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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Let Us Pray

Conversations with God yield fruitful results

By Christina Quick
May 25, 2014

It begins in legislative sessions and town meetings, mealtimes and religious services. It happens around hospital beds, dining room tables, school flagpoles, athletic locker rooms, and gravesides. People talk about it on social media, and everyone from Justin Bieber to MC Hammer has sung about it. Even in today’s increasingly secular culture, “Let us pray” remains a familiar refrain.

Attitudes about prayer vary widely. For some, it is a social and religious formality. For others, it is a deeply personal conversation with a God who listens, cares and responds.

Nine out of 10 Americans believe in God, and 83 percent say God answers prayer, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll. In a Fox News poll, 77 percent of Americans said prayer can help the sick and injured recover. Yet a much smaller percentage of the population — 58 percent — actually engages in daily prayer, according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

“Many people have a basic understanding of prayer but relegate it to a perfunctory duty at mealtimes or something they turn to in times of crisis, rather than making it a daily discipline,” says John Maempa, director of the Assemblies of God National Prayer Center in Springfield, Mo. “Prayer is as much a lifestyle as an act. It is about living in a relationship with God and cultivating His presence throughout the day.”

Approximately 78 percent of those attending evangelical churches pray daily, a Pew survey found. Among praying evangelicals, 68 percent said they receive answers to prayer either weekly, monthly or several times a year; 16 percent said they seldom or never receive answers; and another 10 percent were uncertain.

“Prayer flies in the face of our modern communication model: message sent, message received,” Maempa says. “We don’t have a problem with the message sent part. We’re just not always sure it’s received. We have to understand God’s ways are not our ways. I’ve learned over the years that prayer is a very real experience that produces very real results.”

Maempa says he has witnessed and experienced dramatic miracles of healing and provision as a result of prayer. But he says prayer brings daily benefits in other ways as well.

“Prayer is a powerful source of hope, help, strength and guidance we can tap into,” Maempa says. “So many times God has given me a sense of direction or helped me understand something I didn’t understand before. Had I not spent those times in prayer, I would not have had that.”

Jeff Leake, lead pastor at Allison Park Church, an Assemblies of God congregation near Pittsburgh, says daily communication with God is a vital part of his life and ministry. He became a pastor at the age of 26, after being involved in ministry for three years.

“Prayer and fasting was the way I survived,” Leake says. “I knew I was not capable without God’s strength and daily infusion of life and power. That dependence on God that comes through prayer is part of what has shaped me as a person and a pastor.”

Leake points to prayer as the driving force behind the congregation’s fruitful outreach efforts. During 2012-13, Allison Park launched 28 new congregations in the surrounding region. Another 20 church plants are planned for this year.

“Through our emphasis on prayer, a lot of things have come about that can’t be explained any other way than as acts of God,” Leake says.

The church has a prayer room that is open at all times, with a rotating group of about 100 volunteers praying on site approximately 110 hours per week. A basket on one side of the room contains prayer requests, and a bulletin board on the opposite wall displays testimonies of answered prayers.

Each year, Leake challenges the entire congregation to participate in 21 days of fasting and prayer. During this time, many limit their diets to fruits and vegetables.

“Fasting for me has become something I greatly value because it deepens my intensity in prayer,” Leake says. “The hunger I feel physically forces me to make a values decision, push past my physical hunger, and cry out with a hunger for God.”

Though many pastors encourage fasting, Maempa says it is often a hard sell in today’s indulgent environment.

“We do not live in a culture of denial,” Maempa says. “We live in a culture of gratification. Of course, that makes fasting all the bolder in terms of what it accomplishes. If people are willing to deny themselves, that indicates a level of seriousness that is beyond just the usual prayer time.”

In Scripture, Jesus fasted and said His disciples would fast (Matthew 4:2; 9:15). Yet adherents of non-Christian religions are twice as likely as Christians to engage in fasting, according to research by the Barna Group.

“Fasting puts us face-to-face with ourselves in the mirror as we contemplate how much we’re willing to sacrifice to love Jesus more,” says Jason Hotchkiss, youth pastor at Erie (Pa.) First Assembly of God. “We can’t earn His love, but when we enter into that realm of fasting, it builds our character and puts us in a place to take away those things that do not represent Jesus.”

Four times a year the Erie congregation spends a week fasting and praying.

“We encourage people to start with a meal or two meals, and gradually allow the Holy Spirit to expand that area of their lives,” Hotchkiss says.

Hotchkiss attributes physical healings and even reduced community violence to the church’s commitment to prayer and fasting.

“Those answered prayers and miracles that remind us God is real are a byproduct, the added blessing,” Hotchkiss says. “At the end of the day, what is really transforming is the intimate relationship with God people gain through a lifestyle of praying and focusing on Him.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer.

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