The promise, practice and power of prayer

By John W. Coleman

“Rise Up and Pray!” Do you remember that imperative call of our recent Annual Conference, to lift our heads, hands and hearts in prayer to our almighty, all-loving God? What about Draw the Circle: The 40-Day Prayer Challenge, the Rev. Mark Batterson’s small but mighty book that Bishop Peggy Johnson has been spreading like seed on fertile soil around the conference over the past year, giving away copies to clergy and lay members?

“If We Ever Needed the Lord Before, We Sure Do Need Him Now” says the old gospel music favorite. No claim has ever been more true. (Check out two different versions by gospel great Mahalia Jackson and soulful acapella group Take 6 on YouTube.)

Our world is fraught with pain and loss and grief from so many recent tragedies: horrific mass shootings and loss of life…precious life; hurricanes, fires and earthquakes also taking lives and destroying homes and communities. Meanwhile, we struggle to fathom foolish wars and rumors of impending nuclear war in our world, and the increasing degradation of our earth—God’s creation—largely self-inflicted…by us. So much to feel sad about, and yes, even scared about.

And yet, nonetheless, we gather to celebrate our God and the blessings He bestows on us. Yes, we gather with grave concerns for our world; and we gather in a contrite spirit of confession and supplication, to confess our sins and to ask God for forgiveness and mercy.

But we also thank God for His mercy and goodness that follows us all the days of our lives. In spite of all the trouble, turmoil and tragedies that we and so many others face in this world every day, God is still with us. In the midst of our horrors, we find heroes. In the midst of terror, we discover tenderness.

And yes, we mourn too many tragic, senseless deaths. But we also celebrate the survivals, even in the midst of painful loss. And God is still good and loving and merciful, in God’s own way, all the time. And all the time…. God is good. Amen.

That divine goodness is experienced and expressed most profoundly in patient but passionate prayer. It is an earnest promise we make when we affirm our baptism and accept membership in Christ’s church. We promise to pray for family, friends, enemies, strangers, the church and even the world. Oh yes, and last but not least, for ourselves. That’s enough prayer to keep us kneeling or rising up, if you prefer, numerous times throughout each day.

“As part of The United Methodist Church’s Baptismal Covenant, new members promise to faithfully participate in a local congregation through their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness,” UM Communications writer Julie Dwyer reminds us. “But, how can they go beyond the words they profess to actually living into these vows?”

You can find some good suggestions in Dwyer’s article, “A promise to pray: Honoring our United Methodist vow,” the first in a new five-part series on www.umc.org, the denomination’s website. They will look at each aspect of our devout membership vow, beginning with prayer, and how United Methodists can answer the call to serve Christ through the local church.

Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to find other helpful, even compelling articles to help you bolster your prayer life. In “Re-energize your prayer life with a new practice” writer Joe Iovino encourages us to seek and try out various ways to engage creatively in prayer—from stillness and breath prayers to labyrinth, multisensory and scripture-based prayers. These ideas and others could very well invigorate our prayer lives and make us more eager and confident to explore what so many people seem to find daunting: having a two-way conversation with God.