Prayer is Never Doing Nothing
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking about writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers. This post comes from a pastor’s wife as she reflects on the importance of prayer in her own life and in the life of her church.
I will try to share some stories about prayer in my life. I don’t know if they will be useful or not for you.
First, I want to share a story of personal prayer. It was back when our whole family went to Singapore for seminary. At the time, I was going back and forth on whether we should have second child. After my first child I had a miscarriage, and I was very afraid I would have a miscarriage again. I felt a lot of uncertainty: should I have a second child? When I saw other seminary families had more than one child and I looked at the cute babies, I felt like, “Oh, maybe I should have one more child.” On the other hand, sometimes I saw how people devoted themselves to the Lord and committed their time to the Lord and ministry and I felt like, “It will be better for me to just have one child. Then I can devote more of my time to ministry and the Lord.” So I kept going back and forth, and could not make a decision.
Then, one day I was praying in the Botanical Gardens of Singapore. I felt like the Lord was really touching my heart. I think God was asking me: why do you want a child? For your own fun, or for me? So I realized that having a child is not about myself; it is for the kingdom, just as the loving work I do with my life is also a gift to the Lord. So I started to pray, “God, if you really want me to have a child, then this child that you give me will be special for your kingdom. I want to do this. I am not afraid that I will have a miscarriage, because this is the child you want to give to me. But if it is just for my own pleasure, just for my playful heart, to have another baby – please don’t give it to me.” After praying, I felt like my heart was steadfast in depending on the Lord to give me a child or not, and I felt such a peace in my mind. I went back and I shared all of this with my husband. That very night, we conceived our second child. God really listened to my prayer and gave me peace in my mind, and I know that it is from the Lord.
That is my first personal story.
Another story is about our sabbatical rest. We had a whole two and a half months of rest last year. At that time, my husband was very weary after teaching a theology class. He said, “Oh, I am so familiar with this topic and I have taught it many times over the years. Why do I feel so tired this time?” He prayed and he felt like God was telling him he needed to rest and refresh his view of his ministry. So after we prayed, he told me his need. He said, “I prayed and I feel like God is leading me to have a rest, a sabbatical.” But at that time we didn’t know much about it; we had just heard the words “sabbatical year.” We didn’t know what to do or how to arrange it, so we prayed that God would provide for us to know what a sabbatical looks like and how we should arrange it, because we knew nothing about it.
It was amazing; after just a few days, a pastor from the States came to a conference as a guest. Someone introduced us to talk with him at breakfast. Since I knew he was a senior pastor and I was very curious, I started to talk about my husband’s need for a sabbatical. I said, “What does a sabbatical look like?” And it was very interesting – this was just a guest, we didn’t know him at all – and he said, “If you feel like you’re tired and you need a sabbatical, then a long time ago you should have already had one. Because when you have a symptom and you feel tired and you feel like you are losing the vision, you really need a rest.” He said, “You find a beautiful place and leave the ministry to others to continue; if you can find someone like that, and you leave your field. Then you go to the beautiful place, let others serve you and give you rest. You can also observe other ministries and get some good advice. That will be perfect for you to gain new vision.” So when I heard that I was very interested.
I said, “That sounds great, but how can that happen to our lives?” He said, “Just come, come to our church. We will serve you, we will give you beautiful scenery, and we will help you to see.” But later he told us that their church had never done something like that and they didn’t know how to arrange it. But when he heard [about the need] he almost felt like God was telling him in his heart that he should do this. It was really amazing. After a while we thought, “Oh he is just being nice and saying that. We don’t even know him, he is not our friend, how can this happen?” But my husband prayed about it more and he felt like God was really providing for his sabbatical. After three weeks the senior pastor started to send emails and ask if we had decided on the dates. He said, “I already got permission from the church that they will arrange the whole month for you. And later we have another place arranged, and another place.” So we finally went there for two and a half months – we didn’t even know how to drive, we didn’t know how to take care of ourselves, we didn’t even know where to stay in the States – but we stayed there for two and a half months. It was a miracle. We were so refreshed and we really gained vision, learned so much, and had a wonderful rest. God really listened to our prayers and really knew our needs. He was telling us, “Stop! You need the rest. You need to know how to do the work.” When you lose the vision and you don’t know what to do, God is still leading you. God is preparing the message and the way to lead you forward.
I think God uses prayer to remind us the work is not ours; it’s his. We are helpers, but God is really helping us to know what to do and where we should focus, step by step. We are not handing a plan or a schedule to God to sign his name; we pray to know the list written by God’s hand. We are people who should know this before all else. Prayer is really us communicating with God and getting information from God. It’s not a one-direction request, but rather mutual communication from both sides. Prayer should be according to the Bible and it should be sensitive to the Spirit and following God’s guidance. This is not only the pastor or co-laborer’s work; it is connection with the Lord and should be passed on to every member of the church.
But to be honest I feel like we need a lot of repentance. Even though we know these things and we do our best to do this in our personal lives, sometimes it is hard to teach prayer and to help others know how to pray. Someone once said that you learn to pray by praying. It’s not something you can do as a formula. In the process you don’t know how to pray so you pray, and you will learn how to pray in trying and practicing prayer. It’s a process and it is important because we cannot learn the knowledge of how to pray in order to start praying. It’s a process of not knowing and still doing it, and getting a little bit so that you are refreshed and taught by the Spirit. Then we continue to live by the Spirit.
When we don’t pray we depend on ourselves. [We live] by our own strength. We can feel like we are doing something great, but the effect is not so powerful because human beings cannot do God’s work unless we depend on his power and his mighty hand to do his work. So it is a good reminder and I am very thankful [to think about this topic]. God is it to help me think, “Wow, God has done so much!” Not only in my personal life and our history, but also in other brothers’ and sisters’ lives. And it’s a good reminder of prayer. It is never too much. Prayer is never spending time doing nothing. It is everything, and it tells us everything we should do.