If your prayer time were the only gauge of your spiritual health, how would you fare?
I’ve sat on this piece for about a week. Just writing on the topic was convicting to me when I think of how much of my day is consumed with “white noise.” I find I’m too busy, too tired, too whatever for much quiet time with God. I’ve mastered the “express” devotional time, sandwiched between breakfast and getting dressed for the day.
But when I really take time to pray, I find my priorities change and my schedule clears. God renews my mind and refreshes my spirit: challenges that loomed before me don’t seem so scary anymore. And the more I pray, the more I grow. So why don’t I do it more?
In Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim Cymbala tells of how, as a struggling young minister, he felt God calling him to build a church in a rough area of New York City. One day, a visiting preacher stepped to the microphone. What he said changed the church forever:
“You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular the pastor or evangelist is by who comes on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting.”
From then on, the Tuesday night prayer meeting became the barometer for the spiritual health of the church. The prayer meeting fed the church’s appetite for God. As the prayer meeting grew, so did the church. As the church grew, so did the choir, led by Pastor Cymbala’s wife Carol. The church was Brooklyn Tabernacle: forty years later, it runs more than 10,000 regular attendees.
As I read Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, I was moved to tears by the stories of miraculous transformations that occurred in the church as it grew – people delivered from alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. But a nagging thought formed in my mind: the church was established in the 1970s, the book written in 1997 … Was the church still building on that same foundation of humility and prayer all these years later?
I’ve been around the church block long enough to develop a healthy dose of skepticism. Had Jim Cymbala resigned his church and hit the lecture circuit once his books hit the bestseller list? Had his wife, Carol, a self-taught pianist, let the success of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and its Grammy Awards go to her head? Had the Tuesday night prayer meeting gone by the wayside in favor of other “programs”?
So I googled “Brooklyn Tabernacle.”
Clicking through the main website, I discovered that Jim Cymbala, though no longer a young minister, is still the head of the church; his wife is still the choir director. The prayer meeting survives and in fact there is a “ticker tape” that runs along the bottom of the website listing prayer requests submitted to the church. Reading them reminds me of the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when all the prayers are being raised to heaven, a beautiful jumble of voices in earnest petition.
If a foundation of prayer is good for the church, it’s good for the individual, too. What is a church apart from its members? Regular church attendance is commendable; participation in church activities and outreaches is important, but Jesus won’t have a checklist of the church activities we participated in. His question to us in heaven will be, “Did you do the will of my Father?”
Luke 10 tells the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to him. Martha complained to Jesus that her sister had left her to do all the work by herself. But what did Jesus answer? “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Ouch. Martha was busy doing good things for the Lord, but what Jesus really wanted her to do was to sit and listen to what He had to tell her. The more time we spend in God’s presence, the more we get to know Him, and the more we get to know Him, the more we understand his likes and dislikes. Quiet times are crucial to the Christian life, essential to getting to know the Lord and to discerning His will. So why don’t we do it more?