By Joel Iyorwa
One of the saddest realities in the church today is that prayer has largely been reduced to a mere religious activity. Most Christians do not see prayer as anything beyond a necessary tradition or duty.
We pray simply because we are Christians. We pray because it is one of the things on a Christian’s daily checklist. Prayer has become a dull drudgery, an empty routine for lots of people.
But even a casual reader of the Bible cannot miss the fact that prayer was far from a mere routine in the lives of God’s people. Both the Old Testament and New Testament have many examples. One shinning instance in the Old Testament is Hannah, the wife of Elkanah.
Hannah was married for several years and didn’t have any children; her husband married a second wife who had several children. But one day, she went to the house of the Lord and poured out her heart to the Lord in prayer over the matter.
As Hannah prayed for a child, a son, nine months later she gave birth to her own son, the little boy who became the mighty prophet Samuel. This was her testimony at the dedication service of the little boy Samuel three or so years later,
“For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him.”
Hannah was showcasing tangible evidence to answered prayer, an indisputable proof of prayer answered. “For this child I prayed,” she said, pointing a finger at three year old Samuel.
Did she pray? Yes! Did God answer? Yes! What was the proof that she prayed, and that God answered? The child Samuel kneeling at the altar at his dedication to the Lord.
Many people today do not have a ‘Samuel’ they can boldly and without doubt say of “for this child I prayed.” They have been praying for the past ten or twenty years and have settled into the routine of prayer. They have even developed the language of ‘saying prayers.’
We have made prayer common, casual, routine, and normal so that it has kind of lost two essential realities.First, the heartfelt passion, earnestness and desperation often characterized the prayers we see in the Bible. Secondly, it has mostly lost the expectation or certainty of answers to prayers displayed by those praying in Scripture.
We need to avoid the temptation to even begin to develop theological explanations for the lack of ‘Samuels’ commensurate without massive prayer activity.
How we’d like to say, “Oh, God just answers differently than we have prayed,” or “God chooses when and which prayer He answers so we don’t have to worry too much about unanswered prayer.”
With this posture and attitude, prayer has ceased to be a dynamic spiritually engaging and God-moving action and has become an empty and sometimes pathetic religious activity. Thus people are praying but without a real expectation of a move of God in answer.
Watch how people pray over a meal, how prayer is made in the Sunday service in many churches, how we ‘say’ our early morning prayers, e.t.c. All we often see is drudgery, empty routine, lifeless activities that need to be on the service program to make it complete, something we do as a tradition that should be kept.
That was not what prayer meant for Hannah and our praying friends in Scripture. When they knelt to pray, they were pouring out their hearts to the Lord, and when they came out, there was a ‘Samuel’ that announced that prayer.
Prayers that will produce ‘Samuels’ come from discontented and provoked hearts. The scripture says of Hannah “her adversary provoked her” (1 Sam. 1:7) and that “she was in bitterness of soul” (1 Sam. 1:10).
Without a provocation or injury to the heart, prayer cannot rise to the level it needs to be to produce a ‘Samuel.’ Do we pray because of an injury upon our hearts or because it is a good and normal activity for Christians?
Of course, I’m not referring to a physical heart injury but a significant burden upon the heart. If our hearts have not been injured or provoked by the condition of lost men and nations in darkness, without the knowledge of Jesus, our attempts to pray for missions would be nothing more than a nice religious gesture.
Whatever is the subject of prayer, if the heart has not been injured and provoked first, if there’s no agony and bitterness that weighs upon the soul, it cannot bring forth a ‘Samuel.’
Also, Samuel-producing kinds of prayers are passionate, heart-felt and even desperate. They are not prayers that come as one option among many other possible options.
Sometimes we pray but deep inside us we have our doubts. If prayer doesn’t work, I will do this or that. Notice that Hannah did not have another alternative, or any other options.
In her world, only God could give her a son. The Bible says, “she wept sore” (1 Sam. 1:10). What a show of desperation. This is the kind of prayers that James talks about in the New Testament: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16).
May we not settle for a counterfeit prayer life. May we not reduce prayer to a religious activity but continue to experience again and again the move of God in and through prayer.
But that will not come to us automatically. We will need to abandon our current rationalizations and desire that higher authentic prayer experience where we are able to boldly declare “for this child I prayed.”