Bernie Diaz, December 13, 2018
Perhaps to the delight of some of my regular MCT (My Captive Thought) readers, this mid-December post will not focus on Bible reading per se, though that will be sure to come as we approach the New Year and resolutions thinking.
Nonetheless, I will say that the regular digestion of the word of God as noted by the Westminster divines among other great theologians of the faith, stands as generally one of three main ways or means, in which God has dispensed his sanctifying grace to his church, meaning ways or means in which Christians grow in the grace, wisdom and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and their corresponding holiness.
Those basic means are: the word, prayer and fellowship, which includes the administration of the biblical ordinances of the church (e.g. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper or communion and discipline). Unfortunately, these three simple and basic means of sanctifying grace or growth in the Christian life are more often ignored than observed, and none more so than prayer.
In fact, the only type of prayer more difficult for Christians to observe than private prayer is corporate. Recently a group of pastors spoke at a national forum about prayer in general and each church’s congregational practice of it. After all, corporate or congregational prayer is a historic mandate and expectation for the people of God (Psa. 63:1-8; Acts 2:42). It was a fascinating discussion which produced at least a few interesting takeaways.
1. Prayer Is Difficult. We know this to be a given in the Christian life both privately and corporately. Though it was encouraging to know this is a shared battle it is discouraging to know that real victory is so elusive. I’m not personally aware of a single pastor in my community who believes his church is excelling in prayer and who is really comfortable with his leadership and the church’s participation in this area.
We should not find this surprising since prayer is the means through which God works most powerfully among his own and Satan will undoubtedly make it an area of concentrated attack. Often the enemy’s means are no more complicated than utilizing distraction as a temptation to steer disciples from time alone with God (TAG) and time together in prayer.
2. Many Have Given Up. While many a church has had a weekly or otherwise regular prayer meeting at one time or another, many have since abandoned it.
Usually this is a result of the church losing its enthusiasm for prayer and their belief in its necessity. “Many have made prayer supplemental instead of instrumental in the life of the church.” Some have replaced the prayer meeting with programs or small groups, and some have not replaced it with anything at all. What is debatable is whether a local church’s membership will be more enthusiastic about prayer than its pastor is.
3. It’s Easier to Talk About Prayer than to Actually Pray. In many cases churches talk about prayer more than they actually pray. If there are 30 or more minutes set aside for a mid-week prayer meeting, often only a third of the time is actually used to pray to God and for his kingdom while the rest goes to additional Bible study content and sharing individual prayer requests.
It is often easier to talk about prayer and prayer requests than it actually is to dedicate a sustained period of time to praying. Satan knows he can undermine a church’s effectiveness by undermining a church’s prayer life which is also evident in the scant attention paid to prayer in the Sunday worship service of many churches.
4. Persevere. It was a blessing though to read the transcript of this meeting of pastors and see how many churches have persevered in prayer even when attendance at the meetings is far too low and even when enthusiasm has waned. The perseverance of prayer has long been a valuable tool in the face of the enemy’s attacks!
Tips to Persevere in Prayer
I was reminded in these useful tips from those pastors as to how Christians can pray better. Here were but a few of them:
Longer ≠ Better. We need to protect ourselves and our churches from believing there is a necessary correlation between the length of a prayer and the godliness of the person praying, or between the length of a prayer and the likelihood of God answering it.
As Jesus warned his disciples in light of the long, tedious and repetitive prayers of the uber ‘religious’ (Matt. 6:5), God is no more likely to hear and respond to a long prayer than a short one. Many prayer meetings suffer when the people pray for too long.
Pray Honestly. A pastor needs to remind himself and his church that we do not pray to impress the other people in the room, but to pour out our hearts to God. Public prayer still has that one-to-one dimension of a child before his Father.
Pray Scripture. Having abided by this principle for some time now, I have found that the people of my church in our weekly Sunday morning prayer meeting can and should use the prayers in Scripture as a means of prayer, or ‘having God’s ear. We should also model how to pray Scripture. Where our prayers tend toward “give me!” the Bible’s prayers are far more focused on God’s kingdom purposes, the cause of Christ and Christian character.
Can there be better words to speak to God than the very words he inspired in the Bible? I can think of nothing better than to speak to God in his own vocabulary.
Identify Gifting. God blesses many churches with certain people who are gifted in public prayer. Church leaders and members should consider strategically encouraging such people to commit to your prayer meetings, to pray often, and to see this as a ministry to and for the church.
Make It God-Centered. It is easy to slip into a pattern of man-centered rather than God-centered prayer. Man-centered prayers tend to ask, “How can God help me with my wants and felt-needs?” while God-centered prayers consider, “What is God doing in this? How can I join in God’s purposes here?” This changes not only what we pray for, but also the way we pray.
Pray in Small Groups. One church has one of their small groups each week dedicate their entire time to prayer. So, while the entire church may not pray together that week, one of the small groups is interceding on behalf of others.
Variety Matters. Even something as good as a prayer meeting can stagnate over time. There is value in planning out a few different kinds of prayer meetings and changing it up on a regular basis.
It was disclosed at this pastor’s forum for example, in one week the men and women would pray separately; another week there were only prayers of thanksgiving or confession; another week featured prayer for only certain kinds of requests. At our church’s meeting, we strive to follow the familiar prayer acrostic patterned after the Lord’s or better yet, disciples prayer of Matt. 6 and Lu. 11 (A.C.T.S.):
Adoration (“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; Matt. 6:9)
Confession (and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors; Matt. 6:12)
Thanksgiving (For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened; Lu. 11:9-13)
Supplication (Your kingdom come, your will be done; Matt.6:10a; Give us each day our daily bread; Lu. 11:3-4)
Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted as saying, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” If that is true, why would we hesitate to pray any more than breathe- alone and congregationally? Prayer is and always will be a constant battle. I pray Christians and God-glorifying, Christ-exalting and Bible-centered churches would not give up the battle to breathe- to pray!