Lay leader's address: God hears our prayers, so let's pray

Lay leader's address: God hears our prayers, so let's pray

Del Holley, conference lay leader, gave the following address on June 10 at the Holston Annual Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C.:

Bishop Taylor, members, guests, and friends of Holston Annual Conference – partners in ministry all:

Last June, in my address to this body, I highlighted some of the ways laity had been involved in ministry across the conference during the previous year.  That was a learning experience for me. I learned about the many and varied ways you find to show the love of Christ to others in your communities. I learned that laity and clergy working together as partners in ministry looks slightly different from congregation to congregation, but shares at the heart of each of those relationships an earnest desire to seek the will and purposes of God for all His people. And I learned that six minutes is barely enough time to scratch the surface in telling the stories of all the good work and ministry being done in, through, and by the churches of Holston Conference. From all that I have seen and heard during the past year, those efforts – and many new adventures in ministry – continue to bless lives in our area.  Congratulations and keep up the good work.

This year, I want to take a different approach – building on the focus of the Conference Board of Lay Ministry for the past several months. We have been exploring ways that we might help lead Holston in vital prayer ministry during the annual conference session and throughout the entire year.

Historically, the Board has been responsible for organizing prayer opportunities at Lake Junaluska during annual conference. This year, we continue the tradition of providing space for prayer in the Room of Memories each day conference is in session. We have added a time of gathering prayer each morning at 7:30 in the Memorial Chapel where participants will experience a time of guided prayer to center our spiritual focus on the events of the day’s agenda, offer thanks for the ministries represented and celebrated, and lift up those who will make presentations in the business sessions and lead in worship.

But we recognize that there is so much room for growth of this prayer ministry. Lake Junaluska is a place of rich spiritual heritage for many of us here. There are many places on campus that provide spaces for quiet reflection, meditation, and celebration of God’s creative acts.  From the cross to the rose walk to the lakeside walking path, we envision opportunities for a variety of prayer experiences – individual and corporate – in several locations, throughout the day, during the annual conference session. Can you imagine how the spirit of holy conferencing in Stuart Auditorium would be influenced by the sure knowledge that, as we met, others were literally surrounding us with prayer at spots all around this building?

And what about when we leave this place – in the days, weeks, and months between sessions of annual conference? Some of our Board members have agreed to work with the Conference technology and communications staff to build a “virtual prayer room” as part of the Holston website. We hope such a page will become a place that Holston United Methodists, as well as Christians from all around this country and the world, can visit to request and offer prayer and access resources for prayer ministry in their own congregations.  We believe that taking advantage of internet technology to connect local church members and their prayer efforts will lead us to implementing more ways that the folks back home can intentionally participate in covering the annual conference session with a blanket of prayer.

In the Book of James, we are told that the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous person avails much Like so many good messages, James offers us three salient points about powerful prayer.

Powerful prayer is a product of righteousness. That is not to say that we must all be saints before our prayers have value; Paul reminds us that the righteousness that comes from our own effort is like filthy rags. True righteousness comes from allowing God to align our priorities, desires, and ministry efforts with His will and purposes. When we surrender ourselves and let God take the lead, He will make perfect our relationship. So the righteous person prays for God’s will to be done, for God’s purposes to be fulfilled, and for the Kingdom of God to be made real upon the earth.

Powerful prayer is fervent prayer. The word “fervent” comes from a Latin root meaning “to boil.” In the same way that heat excites the molecular structure of a liquid causing movement and release of energy, we need to let the Holy Spirit invade our times of prayer giving spiritual “heat” to the words we speak. 

Finally, powerful prayer is effectual prayer. The words “effective” and “effectual” have slightly different meanings. “Effective” means “producing a desired outcome.” “Effectual” means “having the ability to be effective.” So how does a person who prays have the ability to make the prayer effective?  We know words have power. That is especially true when we consider the inherent power of God’s Word. God spoke all that is into existence. Jesus is the Word made flesh, full of God’s power and glory. The words we pray can become a source of strength, peace, comfort, healing, and more for those who are the objects of our prayers. 

Being effectual, then, is all about our attitude of prayer. We know that God hears our prayers. We know that God knows what we will ask even before we utter the words. We know that God answers prayer. When we pray in faith that those things are all true, we acknowledge God’s ability to convert the hope expressed in our words into the reality of His present and future Kingdom.

So, saints of Holston – let us re-commit ourselves to being people of prayer.  But let’s not be satisfied with mere utterance of syllables – the “clanging symbol” Paul warned the Corinthians about. Let’s pray fervently and effectually from hearts of righteousness. Let’s pray powerfully so that the gates of hell may not prevail against us and the Church we represent.

When you are surrounded by your enemies and you pray for deliverance, pray knowing that God will open your eyes and allow you to see that those who stand with you are greater than those who stand against you. When you pray from the depths of whatever fish has swallowed you, pray knowing that God has a plan for your freedom and the fulfillment of the ministry to which He has called you. When you pray for your enemies and those who persecute you, pray knowing that God has the power to bring all controversies and divisions to wholeness and reconciliation.

When you pray for those who are sick, pray knowing that Jesus is the Great Physician who has power to heal the body, mind, soul, and spirit.  When you pray for those who are lost, pray knowing that He is the Good Shepherd who cares for all His flock. When you pray for those who lead in ministry, pray knowing that Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church, and will equip all the members for works of service so that the Body may be built up.

When you are weary and feel you can’t go on, pray knowing that God will give you strength to journey alongside Jesus for another day. When you hide in your room to pray because you don’t know where Jesus has gone, pray knowing that God will help you to stop looking for the living among the dead.

When you are in an upper room – or a North Carolina brush arbor – with a couple thousand of your closest friends, and you pray for God to send down the power of the Holy Spirit, pray knowing that God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh – every shade of every color – your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your old people will dream dreams. Pray knowing that God will show wonders in heaven and signs on earth, and that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. And pray knowing that God can use each one of us to help bring a hundred more to a saving knowledge of His Son.

Pray.  Pray.  Pray.  Pray without ceasing. Humble yourselves, and pray, and seek God’s face, and He will hear from heaven and will answer your prayer. May the Lord of all creation who loves you, and calls you, and has purpose for your ministry, make it so. Amen.