by Nancy Tichy, Author for KidZ at Heart International
If added power attends the united prayer of two or three,
what mighty triumphs there will be when hundreds of the Church
are with one accord making intercession for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.
John R. Mott
We’re in the middle of another prayer initiative. This one has been on the international, Christian calendar since 1993. It’s a month long prayer time for Muslims during Ramadan, their month long observance of prayer and fasting: 5/27 – 6/25, 2017 (www.WorldChristian.com). Many schools that teach world religions in social studies classes talk about Islam’s five tenets. Observing Ramadan is one of the five. Ask your middle school kids if they remember all five. This is a great springboard for discussing the ways Islam and Christianity differ and ways they are similar. You might also find yourselves talking about the meaning of ‘fasting,’ and whether we should ever ‘fast.’
I’m only guessing, here, but I imagine that Christians, of all the major world religions, spend less time in prayer than any of the others. Of course, we teach that our faith is not a religion, but a relationship with God made possible through the work of Jesus on the cross and the Father’s resurrection miracle. Ours is grace-based, a faith that expresses itself in good works. It’s not earning merit with God by doing good works. This seems, at times, to weaken our motivation to please God who lavishes such love on us.
I’d like to share some thoughts posted by a friend who lives in a hard place in order to be God’s person in a Muslim community. I hope these will give you a clearer understanding of Islam and a deeper desire to intercede for people of this religion. You’ll find lots of needy children among them, too. Here is some of what my friend posted:
Around here, people pray a lot…but they don’t talk with God. You might ask, “But isn’t prayer, by definition, talking with God?” Well, that might be one possible definition…it might even be our desired definition. But in this neck of the woods it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of what goes on when people “pray.”
Here, “prayer” is more a ritual…a duty…an obligation. It’s something one must do and do correctly. Prayers are memorized and recited, over and over and over again. In addition to these “prayers” there is also a place for “personal requests,” but even these must be done appropriately.
During the month of Ramadan, roughly 1.6 billion Muslims, worldwide, fast from food and water during daylight hours for 30 days. They will increase the amount of time they normally pray, they’ll give more alms to the poor, and do all sorts of other “good things.” All this is done to earn Allah’s forgiveness.
One might say that around here, people will be praying a lot and fasting a lot, but neither talking nor communing with, nor really even thinking about God. Instead, minds and hearts will be focused on their performances. It’s sad.
Which brings me back to prayer. I’ve become keenly aware of how subtly my (our?) attitudes about prayer start to mimic theirs. This occurs because these are natural, human, ways of thinking about prayer. My prayers become rote – I say the same things over and over again…sometimes without really even thinking about the words (think mealtimes). Performance starts to matter – “did it sound good? Impressive? Did I say it well?” I start to think about time and amount – “did I spend enough time? or did I pray enough times?” Did I pray in a way that will “work? …so that I’ll get the right answer? Did I fulfill my obligation to pray today?
Of course, any self-respecting, former Sunday School attendee would realize these are wrong ways of thinking about true prayer. And yet…if I’m honest, I see these tendencies subtly creeping into my thoughts, feelings, and ways of behaving…not blatantly through the front door, but sneaking in through a backroom window. My prayers…my prayer-life… becomes rote and stilted. Two tendencies can take over…either prayer starts to become a kind of formulaic, mechanistic, ritualistic tool for approaching what needs to be done, or it becomes a sort of bargaining chip – “I’ve done this much, time for You to kick in your part.” Both of these are wrong…they aren’t prayer; they’re self-centered, manipulative efforts.
From this perspective, prayer is about coming before “the throne of grace” with “confidence” because of His work and finding abundant “grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16). We’re needy; He’s gracious. It’s not about our performance, but His; not about getting results, but about believing…resting in what He’s already achieved.
Everything devoid of the Gospel is extremely sad…no matter where it occurs. RD