Last weekend I organised and led a 24 hour prayer event. It was brilliant, possibly one of my favourite things I’ve done so far in my position as intern.
In case you’ve never participated with 24 hour prayer, it’s essentially a time for a Church to say that for a whole day there is nothing more important than to meet with him in prayer. The way I set it up, there were no signup sheets, no offering plates, no sermons but just an opportunity for people to pray. There were people signed up to be in the church and praying for every hour of Saturday and into Sunday morning for the worship services. It is a way for the Church to tell God that it is willing to give up time, energy and even sleep in order to meet with him. And many people did.
There were a few resources prepared for people to use to direct their thoughts and prayers: A large wall canvas for people to paint on; a reflection on Philippians 2:5-11 for people to think through; a cross with some candles people could light and a blank book people could write prayers in.
However, despite all the work I had put in, I was somewhat frustrated to find that prayer seemed to have escaped me. I sat on a chair facing towards the cross, with my notebook open and a pen in hand, waiting for the words to come. Wanting to have something anything to say to God.
I looked around me, and see one person eagerly devouring Scripture, before scribbling down prayers into what would become the church’s prayer book. Another on her knees with a paintbrush in hand, carefully forming the shape of the cross on the wall. Someone was kneeling before the cross with their hands to their face.
And I couldn’t muster anything. No words, no ideas, nothing to say to God.
Well that’s not right. Is it?
A couple of years ago I had taken part in an all night prayer vigil for the new year. That was a joyful celebration and wonderful time of connecting with God for me. I’d had so much I wanted to thank God for, so many hopes I wanted to share with him. So what was wrong this time? Why didn’t the words come?
As I pondered this, I looked at the candles before the cross. Each one was a prayer lit by someone in the church, but I noticed one had gone out. I got up and put a fresh candle in, relighting the prayer. I noticed others that had burned down, so I decided to relight those ones, too.
Before I knew it, my whole mind and body were focused on this task. It wasn’t a particularly difficult one, but I found satisfaction in tending the candles.
As the time progressed, I found myself settling into this role as prayer-candle-relighter and fresh-pot-of-coffee-maker, these simple ways of serving those who had come to meet with their Lord and God.
This question came into my mind: Is this what it means to be a church leader? The internship I am currently doing is a leadership opportunity and I am giving the responsibilities of full time church leader, but I’m not sure I really understand what that means and where church leaders fit in the body of Christ.
I found that the most peace, the most satisfaction I experienced in that prayer vigil was not in saying words, or writing or drawing but in serving. I found joy in enabling others to meet God. I found peace in knowing that those who were seeking were able to find.
Is that the role of the church leader? The person who keeps prayers alight? The person who finds their joy in seeing other believers touch the Divine?
Already as I write this I remember reading an article by John Piper who, at present, is taking a sabbatical to do some serious personal examination. One of his reasons for this was that he was concerned that he loved serving God more than he actually loved God.
Did I love serving at the prayer vigil more than I loved God? I’m unsure. I find it difficult to divorce action from idea, and indeed found myself worshipping and praying through the small acts of service I was performing. Though I must ask myself, if I was not serving, would I have still felt that same adoration and affection for God? I’m a little ashamed to admit that most of the time I only feel love for God because of what he has done, rather than who he is.
And so, I loved God because he let me serve in that way, because he gave me that peace and satisfaction, because he gave me the opportunity.
This 24 hour prayer event has left me with many more questions than I anticipated. It has also left me with a profound sense of peace. I am thankful for both of these.
I’m going to have to think hard about why I love God. Stay tuned for more blogs on that subject.