A Time for Prayer ©

About 25 years ago, when I was pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, I made the rounds of some of the rapidly growing, missionally committed, very large regional churches in our denomination. I was seeking to gain insight into how effective pastors and congregations could yoke faithfulness and fruitfulness. How could we link mission commitment to love, justice and mercy with evangelistic disciple-making. Among the churches I visited (often with other staff members and lay leaders from Asbury), were Windsor Village UMC in Houston, Ginhamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio, and University UMC in San Antonio, Texas (where I would later serve as Senior Pastor).  I added to my list later in my ministry Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Alabama and Church of the Resurrection UMC in Leawood, Kansas. Every visit was an eye-opening learning event.  Each of these great churches were engaged in deeply faithful and fruitful ministry. 
But, one event stood front and center for me. It happened during my visit to Windsor Village UMC. Early in the worship service, an Associate Pastor led us in prayer. He opened in a normal speaking voice with the words “more prayer, more power.” He got dramatically louder – “more prayer, more power.” He mimicked a crouch and in a barely audible whisper said, “more prayer, more power.” Then he spoke again in a normal voice, “let us pray.”
More Prayer, More Power
Friends, it is time for prayer. With everything going on in our lives and our world today, all of us need to spend dedicated time in prayer. We are called to holy and righteous prayers that are not centered on “God, this is want I want,” but rather anchored in humble repentance and confession.  
The British theologian Alister McGrath has written,

“Prayer is about being in the presence of God, laying out what is in our hearts. In the end, prayer is a recognition of our dependence upon a dependable God, and a challenge to the illusion that we are autonomous and self-sufficient.  (The Landscape of Faith by Alister McGrath, p. 183) 

The famous Prayer of Examen or “Examination of Consciousness” calls us humbly and confessionally into personal examination before a holy and righteous God, which involves thanksgiving, confession and honest searching/reflection.
Recently a good friend invited me to join with others across the United States in a Sunday of Repentance. Here is the invitation (along with a brief description) from the Repentance Sunday website:

On Sunday, September 27th, join with thousands of churches throughout America in dedicating time for prayers of repentance and revival during Sunday gathering or a special evening service in your local church. This solemn assembly, carried out by the pastor or elders within a local church, is being called in response to the continued division, destruction and degradation taking place throughout our land. We desire to follow God’s admonition that during severely difficult times, His people repent and return. Only then may we expect Him to hold off judgment or return blessing to the land.
Inspired by Old Testament calls to sacred assemblies, this special day (September 27) marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in the historic Church calendar. This is one of the most sacred days of the year for the Jewish community and an opportunity as the Christian church to practice what Revelation 2 and 3 require, a return to our first love, seeking forgiveness of our personal and corporate sins.
One of the things that is most powerful about repentance is that you can’t do it for anyone else.
It is tempting to confess other people’s sins and point out their need for repentance, perhaps especially right now. This is not a time for vague confession or repentance that is actually accusing others of what they have done wrong. Repentance is when we ourselves turn away from our sin and return to God.
The church’s witness is desperately needed in a culture that increasingly demands constant repentance without hope for forgiveness and reconciliation. We need to remember the promises of Scripture, like 1 John:
My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins – and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. – 1 John 2:1-2

Professor Kevin Watson, who is on the faculty of Candler School of Theology at Emory University has added, “Here is why I support this:

Professor Kevin Watson

Repentance always comes before revival in the history of Christianity.
Revival comes when people’s hearts are broken over their own sin and they cry out to God, confessing their sin, turning away from it, and turning back to God.
Repentance is hard. It takes courage to repent. It take humility. And it is essential for experiencing life in Christ. We do not have the option to come to Jesus on our own terms. We must come to him on his terms. And the offer of salvation is through forgiveness and pardon through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, not our own righteousness.
Repentance is hard. But one of the best things about being a Christian is that you know that true repentance always leads to forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
A church that gets on its knees and repents will be raised up. People will find pardon and peace with God.
Once you repent, it is appropriate to pray for revival.
In 1738 John Wesley began meeting in a small group called a band meeting. They did one key thing each week; they confessed their sins to one another and prayed for healing. John Wesley joined this group before his famous new birth experience at Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738. This was a crucial beginning of Methodism. It started with confession of sin and repentance. The band meeting was at the heart of the very beginning of the 18th century Methodist revival.”

I wish to add my hearty “Amen!”  All of us need to come in prayers of repentance and petition. 

“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NRSV)


A Call for Prayers of Repentance
I recently sent an article written by Ben Hunt from Epsilon Theory to my Cabinet colleagues entitled The Welding Shut of the American Mind. The article challenges us to wrestle with our own tendency to reject dialogue and opinions that don’t conform to our own predilections. The author states,

My argument is that the rules of the mental games we are playing today – the algorithm that goes through our hard-wired and socially trained heads as we process highly mediated and constructed narratives – creates a stable, incredibly damaging equilibrium of indignation and ego.”

Stop and think how many times you have been enraged watching the news lately. Ben Hunt’s sentence above is a mouthful, but if you think it over, the antidote is genuine repentance, which starts by moving us to recognize someone who disagrees with us as beloved by God and carries on to action in what Mr. Wesley calls “holiness of heart and life.”
I quite realize that this call to a prayer for repentance comes with little advanced warning. To pastors planning worship, use your own good judgment. If you wish to offer such prayers at a different time or in a different way, please feel free to do so.

“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (Mark 1:14b-15)