And she [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me’. But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. – Luke 10:39-42
Perhaps the highest and loftiest acts a Christian can have toward God are private worship and prayer. These two acts are uniquely vertical–that is, unless one includes Bible reading, they are the only experiential things a believer does that are directly toward God, that directly and literally put he or she in living, relational communion with the living God. It could be argued that the reading of Scripture does this as well, but that in itself is a means to bring us to worship and pray. All other aspects of the Christian life are horizontal–outward toward others. But worship and prayer are uniquely God-centered and Godward, dealing with God alone and bring us to Him relationally.
Therefore, these ought to be viewed as the central and most important things a Christian can do. Nothing should compete, nothing should interfere, nothing should take precedence over these two realities–personally being with God alone in communion and prayer. If neglected, all other aspects of the Christian life will wither and dry up. Nothing about the Christian life can survive or thrive without them. Supremely important, and the most vital realities of all in the Christian journey, are private worship and prayer.
If this is true, then is it not a wonderful grace that both of these acts–worship and prayer–are not dependent upon anything external? They don’t require a group of people, money, education, or politics. You do not need to be smart, gifted, have an outgoing personality, or anything else to worship and pray. You don’t have to know someone or organize anything–you just have to be still before God and discipline yourself to be with Him, talk to Him, and adore Him. As Tozer said, to gaze upon the beauty and greatness of His attributes.
Prayer and worship can be done anytime, anywhere, and by any Christian, regardless of their abilities, financial status, education, or people skills. All that is needed is this–a heart for prayer and a heart for God. The two greatest ministries that can be done are those that can be done daily without a newsletter, a computer, an office, or other people. These can be done quietly from an apartment or bedroom. Nothing to do except draw near to God and stay there for a while. Get alone and get with God. He has promised the seeker that “He is in secret and sees in secret.”
Why are so many people only pursuing outward ministry? Young men want to preach or evangelize, want to sing or do missions, yet the ministry of private worship and prayer are greatly neglected. Not many feel “called” to the place of separation and isolation to have a ministry of prayer, the reason being that worship and prayer are not done in relation to men–they are not done publicly and are not seen by men nor appreciate by men. They are not busy activities, but are done in stillness and in private. Yet these two acts in the Christian life take more discipline, more a sense of calling, and more grace than anything else that could be done.
It is much easier to preach, evangelize, and do mission trips than it is to pray. But the highest, loftiest, and most difficult ministry of all is private prayer. And it is probably the most needed today. Many of this younger generation are out evangelizing, writing blogs, or trying to get a ministry. But how many are willing to just have a ministry of prayer, and then let any other ministry develop out of their prayer life? Who feels called to mainly pray, more than preaching or outward ministry? Where are the younger ones who will say, “Prayer will be my work, my ministry.”
I have been a Christian for forty years and have heard many people say, “I believe I am called to preach or pastor,”-“I know God has called me to be a missionary”-“I am called to be a worship leader.” But few are those I have ever met that view prayer as a life’s work and calling, and who give up the outward, public ministry to be alone in the secret place to pray.
The priority of private worship and prayer. These will outlive the outward activity into old age. There will be many activities we cannot do any more and will have to give up when we are older. Many things may have to cease and we cannot continue to do them any longer–
– Write or use a computer when you always could before
– Go to church meetings when you always could before
– Preach or teach when you always could before
– Travel and do mission work when you were active and healthy
– Write books, tracts, or blogs when your mind was clear
– do outward acts of service when you were physically able
In other words, when all ability to do outward activity has ceased, and you are sitting or lying on a bed with illness all day–this is your lot in life now–then it is only personal worship and prayer that are available. There are only two things you are yet able to do–worship and pray.
If this is true, that one day, if you live long enough, the only things for God you will be able to do is worship Him and pray, then why not do them more now? Who among us is called to make prayer their priority in 2014? Where among all the young people and college students are those who will say, “I want a real life of prayer–I will give up outward ministry positions, live at home or rent a cheap room, work part-time, and pray as my job and ministry?” Who feels called to a ministry of prayer before or instead of a calling to missions? Who will give up the spot light of public ministry to be hidden away with God?
When the Christian life begins, a new convert can worship and pray. When a couple doesn’t have any “ministry”, they can have a ministry of prayer. When one has no financial resources, they can have a ministry of prayer. When life is nearing its end, the body is broken down, and all you can do is sit or lay in bed, still you can pray and worship God.
I wonder this new year if this can become the priority for any of us? Time is passing, life is fleeting, and many of us may be wasting time on outward things that don’t really count for eternity, that are not bearing maximum eternal fruit. May we give ourselves increasingly to two things that we may be able to do still at the end of life. At that point, we may not be able to walk, work, be in church meetings, preach, or even speak. But when all the outward is over, some of us will be yet before God in daily stillness, and we then can have the greatest ministry–worship and prayer.
So I issue a challenge to all young people (thirties and younger). If you desire to serve God and don’t know what He wants you to do, then choose a ministry of prayer. Choose to have a prayer life. Make prayer your calling. Develop your prayer life. You are wrestling with whether God want you in full-time ministry and what kind of ministry that would be. Make it prayer. Ask Him, as His disciples did, “Lord, teach me to pray.” Just give yourself to a ministry of prayer. Don’t tell others. Just do it. Make prayer your priority and your ministry. And 2014 is a good year for this to become more than they have ever been in our lives. Some will preach, some will become missionaries in foreign fields, and some could stay home and have a private life of prayer. Why not choose prayer?
Mary chose the best portion, which was not taken from her until her death. This year, let us do the same–worship and pray.
– Mack Tomlinson