TheNigerianVoice Online Radio Center

The Audacity of prayers in Nigeria by Blessing Maduagwu

Listen to article

This article brings it starkly home to any perspicacious reader of this work that Christians in Nigeria share the need to pray and fast in any circumstance we find ourselves. To put it quite simply, prayer is extremely indispensable in the life of every Christian. As explained to me right from Sunday school, and having taken some time to examine the efficacious nature of prayers in our commitment to Christianity and relationship with God, I have therefore come to submit fully to the idea, and without any modicum of doubt whatsoever, that prayer is the spiritual network without a Sim card. It is a free subscription package with direct connection to our faith and belief in the marvelous works of God and his benevolence to mankind. Nigerian Christianity is very hot and vibrant with a distinct touch of a carnival. One may be surprised with how sorrow and hardship are immersed in songs of praise and worship and how we all appear resplendent with gaits of pride and honour for God on Sunday mornings. Quite interestingly, the most beautiful time in most Christian churches in Nigeria is the hour of praise, because of our passion for Christianity, the zeal for God and most importantly our burning desire for his numerous blessings which are, in all sincerity, daily testimonies from our individual experiences. Our needs as Christians are so challenging that prayer becomes unavoidable, considering that we need it to activate the strength of our faith, beg for outright forgiveness and place our demands for divine fulfillments.

The true Nigerian worship spirit is very captivating and can pierce through darkness to create light and that's one of the reasons why we are ranked among the most religious people on the planet. Besides, Nigerians have strong belief in God even among traditional worshipers, who whilst pouring libations acknowledge the presence of God and that is why it is absolutely strange to see a Nigerian without any inclination to faith, religious belief and ideology. To many of us, prayer is the solution to all our problems that even when doctors say ''no'', our faith says ''yes''. We have several Christian songs of faith and prayer for the blessings of those who bless us and even for protection from those with annihilative intentions. We will be acceding to the truth of nature that, although we are Christians, we are also human beings and therefore exposed to both friends and foes alike and in reflection of this situation, it becomes absolutely incomprehensible if our prayers do not border on security and protection from God. The understanding is very clear among the rich, who feel their wealth is a source of envy and animosity, and even among the poor who are helplessly driven by the dreadful thought of an ''Ahab'' that is willing to deprive a ''Naboth'' his vineyard. The efficacy of prayer is indescribable because through it, miracles become evident in our lives, faith is strengthened, lost souls are found and most importantly Christ is revealed in the most explicit and conceivable manner. Apostle Paul advised with utmost conviction that we should ''Pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances''. (Thes: 5:16-18)

One of the most popular songs in Nigeria confirms that prayer is the key and even went further to call it ''The master key''. It is a reflection of victory and success as well as a solace for hindrances and failures and indeed the most powerful element of a Christian force in any spiritual battle. With prayer, Jesus conquered death and gave everlasting life to whoever that acknowledges him as the Christ, the son of the living God. Of great importance too is God's generosity and absolute kindness by giving it to us free, and simply requiring from us our time to go down on our knees and seek his presence. More often than not, prayer is taken for granted because in our sincere belief, we have a God that is forgiving and answers long before we conclude our sessions of prayers. In the life of many, prayer is the presence of God; it depicts God's invitation to deal with all circumstances in accordance to our wishes and aspirations and prepares us for an act of love and kindness from the treasury of his heart. For instance, growing up under the supervision of my parents was a challenging experience, whilst watching my father preach the gospel from a pulpit became a great turning point. My late father was a primary school headmaster and occasionally conducted church services in absence of the parish priest in our village Anglican church, whilst my mother used to do the same especially on mother's day. My first experience and understanding of the gospel was to look at pictures of Jesus Christ from his childhood to the point of crucifixion, death and resurrection and believed that trusting him will never be in vain. My background was very rich in Christian philosophies and with that, we were made to embrace poverty with love, rather than dispel it with complaints. For several months, government would owe them salaries and treat them with the most inconceivable human indignity. Without grandstanding, we would all gather in the sitting room to take instructions from our parents on different survival tips. I saw my parents confront this ugly trend with prayers, often involving very deep mental calculus. It was a common understanding among teachers not to send the wards of fellow teachers home on grounds of non-payment of school fees and this indefinite grace period was indeed a fair acknowledgement of my father's contribution to his profession. In his funeral oration, I saluted his courage and resolve to trust God with prayers and with a paltry salary, all of us went through the school system. So prayer restores hope from despair and life from ruins and no one has ever regretted using it on a sick bed.

