From the BBC today comes a touching story: when armed militants stormed a bus in Kenya, the Kenyan Muslims on board banded together to protect the Christians traveling alongside them.
According to the article, in an April attack the al-Shabab militants “reportedly singled out Christians and shot them, while freeing many Muslims.” This time, however, the outcome was different: the Muslims demanded that the militants either “‘kill [us] together or leave [us] alone.”
I was touched when I read the story and, on my prayer walk, felt compelled to pray for those compassionate Muslims. I thanked God for placing them in the right place at the right time to help my Christian brothers and sisters across the globe. I continued on to pray for them, about their hearts and their daily lives, and about the lives of those believers with them who had been saved, and God’s purpose for them. After a while, I realized how rarely I pray this way – about a specific group of people in a specific moment. My tendency is to pray more generally – for, say, “Muslims,” or “Christians in other countries,” or for some other generic group, without ever really connecting that to a moment or a place. And the revelation started me thinking about prayer more generally: who I pray for, and how often, and those for whom I don’t pray at all. When I considered it and broke it down, the list startled me.
Here are the people I typically pray for: family, friends, church acquaintances and members, requests brought to me purposefully, myself, and what I can only call Nameless Faceless General Groups (“the lost,” “unbelievers,” “the sick,” and so on and so forth).
Here are the people I do not typically pray for: my mailman, the staff at my apartment complex, my neighbors on both sides whom I hear literally every day, the Kroger employee I see every single time I am at the store, the greeters at my church, and specific members of the aforementioned Nameless Faceless General Groups that I hear mentioned on the news or in daily life
The list convicted me. Not because I feel like we all need to rattle off a Goodnight Moon-esque list of requests at night when we settle down to pray (“…and God bless the mailman and my neighbors and the stars and the sky and my dad and my mom and…”), but because what I don’t pray for is a dead giveaway that my prayer life is segregated from my daily one. And that shouldn’t be the case.
Yes, prayer should take place at certain times and at dedicated moments. Every Christian needs to find that time and place to get alone with God and commit the act of prayer as a habitual practice of intimacy. But as believers we are also to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). If I am not praying for my mailman, it’s because the act of checking my mail is disconnected from prayer. If I am not praying for the Kroger employee, it’s because the act of shopping is disconnected from prayer. If I am not praying for my neighbors or specific groups of people I read or hear about, it’s because in my day-to-day life I am divorced from my prayer life.
Prayer is not just an act which one commits at a certain time and a certain place. It is a way of life and of being: an attitude. To “pray without ceasing” requires attention and mindfulness–it requires seeing people, or moments that are passing by, and to recognize them right then as meaningful to God whether or not you feel they are meaningful to you. If we adopt an attitude of prayer then everyone becomes meaningful and everything we do and see and read and think about is fodder for God’s throne. And that is how prayer changes us: it changes the way we exist in the world, and we the way we treat and think about people in it.
With the coming of the new year, I’m making it a goal to cultivate an attitude of prayer not just by having a dedicated “prayer time,” but by practicing prayer in my daily life and in my mundane habits: in my encounters, in the casual run-ins I have with those I see and meet, and even in simple acts like reading the paper or watching TV.
Who do you spend time in prayer for? And who do you neglect? Let the answers guide you into adopting a a prayerful attitude daily.