Bishop encourages churches to be open for prayer

“WE NEED to find ways to open our churches for prayer every day,” Bishop Dr Robert Solomon urged Methodist lay leaders recently.

Speaking on the “Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition” at a Lunch Fellowship for Lay Leaders and Local Church Executive Committee (LCEC) Chairmen at Methodist Centre on March 21, 2009, he addressed the importance of prayer and numerous other spiritual practices stemming from our heritage.

He urged the leaders to follow the maxim of Philippians 4:6, that everything be done through prayer.

The devotional life is central in our Wesleyan heritage.

Wesleyan devotional life includes prayer, Bible reading, the Lord’s Supper, life together, stewardship, fasting and outreach, he said.

Since early Methodism was a movement of itinerant preachers, Wesley developed systems of disciplined devotional practices.

John Wesley went to bed at 10 pm and rose at 4 am for prayer and Bible study. “This may be difficult in Singapore,” Bishop Dr Solomon said, “but it is important to direct our first thoughts to God.”

Prayer is relational. “The biblical philosophy of prayer is not just about doing things or just being, but it is about being with God,” he said, reciting Philippians 1:21-26, with the tension between “being with Christ” and “being with you” people. Prayer is about “being with” God and “being with” fellow believers, he said.

The Bible was the standard for Wesley’s life. He read it worshipfully, as well as studied it, the Bishop said. To assist the Methodist movement he devised rules for Scripture reading that advised both morning and evening reading, attention to both Old and New Testaments, prayer and reflection.

Wesley valued other spiritual practices, including the Lord’s Supper, or communion, which he attended almost daily. The Bishop said that Singapore churches inherited a monthly tradition that developed in the American frontier when there were insufficient ordained clergymen to hold weekly communion.

The Wesleyan devotional life also includes self-denial and fasting, and outreach and social spirituality, he said. The General Rules of the Methodist Church connect righteous living with the devotional life.

The Christian life is not practised alone, and Wesleyan devotional life strongly emphasises life together for mutual encouragement, he said, noting that the early Methodists regularly held society meetings and small groups.

During a break-out session participants discussed the current state of devotional life in our Methodist churches as well as the challenges to growing deeper.

Some were challenged to make room for contemplative time in the midst of an active schedule. “It’s a struggle to keep a balance between ‘being’ and ‘doing’,” said Mr Tay Chee Khiam, Associate Lay Leader of Pentecost Methodist Church.

Some shared how they struggled to find time in their home and work schedules.

“After I have put the children on the school bus, it’s time for my devotions,” said Mr R. Selvadurai, Lay Leader of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference.

Mr R. P. John, LCEC Chairman of Toa Payoh Tamil MC, commented: “I’m a cab driver, so I find time to pray before I start driving.”

Most expressed a desire to deepen their devotional life. “It should be a burning desire,” said Mr Leon Kim Liat, Lay Leader of Wesley MC.

Some churches give high priority to small groups to facilitate devotional life. Mrs Tan Peck Yin, Lay Leader of Christ MC, said that people joining the church must be members of a care group for three months before joining. “We want people to understand that they need to be disciples,” she said.

“Leaders need to set an example of a good prayer life,” said Mr Luke Chong, Lay Leader of Hakka MC.

The LCEC Vice-Chairman of Holy Covenant MC, Mr Deng Xydong, said that many members of that church have joined Covenant Discipleship groups, which closely follow the accountability structure of Wesley’s class meetings.

The Rev George Martzen is Minister Attached to the Bishop’s Office.