Public first responders are rightly honored for their courageous work. They are heroes and heroines who intervene to save and protect lives, often at the risk of their own. In many cases they are specially trained to accomplish feats others do not imagine, let alone accomplish. We recognize them as firefighters, nurses, doctors, police, armed service personnel, and so forth.
There is a parallel role for the Christian. It is the duty of followers of Jesus Christ, similarly, to be prepared for spiritual battle on the front lines of efforts to save lives from disaster, destruction, and ruin. The true Christian employs the chief means of God’s grace, prayer, in the face of everything that threatens life and wellbeing.
If prayer is, as John Wesley put it, “the grand means of drawing near to God,” it makes perfect sense that our first response in dangerous times would be to call out to God in prayer. Indeed, we become most aware of the need for God in desperate times of emergency and great danger.
I remember vividly moments of feeling in extreme danger caused by traffic and weather situations. It was as if the name of God leaped from my soul to my mouth. Instinctively I knew I needed divine intervention—protection from the worst that might happen. “God!” I cried out without hesitation.
Afterward, when I knew I was safe, I reflected on the experience. Of course I was okay. The name of God had emerged in my heart, mind, and mouth as a reminder of God’s presence and power to save. I didn’t feel as if I somehow deserved to be saved or even that being saved was somehow inevitable. Instead, the occasion of beneficent, providential intervention on my behalf assured me there is always God who is concerned about my welfare and ready to act in my defense.
The urge to pray is not, after all, a purely human impulse. In a Wesleyan framework, it originates with the Holy Spirit. When you think you should pray, this idea did not originate with you, but with God. In turning to God to pray, you are responding to what God is already doing before you find words. Prayer is an act of God in us at the same time as it is our act of turning to God. It is something we do with God, who prompts and molds us, if we will, into a posture of prayer. The Holy Spirit frees us from distraction to offer up to God what is in our hearts and on our minds.
If I love my neighbor as much as I love myself, as Jesus commanded his followers, then I am just as concerned to pray as first response on behalf of others, as for myself. If I am not already doing this, then I need to repent for my selfishness and ask God to help me expand my capacity for holy love. Maybe I need to begin using a prayer list for others, a prayer list itself populated in prayer.
Prayer is something God is always ready to do within us as a first response, way before we let it become a last resort. This is why it is important to begin each day in prayer. Starting the day in prayer acknowledges God’s presence with and in us, wanting to guide us through the day’s relationships and activities. When we fail to turn to God at the outset of the day, we ignore God’s ready invitation and our best opportunity to get the day right from the start.
Because prayer is not something tangible, it is easy to overlook. When we consider its attributes, however, it is an indispensable portal to incredible benefits. Prayer is an act of turning to God with whom all things are possible, and without whom we can do nothing. It is an act of not only acknowledging but also honoring God. It is an entry point to God’s holy presence. As something we do directly with God, it is an enormous privilege. It is something no one except the devil or neglect can take from you or me. Spending time in prayer is an investment that strengthens our relationship with God. On behalf of someone else, prayer is a gift of unquantifiable value.
In short, prayer prepares us for the worst moments in life, the best moments in life, and everything in between. In the longer term, it prepares us for the transition to the life beyond this life.
In John Wesley’s daily prayer service, adapted from the Church of England, one confesses sin and is reconciled with God, showered with grace, led to pray not only for self but for the whole church and the whole world. God is praised and all help needed is sought, especially for the doing of God’s will. This prayer, as an example, is a beautiful way to enduring peace, gratitude, goodwill, and God’s immeasurable provision.
In these difficult times of heart-wrenching divisiveness, global pandemic, tragic loss of beloved lives, unconscionable injustice, and dangerous civil strife, God is already issuing a call to prayer.
Lord, in your mercy, help us to pray.