Dennis Kinlaw is one of my heroes. I first heard him preach and spent time with him when I was a college student. I had the privilege of studying with him during my years at Asbury Theological Seminary. Since then, I have cherished times of sitting under his ministry and engaging him in conversation. Dr. Kinlaw wrote numerous books but one has been particularly helpful this fall as I’ve been working through the Minor Prophets. If you want to read a book that helps you understand the Old Testament and the God that is revealed in the Old Testament, as well as to be inspired about your life with this God, then I highly recommend Lectures in Old Testament Theology.
In his first lecture, “Knowing God,” he has this to say: “The Psalms portray Israel at prayer. And it is when we pray that we find out what we really believe, what our theology actually is.”
It took me a little time to process this thought. I tend to think that our actions portray what we really believe. I tend to think that how we treat others portrays what we truly believe. I am starting to understand his point and it is revolutionizing my thoughts about prayer.
The very act of prayer is to acknowledge that there is Someone greater than us who can do things that we cannot do. If we didn’t believe this, we wouldn’t need to pray; we would just do what we are hoping to be done. When we pray, we are declaring trust in the One to whom we pray that not only can he do something about our need, but even more that he wants to do something about our need. If we didn’t believe this, we wouldn’t waste our time praying. It would all seem so futile.
But prayer is more than intercession and petition; prayer is also thanksgiving and praise, which again exposes what we truly believe about God. To give thanks that things happen in our lives and in our world that we cannot explain any other way than Someone greater than us has done them is to declare that God does good for us. The very act of giving thanks to God is a declaration that we are important to God, that God is active in our lives and in our world, and that we owe what we have to him.
But there is more. Our willingness (or unwillingness) to engage ourselves in prayer reveals much about our hearts toward God. We all know that we give our time and attention to what is important to us. We also know that we typically find time and resources to engage in activities that are important to us. This is what Dr. Kinlaw is talking about—not that prayer is a magic bullet for getting what we want or for appeasing God, but that prayer has the ability to expose the deepest desires of our hearts.
This idea of prayer is at the heart of the Psalms, all of scripture, and ultimately at the heart of our relationship with God. When we believe that God cares about us, that God is involved in life with us, that God can do more than us, that God is inherently good to us, then prayer takes on an entirely new dimension. Prayer becomes more than a discipline; it is worship. Prayer becomes more than an obligation; it is joy. Prayer becomes more than a checklist; it is interaction with our Creator. Prayer becomes more than an option; it is our lifeblood.
This is why our annual prayer vigil has become a part of the rhythm of our congregation’s life. Every year, during the first 3 weeks of November, we engage in intensive prayer. We create space in the prayer room that invites us to pray. We create materials that inspire us as we pray. We make reservations and come to the prayer room at all hours of the day and night for one reason—to pray, to encounter God, to open our hearts to him, to declare to ourselves that the deepest desires of our hearts are about God.
We are about ready to begin again. The prayer room is ready. The materials are being printed. The theme: I have loved you … seek me and live is displayed in a variety of ways. All we have to do is come and pray. And in our praying, God speaks to us in ways that we hear because we have set aside time to hear. So, let me invite you to pray. You can reserve your hour or more in the prayer room here.