Alan took several files to redistribute round the office without saying why to the other staff.
“Do you need some time off? Is there anything you can be doing for her?”
“Well not really, but I suppose I need to arrange for the kids to be picked up from school in the days to come. Oh, what are we going to do?” He fought back the tears as a floodgate looked like it was just ready to burst.
“Look let's not worry about that for now. Take one day at a time. Look, the other stuff you have here is not urgent. Go home now and just come in when you can. Kev, would you mind if I asked my church to pray for her?” Kev just nodded. “What's her name so we know who we're praying for?
“Marianne, but we call her Merry. Alan, I just don't know what to do, and I know my work's been going to pot, and I'm struggling with some of this stuff anyway.” He looked miserable.
“Look Kev, let's not worry about that now. Let's see how this works out and then perhaps in the future I can get you on that training course that is up on the notice board.”
“Yes, I'd like that. Thanks.”
“Come on, let's go and get a coffee into you then you get back home and we'll take it from there – together.” The two left the office for coffee.
Back in the office, Alan thought to himself, “well that was an answer to prayer I wasn't expecting!”
ii) With the boss
It had been two days after the prayer meeting that Alan had been in his boss's office talking through various pieces of work. When they came to the conclusion of it, Alan realised there was something he needed to mention.
“Boss, I'll be off in a couple of days, just for the one day, I'll take it out of my annual leave. It's just that my daughter is applying for Uni and we want to go with her to the Open Day of one she has her eye on, if that's all right with you?”
“Yes, no problem,” the boss replied and then added almost as an aside, “I wish I had got stuff like that happening with my kids.”
“Sounds like it's not going well?” Alan enquired lightly.
“You're joking. My boy, the older of the two, is coming up to his A-levels and we just can't get him to work. And then my wife caught the younger one, my daughter, and she's only thirteen, talking to a friend on the phone about using Cannabis. I really don't know about kids today! Who would have ‘em!”
Alan made non-descript noises and made for the door, then paused in the opening, “Mind if I pray for them, boss?”
His boss didn't answer and just turned back to papers on his desk.
Alan left feeling a little rebuffed – but that night he did remember to pray for them.
It was the day after his day off, when he was back in the office, and again had to talk some business stuff through with the boss. His boss seemed a bit more irritable than usual – which was saying something! – but they talked through the stuff and then as Alan was about to leave his office, his boss said in a casual but nervous, if not embarrassed tone, “Er… I don't know if you prayed about my kids the other day but there's been a remarkable change in them in just a few days. My wife has managed to have a good talk with my daughter about the dangers of drugs – which she seemed to accept – and my son suddenly seems to have got down to revising for his exams like there's no tomorrow.” He winced.
“Are you all right, boss, you look like you're in pain?” Alan ventured.
“Yes, I don't know what it is; I woke up with a stiff neck this morning. I can hardly move it and it's agony!”
Now it was Alan's turn to feel nervous. “Er… would you like me to pray for it?” he ventured again.
“You can do what you like; I'll take anything to get rid of this!”
“No, I mean would you like me to pray for you now, here, this minute?”
His boss looked uncomfortable. “Well shut the door then.”
Alan shut the door and went over to his boss. “I'll just put my hand on your shoulder as I pray, if that's all right?” His boss said nothing, so he did. “Lord Jesus, I know you love us both and I know you healed anyone who was ill when they came to you when you walked on this earth, so can I ask for you to heal this neck right now. Father, please let it be, in Jesus name. Amen.” His boss said nothing.
Alan opened his eyes and to his surprise saw tears running down his bosses face and the older man was swivelling his head.
“That's amazing. How did that happened? The pain's completely gone!”
“Jesus just healed you because he loves you,” Alan found himself saying.
“Sit down, I need to ask you some things,” his boss replied.
