Reconditioning Your Harness through prayer   
Copyright 2002 by William Meisheid

There is a story about President Harry Truman, who grew up on a farm and began his marriage as a farmer. One of his hired men noted that Harry was the only man he had ever worked for who required the buckles of all of the harnesses to be undone so that the reconditioning oil could be worked into every area of the harness. This included the area under the buckles that usually was neglected, creating a cracked and weakened harness. Harry was a stickler for the details.

When we break out of our comfort zones and begin working in new fields (new ministries), there are several things we may experience, whether we are "mature" Christians or one who has been "in harness" only a few years.   First, there is renewed energy for the new task. Doing something new for the Lord has a way of energizing our whole lives, of rekindling the flame not just of our spiritual zest, but our zest for every area of our life. This is both wonderful and invigorating. However, that new enthusiasm for and the new demands of ministry will also put a lot of stress and strain on our Christian lives, on our "old harnesses".

One thing we all need to learn, in order to be productive for the Lord, is how to recondition our harnesses and keep them in good working order, or to put it in spiritual terms, to revive ourselves as needed. Certain Christian traditions make revival a very public thing, going so far as to actually formalize it within their church life. No matter how you look at it, we all need periodic reviving, or in the image we have been working with, we all need to recondition our harnesses on a regular basis.

Like any harness, we need to get the oil into every nook and cranny. The oil of the Holy Spirit needs to be worked into every area of our spiritual life, the entire harness, and to do so requires that the harness be unbuckled. Spiritually, I think of this unbuckling as down time, time away from plowing the field, of engaging in ministry, when the focus is not on the work, but on preparing our lives for the work. It is interesting to note that it takes real work to get ready for real work.

The most fundamental task to the reconditioning process is prayer. Prayer is work, real work. Martin Luther said, "Prayer is like a wrestling match. Let it not be said of us: We wrestle not!" He also said, "Prayer is sweat on the soul." I like that, "sweat on the soul." When God looks at us, does He see us sweating? Certainly a good plow horse works up a real sweat.

Luther had a unique perspective on the relationship between prayer and ministry. He said "If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business, I cannot go on without spending two or three hours daily in prayer." He felt that the more ministry (plowing in the field of the Lord) he had to do, the more conditioning his harness needed to be ready for the work.

Prayer can be both mundane and a wonderfully mysterious part of our Christian life. I remember a scene from the movie about C.S. Lewis' life called "Shadowlands" in which Lewis was in the chapel praying fervently for his wife Joy, who was dying of cancer. His Bishop met him outside the chapel and remarked that surely God would hear his prayer. Lewis then makes a startling statement. He says, "I don't pray to change God. I pray that God might change me." In a sense, Lewis is saying that prayer adjusts our harness. Any good farmer knew that good plowing needed a well-adjusted harness.

Prayer is also primarily private. While we do participate in public prayer together on Sunday mornings, most of our prayer is private. It is the time, to combine Luther's analogy with C.S. Lewis' statement, when we wrestle with God and ourselves. It is the time we are changed, prepared for the work that lies ahead; it is when we get our harnesses adjusted.

During the retreat this summer at Shrinemont, we studied the Lord's Prayer. One insight that came out of that effort, noted by a number of people, was the meaning of "our daily bread." To the Jew of Jesus' day, that phrase looked back to the manna in the wilderness. The interesting thing about manna was its lifespan, one day. It could not be stored up. It needed to be collected each and every day. In the same way, our daily bread, our prayerful provision for the coming day, is just that, for the coming day. It needs constant renewing.

So, we can see prayer as a fundamental part of our harness conditioning process, something that needs to be done each and every day. If we take Luther's admonition to heart, it would be how we begin our day. If we take C.S. Lewis' insight to heart, we would expect it to change us in some way. As such, prayer is not an optional part of our pressing "on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" as Paul tells us in Philippians 3:14. It is foundational to keeping our harnesses in good condition.

As we enter into Advent, there will be a new emphasis on prayer in our Sunday service. This will be a good time to also make prayer a new emphasis in our personal Christian lives, to begin reconditioning our harnesses for the labor ahead. God has some great things planned for us. Let's get ourselves ready.