If I’m going to be gathering with a group of people with divergent opinions, I’m going to be all for everyone praying to be led by the Holy Spirit. This is tricky on my part. It’s almost like I’m cheating.
You see, I know I’m right. So, when I pray for divine guidance, I know the Holy Spirit is just going to give me a pat on the back and say, “Keep up the good work! You’re doing great.” But the people who have differing opinions from me are going to experience a supernatural awakening and come around to seeing things my way.
If only prayer worked that way. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of prayer. If you don’t believe in prayer you’re reading the wrong magazine. But I have yet to see someone do a 180 on a firmly held personal belief because of prayer. I’ve seen people change positions based on personal life experiences, primarily relationships with people of the other position, but I haven’t seen people bow their head in prayer and come up with a new view on issues.
A disturbing trend has developed in the past few years regarding prayer. Following any large-scale tragedy, people with a public voice would say their thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the tragedy. Now the next automatic response has become mocking the notion that prayers will do any good. Even many Christians seem to place little value on it.
Perhaps it isn’t that prayer doesn’t work, but we’re praying for the wrong things. I can recount several prayers for things like lost car keys or sport team victories that were apparently ineffective. If praying for a win worked, rather than hearing Sue Nilson Kibbey to talk about Breakthrough Prayer we should have Tom Brady come to Missouri to conduct a seminar on effective prayer. Surely he would do it – the guy only works 19 days a year. That’s three more than most NFL quarterbacks, but still, he has the time.
In February General Conference went down in a big sports arena, and played out a lot like a sports game, with opposing sides developing creative strategies and going for the win. A formal practice of praying for General Conference started months in advance (see page 25 of the April 2019 issue of The Missouri Methodists). But when you saw how the debate picked up right where it left off in 2016, it’s hard to see where prayer impacted the process.
Although I’m not sure prayer wins football games or changes minds, I have found a certain type of prayer to be very effective: specific prayers that relate to me personally and require action. A prayer for help in the avoidance of a certain sin I might be drawn toward, let’s say anger or jealousy, has been very effective for me. It doesn’t have to be a prayer of avoidance, it can be a prayer for action – prayer to be humble enough to offer someone a sincere apology, or for the courage to ask for forgiveness.
To apply this to a national tragedy, you can pray for divine comfort to come to the families who have lost loved ones. Maybe that helps. You can also pray for the knowledge, wisdom or gumption to directly assist people who are most impacted by the tragedy. Or you could pray for the courage to directly involve yourself in taking action to work to prevent similar tragedies from reoccurring.
Soon after this magazine comes out Missouri United Methodists will gather for the first time since that special session of General Conference that highlighted rather than resolved differences. And we’ll be electing a new delegation to send to the next session of General Conference less than a year from now.
I’m going to be in prayer for all aspects of our Missouri Annual Conference Session, including our election process. Post-election I’m sure the delegates will want to be covered in the prayers of the United Methodists of Missouri, and I’ll be doing that as well. But I’m also going to be mindful about praying for myself, both in asking for help where I’m coming up short, and in listening for guidance rather than rooting for a win.