Prayer is the expression of the souls dependence upon God, so said E.M. Bounds that great nineteenth century prayer warrior and writer. At it’s core, prayer is desperation. It’s King Jehosophat with his back against the wall, facing the prospect of annihilation, and yet he calls the people together for a corporate fast exhaling to God, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20). It’s a financially and socially vulnerable widow who has been victimized by an adversary, pleading her case constantly before the judge, wearing him out (Luke 18). The desperate person, according to the psalmist, is like the dear panting for the water, so our soul longs after God (Psalm 42). Desperate people pray.
Or do they? Phillip Yancey, in his book, Where Is God When It Hurts? argues that pain is one of God’s greatest gifts because it prevents us from doing further damage to ourselves. The worst thing that could happen to a person is to not feel pain, for the inability to feel is not a gift but a curse, resulting in further damage. The sore ankle tells you something is wrong, so stop playing, sit down and rest. The toothache compels me to visit a dentist who can address the ailment. Pain may be of the white elephant variety, but nonetheless it is a gift, keeping us in tune with our desperation.
Because of this leprosy can become one of the most tragic sentences ever levied on the human body. Lepers cannot feel. Yancey, in arguing that pain is a gift from God, dives headlong into the disease of leprosy. He tells of one little girl who had contracted the disease. Her parents walked into her room one morning shocked to discover that she had playfully chewed off her finger, and there it was stranded in a pool of blood. This little girls numbness forfeited her finger.
My grandmother used to say that God has kept us from dangers seen and unseen. What she was pointing to was a sovereign, merciful and caring God who was in command of our lives, so in command that there’s stuff he has kept us from that we don’t even know about. If this be the case,then what cannot be denied is man’s universal desperate need of God. All of us, regardless of our tax bracket or season of life are desperate. Our lives hang by a single solitary strand called grace and mercy. Jeremiah pointed to this in Lamentations when he said that God’s faithfulness is so great, that morning by morning new mercies we see. Little did you know it but God woke you up this morning with a fresh batch of mercy. At any given time God can demand that we give him back his breath and our lease on life is over, just like that. We are desperate.
Desperation is a good thing. As chest pains propel us to the doctor, so desperation sends drives us to Jesus. But herein lies the tragedy, the body of Christ is filled with many Christ followers and churches who have contracted spiritual leprosy. We ignore God’s alarm bells of spiritual pain and agony. A prayerless person, or one who prays nominally, does not mean the person is not desperate, instead it points to a spiritual leper who refuses to acknowledge his desperate condition before a holy God.
Jesus said that the church was to be a gathering of desperate people who make his house a house of prayer.
Paul, in writing the manual on the church in I Timothy, says that fundamentally, the church of Jesus Christ is to be a place where desperate people offer prayers to God (Chapter 2)
The great success of the first church in the book of Acts was not in her programs or visionary leadership, but it was in her praying (Acts 2:42).
I want this in my own life, and the life of the church I lead, Fellowship Memphis. I don’t want us to be a people who numb ourselves at the table of prosperity. I don’t want God to have to use tragedy to jolt me out of my spiritual leprosy in order to drive me to him. Oh that every day I would have a fresh vision of my need for God. I don’t want the reputation of Fellowship Memphis to be that of a church filled with great programs or preaching, but that we would be known as a people of great praying. I don’t want people to be wowed by my gifts, but by my God, and this only happens by prayer.
So we begin at Fellowship Memphis this new year by consecrating the month of January as a month of prayer. Every day we as a people will be desperately seeking God together for the same thing laid out in our 31 Days of Prayer Guide. May our great God know that we are in tune of our desperate need of him.