My church is in a season of refocusing on prayer. Every Sunday before the sermon, we break into small groups and pray together. One of the goals of this emphasis, our pastor has said, is to move from being spectators of prayer to participants in it.
Last season, the football team I have followed and loved my whole life started winning big every Saturday. They were awesome, overpowering every opponent and eventually reaching number one in the rankings. I watched every minute of every game and bought myself a new sweatshirt in case I got the opportunity to talk about them in the grocery store or at school pick-up. I turned back into the fan I hadn’t been in years.
Then, they lost a big game to a better team. A few weeks later, they lost again—in spectacular fashion—to a team they should have beaten. Halfway through that game, I turned off the TV. I had been devouring post-game analysis throughout their ascension, but I couldn’t bring myself to read any stories after that defeat. I was out for the season, back on the sidelines with the pain of my unmet expectations.
That’s why I grimaced when my pastor used the word “spectator” to describe the position we can be tempted to take in prayer. Removing myself from the action of prayer often happens when my expectations aren’t met. When God doesn’t answer like I think he will or wish he would, or on my timeline, it’s too easy to move off the field to the sidelines, merely watching instead of participating.
This is where the early church encourages me. In Acts 2, Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). These people weren’t just floating through life from one win to the next. Yes, the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully and thousands were added to their numbers. But their leaders were confronted, arrested, and even killed for preaching about Jesus. Still, they stayed in the game despite the losses they endured.
I’m glad “devoted” is a verb in that account of the early church. It leads me to believe devotion wasn’t something they felt but rather something that moved them to action. It compels me to follow my church’s lead, and the early church’s example, as I step off the sidelines toward a deeper, more disciplined prayer life.