Perspective changes things. From one angle something can seem small and insignificant. From another, it can appear large or even dominant. A small pebble on a beach can appear to be a large boulder, with the distant sea now merely a backdrop.
We have a great deal of choice about how we look at things. We can skip over the details and take in the wider picture, or we can get in close and examine the tiniest speck. Changing perspective means we have to do something about it – we need to move.
This can also be true about how we “see” things in our lives. Our current perspective will cause some things, whether they are events, people, ideas or something else, to look either larger or smaller. Their apparent importance and impact may vary depending on how we are looking at things at the time.
A shift of perspective might enable us to realise that we’ve been caught up too much in the details, or maybe we’re so obsessed with the big picture that we can’t see the small things any longer. Either way, a change of perspective might help us to appreciate differently the balance of elements in our life.
Faith in and the desire to follow Jesus helps bring about new possibilities for shifting our perspective and seeing life in new ways. Looking at things (as far as it is possible) from God’s point of view can open our eyes to a whole new set of priorities. Some things increase in size and importance, whilst others diminish.
What seems important or “big” in your life right now? Is there anything you may have lost sight of? Have you tried moving, changing your perspective? Through prayer and openness to the Spirit, we can learn to see in new ways.
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Is there a “best” time, place and way to pray? Should we follow a particular pattern of, e.g., 30 minutes alone every morning in our bedroom? Should churches stop worrying about attendance at prayer meetings?
Scripture presents us with a varied picture of God’s people at prayer. Sometimes, we are encouraged to pray alone, perhaps seeking out a moment of quiet just between us and God, as Christ also did:
“when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6, NIV)
“Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray.” (Mark 1:35, CEV)
Paul encouraged Christians to pray (e.g. Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 1 Timothy 2:1-8). As with his other “commands”, they are addressed to the gathered group of God’s people in those places. The letters were probably read out to them when they assembled together and the assumption seems to be that they would pray together.
In Acts, one of the first things the disciples did together after Jesus’ ascension was pray (1:14, 24f). After Pentecost, the disciples met and prayed regularly (2:42f, 4:31, etc.). This seems to have happened in the temple courts in Jerusalem and in people’s homes.
So, the New Testament shows prayer happening in quiet, secluded places, in bustling, busy public gatherings in the city and in the intimate setting of one another’s homes. It was something natural to do when Jesus’ followers met together as well as something for which to set aside personal, private time.
All of this stands in clear continuity with what we see in the Old Testament. The Psalms can at times read like very personal prayers, yet they are corporate in the sense that God’s people use them as Scripture and also sometimes have said and continue to say them publicly together. Likewise, we have records of characters such as David and Solomon praying publicly on behalf of the people (e.g. 1 Chronicles 29:10-13,2 Chronicles 6:12-42), whilst also conversing privately with God (e.g. 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 – did he tell someone afterwards, or was this not as private as Solomon thought?!).
Moreover, we know that the Spirit empowers individuals, yet also forms the fellowship of God’s people, equipping for individual and corporate worship and ministry. The Spirit enables us to pray on our own and when we are together. Both private and public prayer, personal and corporate are works of the Spirit in God’s people.
Finally, as Psalm 139 reminds us, there is nowhere we can go to escape God’s presence. The Spirit of God is everywhere; whether in a church building, in the countryside, a bustling crowd, a hospital ward, prison cell, street or bedroom we are always in a position to connect with God.
So, what about this variety of locations – is any “best” or “better”? It would appear not. The evidence suggests it would be a mistake to deprive ourselves of either personal or corporate prayer – both are part of a healthy prayer life. Other aspects seem to have more to do with where we find ourselves and our personalities.
How easy do you find it to pray in different situations? What makes it harder for you to pray – quiet isolation or big crowds, being in the countryside or the city, in church or at home? Can you see how your favoured ways of praying reflect your personality (and location)? What about others – can you see how their personalities affect how they pray?
Given that prayer is a relationship and all of us are different, it shouldn’t surprise us to discover that people pray in many different ways, in many different places and at different times. Perhaps we can challenge ourselves to try something outside our comfort zone and have a go at something new? Perhaps if we do so, we’ll bring more balance to ourselves and greater understanding of others.
On our own, few of us can do much that we would call “amazing”. But, bring God into the equation and suddenly anything is possible. When we pray, amazing things become more likely because we are asking an amazing God to act.
“And the Lord said to him: “I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built to put My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually” (1 Kings 9:3, NKJV)
“I, the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and in three days you will go to the Temple. I will let you live fifteen years longer. I will rescue you and this city Jerusalem from the emperor of Assyria. I will defend this city, for the sake of my own honor and because of the promise I made to my servant David.” (2 Kings 20:5-6, GNT)
“As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you” (Daniel 9:23, NIV)
“For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8, NLT)
“And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.” (John 14:13, NCV)
“After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31, NIV)
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5, ESV)
“pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:16-18, TNIV)
In response to prayer, God has promised His presence, healed, granted wisdom and knowledge, sent angels and done miracles of all kinds. We are encouraged to pray expectantly, with faith, believing that our God still acts in amazing ways today.
Anyone who has ever prayed knows that for whatever reason these amazing responses to prayer don’t happen every single time. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that he be allowed to escape his impending crucifixion, but that didn’t happen. Sometimes we must accept God’s will as not being the answer we want. His will is what is best for us and although it may at times be His will to heal or grant a way out, for example, equally it might sometimes not be.
Yet, just because amazing things don’t happen every time doesn’t mean we should give up or simply turn our prayer times into nothing more than telling God about our day and fatalistically leaving it all up to Him. The examples of many biblical characters, including Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33) and Jacob (Genesis 32:22-30), suggest that we should wrestle with God, asking for things to happen rather than succumb to fatalism.
Every time we pray, something amazing does in fact happen – God listens. The Ruler of the universe cares about what we have to say, cares about how we feel and cares about what happens to us and this world. Even if we don’t see something miraculous or incredible happen very often, it is still amazing to know that God listens to us.
Let’s not give up believing that God still does amazing things when we pray. Do share any stories you have that might encourage others. Hold on to the hope that God can change things. Keep praying and one day you may experience something truly amazing.