Forty minutes later Alan came out of his office very thoughtful and with tears in his eyes.
iii) With the Client
Having been left feeling somewhat encouraged by what had happened so far in the week with his junior and his boss, Alan realised that the problem of the Client was still not resolved, and he needed to do something about it. He prayed briefly and dialled the number. The call was not exactly an unqualified success but at the end of it the client had agreed to have lunch with him in two day's time. In that time he called a couple of others from the prayer group and asked them to pray for his coming encounter.
Two days later he sat at a table in the restaurant waiting for the client who was ten minutes late.
As soon as the man arrived, he muttered at Alan, “I don't know why I am bothering with you! I'm thinking of taking my business elsewhere. You're a blithering idiot!”
“Yes, I am,” was all Alan could manage.
“Well, that's a good starting place,” the other replied tartly.
“Yes, I'm really sorry I upset you on the phone the other day. I'm afraid I made a very bad job of explaining some of the pitfalls of the course of action you were proposing and I fully understand that it upset you, and I'm really sorry.”
The other looked embarrassed. “Well I must confess I wasn't expecting to hear that from you.” He looked a lot calmer. “All right, let's order and as we're here, you might as well have another go at explaining what you're thinking.”
They ordered and talked.
Twenty minutes later the client put down his knife and fork and smiled at Alan. “You young idiot! Why didn't you put it like that in the first place?”
Alan thought it better not to say that he had said roughly the same thing before, and just shrugged his shoulders. “I must have been having a bad day. I'm sorry.”
More smiles. “Right, well let's talk some more.”
An hour and a half later Alan returned to the office with a lucrative contact under his belt.
We could tell you a lot more about the outcomes, but we'll leave it there. At the prayer meeting next week, Alan provided a source of praise and thanksgiving and was still slightly overawed by the whole thing. “But I'll have some more of this please, Lord,” he breathed silently.
5. Ingredients for ‘God Answers' to Prayer
Now your danger is that having read that story, you say, “Oh but it's only a story. It's not that easy!” Well it is and things happen like this a) when we approach prayer meetings like this and b) are willing to be part of the answer to what we pray. If we reflect on this story, we can see a number of things that may help us in our own prayer experiences:
Perhaps we may analyse it in the following way:
Or to put it in yet another way:
And one more way:
6. And God's Part… and the rest?
Now if the above story had been true – and I do know similar stories that were true – an interesting question might be, well what did God do in all of that? How were they answers to prayer? I think it is important to consider such things because sometimes testimonies can be a little ‘over the top'.
Now my starting place is that I am sure God was active a great deal in what took place.
I am sure that
I don't believe (and this is important to say along the way) that
I suspect that
It is possible (?probable?) that
Learning Point: Notice in each of the “possible/probable” cases I am suggesting that God ‘spoke' to each person. Does He overrule our will? No, I don't believe He does, but I do believe He speaks to Christians and non-Christians (even though most of the time we and they don't realise what is happening) again and again, prompting the end outcome, i.e. what we see as an ‘answer' to prayer.
The Order of Events?
So Does God only Move when We are Involved Physically?
No of course not. We can pray for people and circumstances at a distance where we cannot be involved. The point that I am simply making in this paper, is that so often in prayer times we a) simply plough on asking things and b) give no thought to our part in bringing about answers. We are called to do what we can do, and God will do what only He can do.
Having said this, I am sure there are things that we ask for 'at a distance' and usually we do not see ourselves involved more than simply praying, whereas God would sometimes like to get us physically involved. As we have indicated a number of times, our 'doing' is to be in response to His 'saying'. We don't 'do' simply because it's more comfortable not to, or we don't expect to at a distance, and so we're not listening to Him! Does God want us to write or even travel to touch those situations more closely in some way? It bears thinking about!
7. But what about….?
But am I saying actual prayer is only about listening? No, but that can be a big part of it. So why do we bother to pray when we are listening and when we get answers? Isn't it all about listening? I don't know, it is a mystery, but prayer is an essential part of listening (which we'll consider more fully in the next page)
All I know is:
As I said just now, we'll consider some of this in the next page on unified praying.