Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Church Reform - Prayer

If the bible is the primary way that we know God and how to please him, then prayer is how we experience God and communicate with him. The bible and prayer are not an “either/or,” but a “both/and.” Churches need the bible and prayer.

As Christians, we know that we need to pray personally. In fact, we are told to pray “without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). In this post, I will not be addressing personal/individual prayer, but will focus instead upon how the church prays when it gathers.

When you gather with your church family to pray, what happens? What are the priorities? Who prays? What is the focus of the prayer?

The answers to these questions will certainly differ from local church to local church. However, I’m afraid that many times the prayers of the local church look something like this: It is the pastor who prays the most, especially at the Sunday morning service. On Wed. night, at “Prayer Meeting,” the body’s prayer requests mostly focus on the physical ailments of the membership. In general, when prayer happens, the priority is not the glory of God. The priority is not for the salvation of souls. Prayer also seems to lack expectation that God will act. These are generalizations, but they are accurate in many churches.

When we read the scriptures, what do we see? Three things stand out to me. First, we are given, by our Lord, clear evidence that prayer should focus first and foremost on the glory of God. In Matt. 6:9-13, commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus instructs us to begin praying for the glory of the name of God himself. Related to this, in John 17, Jesus begins his prayer to his Father by praying that God would be glorified. This seems to be the first priority of prayer.

A second aspect of prayer we see in the bible is prayer for the lost to be saved. In Acts chapter two, we read about the early church in action. One of the characteristics of the church was prayer (2:42). A few verses later (2:47), we read that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Later in the N.T., in Romans 10:1, Paul writes, “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” It is clear that early followers of Christ prayed regularly for the lost to be saved.

Third, when we look at the early church, we see a body of believers who prayed with an expectation that God would act. As an example, Acts 4:31 says, “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” Notice also that many people appeared to be praying. Furthermore, Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Clearly, we are expected to pray with an expectation that God will act.

What can we do to follow the biblical model today? How can we get away from the “organ recitals” (prayer primarily for God to heal our relatives’ ailing organs) that we hear on Wed. nights? I propose a few ideas, but would as always like your help.

  1. When we have the opportunity to pray in the local church, let’s follow the model Christ has given to us.
  2. If we teach, we must take time to instruct the body in how Jesus said to pray, how Jesus prayed, and what the remainder of scripture says about prayer.
  3. We must encourage the church to set aside regular times for lengthy prayer where all members are involved.
  4. We must pray for the magnification of the glory of God’s name.
  5. We must pray for lost souls to be saved by God.
  6. We must pray with expectation that God will act.
  7. We should teach and model that prayer is a foundation for the church. Apart from biblical prayer, not much will happen.
What do you think?

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Church Reform Series:

Getting Started
Definition of Church
Doctrine
Purpose
Worship
Discipleship
Family

4 comments:

Rhea said...

Interesting post. I think that most people "overlook" prayer a lot, especially in corporate settings. The campus ministry that I'm involved with has prayer Mon-Fri at 7:14am (2 Chronicles 7:14) on campus. We gather together (usually 50 or more of us) and we share prayer requests. Then we might sing a song, and then we get started prayer. The same guy starts us every day, and then we just take turns praying. If you want to pray out loud, you do, if you don't, you don't. Then our campus pastor prays last and closes. We're a very "evangelism oriented" group, so we definitely pray a lot for souls to be won.

Eric said...

Rhea,

It sounds like your campus prayer ministry has a good thing going. I wish more churches would do things of that nature. It will take intentional leadership in this area for prayer to be emphasized in any church. Thanks for commenting!

Eric

Brian said...

You are on to something there Eric. Prayer is key - we spend one Sunday night service praying and seeking the Lord and since then our home Bible study jumped to 10 people. We are going to keep prayer a focus for our Sunday night services. Instead of flashy programs, I think prayer is key to growing the church and growing Christians.

Eric said...

Brian,

I'm excited to hear about the growth of your bible study. I believe God rewards us with spiritual growth when we earnestly seek him. More important than even that, God is honored when we pray.

It also seems that God grows churches numerically that pray because He knows that those people actually want his presence with them.

I hope things continue to go well with your church.

Thanks for commenting.

Eric