Our attitude to prayers can put the kindness of God to test and even devitalize our strength to spice it with utmost good spirit. Prayer is an act of love that requires reverence and commitment to worship and adoration of God and his magnificence. You cannot pray sincerely if you are an enemy of God and you cannot ask earnestly if you are unkind to others. We are very global in our approach to Christianity, very vibrant with outward manifestations of our commitment to God, but cruel with our conscience especially with the way we treat others. It is not uncommon to see fellow Christians use prayers to demonize others who are considered inimical to their growth, development and success. The bible condemns any act of hatred and this must reflect in our daily life with prayers. I have seen fellow Christians offer ferocious prayers with secular undertones, their dictions are ultimately derogatory and reprehensible but with strong belief that the effect will be catastrophic to the perceived target recipient. With anger and heavy heart, we derail from the course of our journey to Christ by building our own partway that we consider nearer to our destination and in the process destroy the railroad to salvation that God has built for us. The heart of prayer is pure and kind because God dwells there and rains his blessings ceaselessly if we are genuine with our belief and reverence.

A common trend among many Christians in Nigeria is the use of the word ''fire'' during prayer times. Owing to the nature of our culture, social perceptions and tribal identities which are not unconnected to our Christian style of worship, one can easily tell the difference between a Nigerian church and foreign ones. We usually find ourselves take a cue from the power of fire in the bible and apply it against all principalities that confront our innate desire to fully declare for God, lock-stock and barrel. Furthermore, we were brought face to face with the destructive power of fire in the event of Sodom and Gomorrah, which many Christians also regard as an attack weapon that burns enemies and throws their ashes into the abyss. In Kings 18:38, There's a convincing proof that God also intervenes or indeed answers by fire in the course of prayers. This episode of prayer, test and proof involving Elijah and the worshippers of Baal brought about the composition of this Christian song: ''The Lord that answereth by fire, he'll be my God,'' whilst the burning bush for which Moses was advised to approach bare-footed, deeply confirms the appearance of God by fire. Of great importance too, is the Deuteronomic account of the history of Israel and the metaphorical confirmation of the image of God as a ''consuming fire'' (Deut: 4:24), but the most striking event of fire in Christian history is its depiction of the overpowering presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which became the most revolutionary period of all post-resurrection episodes that defined all spiritual engagements from the detailed accounts of St Luke the evangelist in the Acts of Apostles to the complex analysis and narratives of St.John in the book of Revelation.

The Holy Ghost is a personage of the spirit that came to comfort the Apostles but the consuming effect it had on fear and lethargy, in conjunction with the manner in which the Disciples were empowered and emboldened gives meaning to the importance of God's fire, which to many praying Christians, is a depiction of power and indefatigable force against the devil and its cohorts. An effective prayer is such that bears the spirit of Christ which he gave his followers for blessings, cure and deliverance from evil entanglements and that's why we must understand the need to pray with the truth in our minds, which unveils and explains our desire for mercy and grace in our effort to be with Christ in his consuming urge for our salvation. In most modern churches in Nigeria, the phrase ''Holy Ghost fire'' is so popular that it connotes war against the enemy, burns them completely and submit their ashes for final destruction. In some prayer situations in most modern churches, the word ''fire'' is shouted repeatedly, with very strong gesticulations to neutralize the effects of an impending attack from enemy territories. Therefore, fire was used to encapsulate Christ's promise of strengthening the faith and audacity of his followers on Pentecost day and that's why these events conspicously notify us of the dual nature of fire that whilst it can be a symbol of salvation, it also a hell. It is where sinners perish!

The true Nigerian situation is undoubtedly and understandably chaotic. Deep-seated enmity and envy have permeated the social network of the society to create evil empires among the living. There is a common belief in Africa that the dead can be conjured to kill the living and for most Christians, the solution to this threat is prayer and fasting. African Encyclopedia explains the existence of supernatural forces that can wreck havoc if not properly appeased and this compels an average Christian to either take a preventive measure or deal with the circumstances in event of danger. The fear factor is a general problem because of social inequality, where the lives of people can easily be threatened and taken in very complex and deeply unknown circumstances. In many societies, the death of someone is never without a cause, it is usually linked to a perceived enemy, who for ordinary flipping of a finger during altercations, takes responsibility for any ugly trend that eventually develops. Considering the strength of this belief system and the genuineness of this fear factor in most African societies, the Christian communities therefore take refuge in a daily life of fervent prayers, which to a large extent harbors testimonies of shocking confessions, divine interventions and deliverances.

The key to understanding the true meaning of prayer is to continually know why we pray and who we pray to. We always share in the habit of praying when we are confronted with challenges but abandon it when we are engulfed in merry-making or free from danger. This is a natural phenomenon among Christians who call upon God only when their problems appear absolutely overwhelming and expect immediate answers long before their prayers end. In this scenario, it is easy to lose patience with God and seek alternative solutions with cataclysmic consequences. The importance of God's love is the everlasting effect it has on anyone that constantly calls upon him, but man's love is ephemeral and ineffective in comparison with the power of love from above and with love, God recognized the need for sinners to come to him with absolute contrition. “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”{ Luke 18:13}. Therefore, Prayer is free and does not have a cap as to the number of times we are required to seek God's intervention in the challenges that confront us in our daily endeavours.

