As a kid, any time you play a sport, practice seems to start the same way: run a few laps around the gym, then circle up and stretch, holding each stretch for 10 seconds. While not the best stretching method, it seems like the one we’re most familiar with. Stretching disappears when high school sports end, left at mom and dad’s with report cards, Herff Jones school pictures, and science fair boards.
As an adult runner, I know I’m supposed to stretch. I do a yoga class about once every two months. I know the standard quad, hamstring, and calf stretches. You may even see me awkwardly stretched on the ground to loosen up my IT band. But overall, stretching is seen as this passive, unproductive thing that you only do when you’re hurt.
And sadly, this is the same attitude I have with prayer. Stretching and prayer are after-thoughts, things I do when there’s pain or trouble. But when running and life are working out just fine, I let these fundamental disciplines slide until I’m hurt again.
At church this morning, my pastor preached on the extreme importance of prayer, especially while looking into a new year. It convicted me in a huge way, so I wanted to share some of his thoughts in my own words as I wrestle to understand why prayer matters.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. I Timothy 2:1-2
In the first chapter of I Timothy, Paul demonstrates the importance of the gospel and then immediately turns Timothy to prayer. When we understand the weight of Christ’s work, the first thing we must do is pray! But we often do not. Why? Because prayer demonstrates my dependence on Jesus and my pride is often unwilling to admit that. Prayer doesn’t feel productive; it feels passive and makes me realize that my actions really have nothing to do with God’s will being enacted on earth. Everything I do is through his power.
What I need to remember is that prayer IS the work, not preparation for the work. When I hear the gospel and see the need, I should pray first, not do.
Yes, I do need to make stretching part of my regular running regime because it loosens my muscles, allows me to relax and recover, and helps guard against injury. In a similar way, and to a much greater extent, I need prayer in my daily life. It loosens my grip on the world, lets me relax into God’s plan and recover from the chaos and stress around me, and helps guard against sin and temptation.
Let 2012 be the year we learn how to pray and understand that it IS the work that is most important for those who understand the gospel and the world’s great need.