Coin-operated pay phones, like pre-historic dinosaurs, maintain a lingering presence in quaint towns such as Chillicothe, Ohio where this picture was taken. Before mobile cell phones became prevalent, pay phones were available for public use at busy intersections, gas stations, and inside buildings. They afforded people valuable communication services outside the home. If someone ran out of gas or had to make an urgent call, that person could easily find a pay phone to call for help.
Dating back to the early 1900’s, over 80,000 pay phones dotted the United States by 1902. By 1960, the Bell System installed its millionth telephone booth for consumer use. The cost to make a phone call in 1950 was a nickel, a dime by 1980 and after that, the cost increased to a quarter. Originally the calls were put through by myriads of switchboard operators until those folks were replaced by the system of direct dial. By now, most major phone carriers have abandoned the pay phone business, although some may still exist, as this picture proves.
The pay phone is the image I will use as a symbol of the ancient practice of prayer, although prayer will never become obsolete. Throughout the centuries, prayer has been the direct “dial up” to immediately put us in touch with Heaven. We have life-saving access to God’s help 24/7. People call upon God because they believe that He hears, He cares, and He will answer them.
The Bible presents many nuances of prayer. I will cover three aspects that are invariably helpful. They are 1) prayer as a means of learning dependence upon God 2) prayer as a means of personal growth 3) prayer as a source of community service and healing.
The basics of prayer are taught in Luke 11:1 where we find the Disciples observing Jesus as He prays. After He finished, they approached Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) Jesus gave a template for prayer in Luke 11:2-4 that we can personalize and expand upon. This passage is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Our Father Prayer.” Briefly, these words acknowledge the Father’s holiness and our request for the purity of His will. It shows us to ask for daily sustenance, forgiveness of sin, help with the forgiveness of others, and a plea to keep us off the path of evil. People looking to increase their discipline in prayer should pray “The Lord’s Prayer” daily because it covers our primary needs.
No one should be at a loss for words or embarrassed about not knowing how to pray. Prayer is a practice that we can learn. In addition to this prayer model, we will find our own words to say to God, and those words will be well-received.
The goal of prayer is to transfer dependency off of ourselves and onto God. That may take some time because we naturally want to stay in control of our earthly affairs. When we condition ourselves to pray about mostly everything, the result is transformative. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
Jesus assured us that God will give us His best when He answers our prayers. “If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your father who is in Heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11) Believing this is true, we should wean ourselves off of our fears and allow God to furnish our wants and needs to perfectly suit us.
As we continually practice prayer, we avail ourselves to the second aspect, which is personal growth. Staying in contact familiarizes us with the sense of His presence. Knowing we have an audience with Him, we can speak to Him about deeply personal concerns. We will receive answers as He speaks to our mind and through the words of Scripture.
We will make wiser decisions in life when we gain heavenly perspectives through divine guidance. Rising higher from our self-centered point of view transforms us into thoughtful, congenial adults. We shed immature personality traits as God shows us the full scope of life and what is worth living for. As selfishness loosens its enticing grip on our soul, we start to truly care about other people and take up their concerns through prayer. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) Physical and emotional healing comes from opening ourselves up to God and to others. Honesty and transparency free us in our minds and hearts.
One critical attribute of personal growth is replacing retaliation against others with prayer for them. Convincing ourselves to forgive those who have harmed us and pivoting to pray for them is a huge step in character growth. “See to it that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 15-18) There are several directives in this passage that are bundled together with prayer as the facilitator of them all.
Jesus took the lead on this higher road by negating the retribution prayers of the Old Testament. Rather than asking God to punish or even kill our enemies, Jesus commanded us to love and pray for our enemies, that they would taste God’s grace and turn from evil. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.’” (Matthew 5: 43-44)
This may seem like a stretch for most of us, but the power of prayer enables us to do things that we cannot ordinarily do.