I have realized the difference between Nigeria and other communities abroad. Most Nigerians are borne with suffering which is constantly at war with our aspiration for growth and development but what you'll always extract from our life situation is our dogged belief in tomorrow and the strength of our hope today that ''it shall be well'' or. ''E go better'' (A popular Nigerian phrase). There is absolutely no one in Nigeria that lacks hope for a time things may turn around. A BBC documentary titled: ''Welcome to Lagos'' was indeed a lopsided account of the city slum-dogs with heavy hearts and considering the multicultural nature of Lagos as the melting pot of humanity, the story of Lagos scavengers was shown as the story of Nigeria. Although heavily criticized for its bias and prejudice, it explained the resilience of Nigerians, the strength of our praying spirit and our belief in the future that ''God's time is the best'' and that's why we confront death by refusing to die until our tomorrow comes. It therefore worries me that prayer is almost going to the archives in the western world and appears to be a strange obstacle to secular folks who want to obey the precepts of the constitution rather than the direction of biblical injunctions. In UK for instance, Christianity is the state symbol of faith but many citizens find it difficult or rather unhelpful to their needs. You'll be greatly surprised to hear the last time many of them went to church and how the name ''Jesus'' is fast becoming unpopular because he doesn't play in any team in the premiership. Some suicide cases are so worrisome that a little prayer could have prevented a tragedy but you'll be surprised why someone would take his or her life for a minor problem that prayer can solve. In Nigeria, prayer has solved more problems than the government did since independence. It has continued to sustain orphans, destitute, scavengers, lunatics, the elderly and the most vulnerable because they are not known to the Nigerian government. Has anyone ever wondered how these species of human beings survive while those in government are busy killing themselves for political offices? It's a food for thought.

Biblically, prayer introduced very key moments in the lives of early Christians. The Paternoster remains the nucleus of all prayers which Christ taught his disciples. Although viewed by many contemporary Christians as short, it touched every aspect of life that is recited deeply till today in all Christian churches. Christ passed through his ordeal for our salvation through prayers and one could feel the drops of his sweat whilst in very deep meditation in the garden of Gethsemane. Christ himself is the personification of God, he could get anything he wanted if he cared not to pray, but he showed his human nature and prayed with fasting in all his time with his disciples. As human beings, many of us have a tendency to enjoy the wealth of our parents and close relatives by simply taking what we feel we need without necessarily asking. Few years into my job as a banker in Nigeria, I recall that my siblings would come on holiday and eat whatever they like, fly in airplanes and shop in expensive boutiques. All they needed to do was simply to drop their shopping list in my car because of the belief that: ''I should understand''. Their conviction was that they do not need to roll on the floor, bearing in mind that I was then a bachelor, and therefore, whatever that was mine, was equally theirs. This is a natural instinct of ownership when you feel something is almost yours but the example of Christ was quite instructive that despite his glory as the only son of God, he prayed and fasted for what he could have ordinarily gotten if he chose otherwise. This was therefore not the case because prayer was part of his central mission for the salvation of mankind.

Conclusively, we should also take examples from early Christian martyrs, who in their bid to spread Christianity, were stoned to death whilst others were ferociously devoured by dangerous animals. The spread of Christianity was simply an act of prayer, depicting the presence of God in the lives of Christians. For nearly 400 years after the death of Christ, Christians were mercilessly disallowed from reading the New Testament, let alone adding it to the Old Testament. In fact, the New Testament was added to the Old Testament after the council of Hippo and Carthage in 393 and 397AD. Prior to this time, there were persecutions and terrible wars against the spread of Christianity. Christian death tolls were so outrageous that identifying as one was indeed a daring exploit. With prayer, the Emperors of Rome, beginning with Constantine, realized the need for Christianity to flourish beyond ordinary human imagination. Our lives today reflect our sustenance through prayers because we have all been at dangerous places, driven at dangerous times and confronted by dangerous people, yet we are alive and looking forward for greater opportunities to excel in our various endeavours. Prayer is therefore the key to living a victorious Christian life because it is a shield of faith that protects us in this hard time and gives us the courage to move like a juggernaut. In the words of Andrew Murray, ''Faith in a prayer-hearing God will make a prayer-loving Christian.

Blessing Maduagwu holds degrees in History and International Relations from Hult International Business School London. (Formerly Huron University, USA in London). He writes from New York.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Blessing Maduagwu and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Blessing Maduagwu