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Drive-through prayer lanes spreading across the country

Open for prayer business: Moriam Okereke (left) and Marilyn Bills get ready for drive-through hours prior to opening the drive thru lane at Hope United Methodist Church in Voorhees, New Jersey on May 22, 2014 (Credit: Philadelphia Inquirer/Elizabeth Robertson) "People go to Dunkin' Donuts for coffee, not because it's the best coffee, but because it's the most convenient.  In a similar way, this is a port of entry for somebody to begin to connect with God in an intentional kind of way."  So explains the pastor of the latest church to open a drive-through lane for people seeking prayer.

Churches from Florida to Kansas and Illinois to California are picking up the trend.  One purchased a nearby bank building, staffed it with volunteers, and opened for people to drive through.  The church uses the bank's deposit tube for people who want to write down their prayer requests rather than speak to a church member.  The strategy is working.  People have asked volunteers to pray for family members and other problems; one woman asked the church to pray for her daughter, who had moved to Israel and was entering the Israeli army.

When I first read about this phenomenon, I agreed with a critic who warned that it "reinforces this idea of prayer being more like a vending machine.  We drive up to the window, make our selection, put in our order, and get our request fulfilled.  That's a self-serving distortion of the Christian experience."  Upon reflection, I realized that the same can be said of any prayer request, whenever and however we make it.  Transactional religion has been with us since the first supplicant made the first sacrifice to his or her deity for the purpose of being blessed as a result.

I think something more visceral than mere convenience is at work here.  Our culture is becoming increasingly secularized: the highest percentage in history says they have no religious preference and states that religion is "not very important" in their lives.  But secularism does not change our basic need for God.  For instance, 76 percent of Americans say religion is losing its influence today; after 9-11, just 39 percent agreed.

Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165), one of the first defenders of the Christian faith, believed that God has planted "seeds of truth" in every human soul.  As a result, there is something about us that knows we need God's help and therefore need others to pray for us.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul asks his readers to forgive sinners, live with integrity, give generously to God's work, and reject critics of his ministry.  But here's his first request: "You must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many" (2 Corinthians 1:11).

The greatest apostle, evangelist, missionary and theologian in history asked the most dysfunctional, immature church of his day to pray for him.  If he needed their intercession, how much more do we need the prayer support of believers today?  If the Corinthians needed to pray for Paul, how much more do we need to pray for one another?

E. M. Bounds: "Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still."  Who is praying for you today?  For whom are you praying?

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