Some years ago a friend of mine related to me a beautiful example of the power of prayer and the way in which God so supernaturally intervened in his life. He told of an incident years before when a man had come to him, knowing he was an excellent wood craftsman, with a china cupboard which had been practically demolished by the wind while sitting in the bed of a truck en route from one location to another. Apparently, the wind had destroyed, for all practical purposes, one leg of the cabinet entirely. The individual was asking my friend to repair, if he could, the leg especially, but to put the cupboard back together in some sort of presentable form.
At that time, my wood craftsman friend came to the men in our church seeking our prayer support for wisdom in how best to accomplish this task. When all was said and done, the owner of the cupboard praised the work, and the worker, by saying he could not even tell that the cabinet had been broken at all.
Now you may attribute such things to skill, to modern tools and workmanship, and to a great amount of paint and finishing material, but my friend simply attributes this whole scenario to the power of answered prayer. For you see, up till that time in his life and in his woodworking career he had never seen or attempted to correct such a disaster. He accepted the task to do so reluctantly and with apprehension, very unsure about the results. He approached us seeking to enlist and elicit prayer support for the project. And we asked God to give him wisdom and skill. The excellent results are the response to “the effective fervent prayers of righteous men.” (see James 5:16)
Prayer is, for the follower of Christ, a very important part of life. Students pray every day they have an exam, no matter what the government says about no prayer in school. We tend to pray when tragedy strikes, as it all too often does, and especially when the lives affected are so young and death seems to come in an untimely fashion. We pray when trials and tribulations, such as health and financial needs, are the very greatest. And we pray the most when we need supernatural help the most.
God wants us to pray at all times in all circumstances for all things – big or small – (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, Philippians 4:6-11). But there is another dimension of prayer that often even the most faithful of praying people overlook. It is the spiritual dimension life that should be an integral part of our regular times of prayer. The Apostle Paul, in praying for the church at Philippi, makes this proclamation: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
In these few verses, Paul lifts before God’s throne of grace the members of this church which he helped to establish (see Acts 16 for the full story), thanking God for them, and asking God to increase their love, to give them light, and to fill them with a life of excellence, holiness and fruitfulness.
You might think that the Apostle Paul was writing these words while in some luxurious accommodations on the sunlit shores of the Mediterranean Sea or some other fantastic vacation spot. But no, he was praying for this 10-year-old church family while he is imprisoned in Rome for his faith. We aren’t quite sure whether he was under household arrest in a private residence or in the underground cells of the notorious Mamertine Prison. But either way, he is a captive awaiting a trial before Caesar himself. And he is praying.
The 20th century Norwegian pastor Ole Hallesby likens prayer to mining as he knew it in Norway. Demolition to create mine shafts took two basic kinds of actions. There are long periods of time, he writes, “when the deep holes are being bored with great effort into the hard rock.” To bore the holes deeply enough into the most strategic spots for removing the main body of rock was work that took patience, steadiness and a great deal of skill. Once the holes were finished, however, the “shot” was inserted and connected to a fuse. “To light the fuse and fire the shot is not only easy, but also very interesting … . One sees ‘results.’ … Shots resound, and pieces fly in every direction.” He concludes that while the more painstaking work takes both skill and patient strength of character, “anyone can light a fuse.”
Pastor Tim Keller, in commenting about that story, suggests that we should be careful about only praying “fuse-lighting” prayers, the kind that we soon drop if we do not get immediate results. If we believe both in the power of prayer and in the wisdom of God, we will have a patient prayer life of hole-boring. Mature believers know that handling the tedium is part of what makes for effective prayers. We must avoid extremes of either not asking God for things or of thinking we can bend God’s will to our’s. We must combine tenacious importunity, a striving with God, with deep acceptance of God’s wise will, whatever it is. And, as Paul prays, it is all “to the glory and praise of God.”
So which are you? Fuse-lighter, or hole-borer? Hopefully, both.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.