Fortunately, the safeguard of any mis-guided prayers is under the auspicious control of God Himself. The Book of Revelation pictures the actual place where our prayers ascend to. “And another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censor; and much incense was given to him, that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of all the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” (Revelation 8:3-4)
To put this in context, Moses built the earthly replica of the altar before God’s throne at the time of the Tabernacle in the desert. God told him to build everything exactly as He showed him to make a place on Earth as it was in Heaven. That was the place God could indwell. The priests who ministered before the Lord mixed sweet incense and then placed it in firepans on the golden altar. There it was burned up by hot coals. This was the Old Testament picture of prayer. “And he shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense and bring it inside the veil.” (Leviticus 16:12) Resources say that the fiery coals in Heaven purify our prayers by burning off wrong motives and our attempts to use prayer for vindictive purposes.
The collective prayers of mankind burning day and night before God are contained in a type of “cauldron of good” that God uses to send protection and healing to Earth. This is not a mystical concept because the historical Tabernacle of Moses matched the golden altar that John saw in his vision of God’s throne. By God’s good will, people around the world receive felt answers to prayer, healing, and miracles due to the incense of believers’ prayers.
This leads us to the third aspect of prayer that casts a vision for us to engage in community service through collective prayer. This type of prayer is called “intercession.” God holds us responsible for crying out to Him asking for national healing. “And He said to them, ‘Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a House of Prayer for all the nations?’” (Mark 11:17)
Thus far, we have talked about how we call out to God in prayer. But like our pay phone example, sometimes we are on the receiving end as God calls us to prayer. When this happens, we will experience an urge to pray within us at a specific moment in time. We will just know that we need to pray.
I will finish with a dramatic time of intercession that happened to me. Deep in the middle of the night on April 15, 2013, I woke to God’s voice urgently saying, “Pray!” I obeyed and used my prayer language to go into intercession as described in Scripture. “…for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…” (Romans 8:26) I could feel the Holy Spirit’s power coursing through me. I was probably in prayer for about five hours and then the feeling subsided. I got up from bed at my normal 7:00 am time to go to work even though I was exhausted. After work, I ate dinner and changed into my gym clothes to go workout at the gym. While I was walking on the treadmill, I watched the evening news on the television screens mounted on the gym wall. Although I could not hear the sound, I saw scenes of a bombing shown repeatedly. I thought to myself, “Are these scenes of a war zone somewhere?”
Finally, the report printed at the bottom of the screen revealed that two homemade bombs had gone off near the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Instantly I knew that this was what I was called to pray about throughout the night. Two terrorist brothers planted homemade pressure-cooker bombs filled with shrapnel with timing devises near the finish line. They left them in knapsacks and casually walked away, as street cameras recorded their moves.
At approximately 2:50 pm, runners were crossing the finish line as the thunderous sound of an explosion shook the area. Minutes later the second bomb went off. People who were not hit by the flying shrapnel scrambled from the scene. Victims of the bombs lay in the street until good Samaritans and EMT’s could reach them to apply tourniquets to stop the bleeding.
Miraculously, only three people were killed from the blasts even though 266 people were injured. Some people lost limbs, some lost eyesight and others almost bled to death. Even so, one reported noted, “There should have been more deaths outside the forum, but much of the blast (of the second bomb) had been contained and halted by a large postal box that was bolted into the ground.” As families were reunited with loved ones who had not been hurt, “Oh Thank God! Thank God!” was a common refrain as families found their runners.  It was a miracle that more people were not killed.
I went home shaken after finding out what had happened in Boston that day. Somehow God had called me up to intercede for that forthcoming disaster. There have been other occasions when God has called me in the middle of the night to pray. The outcome of those situations has not been disclosed to me. As a result, I take God’s calling of intercession very seriously. I know that He watches the Earth, looking for places to intervene and I want to participate in that beautiful, sweet incense of prayer for the healing of the nations.
This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible letting us know that, because of prayer, God is actively at work in people’s lives to bring good and answers to prayer. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes.” (Romans 26:28) That is the result of prayer—that we can know God is working things out for the good of those who seek Him. Prayer is powerful because God Himself is powerful. We can see direct results of our persistent prayers and realize that in all circumstances, God knows and cares.
 Boston Strong, P. 73
 Ibid, P. 106