“Either God is big, or he isn’t,” Tom said.
A few weekends ago, at a conference in Ohio, I got to catch up with some friends of ours from the church we attended when we lived in Pennsylvania. Our kids had been in the same youth group and it was Tom and Beth who moved away from Pennsylvania first. A job transfer took them to Ohio, but later, Tom would leave that job and follow his dream of owning and operating (along with his wife) a food truck. The people at the City Gates Conference invited Tom and Beth to be food vendors, and I was invited to speak, so the three of us made sure to catch up, right there on the sidewalk outside the Lincoln Theater in the King Lincoln neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio.
After Tom and Beth had served up Po’ Boys and Cheesy Shrimp and Grits to a satisfied crowd, Tom and Beth and I stood in the rain, and we caught up on all the details of our families. We traced the hand of God in each story and, of the ones that still keep us praying and hoping and believing God will work a miracle, Tom said, “Either God is big, or he isn’t.” He spoke a mouthful when he said that.
Prayer is one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given. We sometimes think it trite or cliché. We rush through it or we’re embarrassed by it or we stumble through it. We doubt its power and effectiveness, or we think our prayers aren’t good enough to make a difference. We forget God isn’t handing out degrees in Prayer. We forget the prayer Jesus taught is a model, in response to a request from the disciples for a guidebook of sorts, and that it is not a prescription, or a measure of effectiveness, or a sign that we’ve arrived.
So, when we hear stories of children being cut in half, or their parents beheaded because they believe in Jesus, or planes falling from the sky, or Ebola or AIDS, or girls stolen from their school and sold to men who will never see their value, we wonder if prayer can even make a dent in any of it and we are tempted to deem prayer impotent in the face of such evil and horror and disease.
Prayer is more powerful than a bomb or an army or a treaty or a pact. It is the resolution that can start a revolution. It is the weapon we’ve been given, intended to connect us to God and to intercede for others and to wage war against evil. You’ll have to decide for yourself what to do about guns and politics and war and mayhem. But we can all choose to activate the power of prayer, rather than abdicate its use and try to convince ourselves it is only ministers and pastors and missionaries and martyrs who pray prayers that make a difference. Jesus made it very clear that the way we partner with him to change the world is not up in arms, but on our knees.
Prayer begins to set things right in places we will never see, this side of heaven. In prayer, we battle against evil in the heavenly realms. We take to task the unsavory and horrific spiritual elements that give a person the constitution whereby they can take up a sword, sever a child’s head from his body, and then mount that severed head on a stake, and then do it again. And again. In matters such as these, we don’t do battle against flesh and blood. When we pray, we do battle against the fear which makes us wonder if we’d be able to stand up for Jesus with a gun pointed at our head or a sword held to our neck. When we pray, we do battle against the complacency that makes us forget we are, indeed, our brothers’ keepers and we don’t get a pass, simply because no one is (currently) holding a gun to our head in real life. When we pray, we invoke the power that raised Jesus from the dead, and that very same power gives us everything we need to do battle against hatred and division and violence and vulgar atrocities too immense to comprehend.
Prayer is not a magic formula. We don’t always see the results we hope to see. The sea may not divide in front of us. We may not witness a sudden end to hostilities and divisions between Israel and Palestine, ISIS and Christians, blacks and whites in America. But then again, we might. Because, what would happen if we truly took prayer seriously? What would happen if, when our pastors opened the doors for us to pray together, we swarmed the sanctuary and there was standing room only and the sound of the prayers shook the stained glass windows? What would happen if we turned off the television for one hour and, around the world, we took to our knees as the Body of Christ and we waged war in the heavenly realms?
Either God is big, or he isn’t. Either prayer makes a difference, or it doesn’t. Either prayer makes a difference, or it doesn’t. Either we believe that, or we don’t.
There is evil in this world because of the Fall. There is grace and healing and direct access to God because he loved us enough to send Jesus, who loved us enough to die for our deliverance from sin, and who now sits at the right hand of the Father, making intercession on our behalf. It is because of the power of the Holy Spirit that we even get to begin to believe prayer is something more than words which bounce around in the air and fall ridiculously at our feet without meaning or hope or impact.
We are not powerless here. Either God is big, or he isn’t. I am resolved to believe God is big.
When I was a little girl, every now and then, my dad would bring home a piece of poster board. On that poster board, my dad would draw a giant circle and then, using a yardstick, he would dissect that circle with lines, dividing the circle into twenty-four pie-shaped segments. Each segment represented on hour. My dad would take that piece of poster board to church and invite people there to sign up to pray for one hour. That prayer wheel united our congregation, and it made a difference in our community and in the world.
I am not trying to convince you prayer is all we need to set the world straight. That’s like saying God only wants ten percent of you and me. When it comes to spiritual battle (and take heart, spiritual battle is a real and necessary thing), prayer is the starting place, just as ten percent is a place to begin when it comes to giving ourselves and our resources to God. In prayer, God makes the next step clear. In prayer, God relieves us of our faulty, clouded perspectives and gives us a Kingdom perspective. In prayer, God makes our fear irrelevant, our misunderstanding inconsequential. Prayer unites us, first to God, and then to one another, through the matchless power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer changes things. Let’s resolve to believe that, and then let’s act accordingly.