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A Modest Proposal

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I GREW UP IN NEW JERSEY.

One of the Garden State’s claims to fame in those days was that the smartest man in the world lived there, and on any given day, if you cared to travel to Princeton, you could engage in conversation with the great Albert Einstein as he took his daily stroll across the university campus.

One afternoon, a young graduate student stopped the eccentric genius and asked for his wisdom and assistance. The student, pursuing a doctorate in physics, had come to the point when he was required to announce the subject of his dissertation. “Dr. Einstein,” he said, “I am supposed to research a topic upon which no one else has written, but it seems as if every possible area of inquiry has already been taken. What should I write about?”

After a moment’s reflection, Einstein said, “Find out about prayer. Someone needs to find out about prayer.”

One day, perhaps as much as two years into their association with Jesus, His disciples said to Him, “‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Luke 11:1). That request is significant for a number of reasons.

First, although He had instructed them on many subjects, this was the only thing they ever asked him to teach them. I would have asked for some pointers on how to do miracles (it would be cool to be able to heal sick people or to walk on water), on how to preach and teach and, oh yes, since I was a district superintendent for more than a decade, I would have asked for training in the area of conflict resolution. The disciples apparently thought all of those skill sets were of secondary importance. They wanted to know how to pray.

Second, the request is striking because of the timing. For many months, the disciples had walked with Him nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Only after that extended internship did they conclude that contrary to their previous assumptions, they knew little or nothing about prayer. (Remember most of them were pious men—some had been disciples of John the Baptist before they followed Jesus).

Jesus obliged them. During their internship, the disciples had observed that everything Jesus did—and, more importantly, everything He was—proceeded from His life of prayer. More than anything else, they wanted to be like Him. He modeled for them a life of prayer, and He taught them how to pray.

They learned. How well they learned is evident in the Book of Acts, which has aptly been called the record of the Early Church at prayer. Just as every signifcant event in the life of Jesus was preceded by or linked to a time of prayer (e.g., His baptism, temptation, the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, etc.), so every major event in the Book of Acts, beginning with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, proceeds from or happens during a time of prayer.

Most of the early Christians were not famous for their preaching (the only sermons we know about came from Peter, Paul and Stephen). They were famous, however, for their praying, and the Book of Acts implies that the prayer meetings of the first-century church were well attended.

The early days of The Alliance were characterized by this same commitment to prayer. A. B. Simpson and the men and women who gathered around him knew about prayer. It was the secret of their incredible vitality and production. They understood Jesus’ words, “‘Apart from me you can do nothing,’” and those words drove them to their knees (John 15:5).

But times have changed, and so have we. There aren’t as many “prayer warriors” as there used to be. Prayer meetings are no longer the best attended meetings in our churches. In fact, I am pretty sure that many Alliance people rarely, if ever, attend a prayer meeting.

Here is my modest proposal—let’s find out about prayer. There are undoubtedly other things to which we need to give our attention, but there is nothing more important or more basic. Prayer really is the primary work of the people of God.

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

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