Preface: This was originally an article I wrote for my church’s newsletter and blog. So the topic and audience is quite specific. However, I think that anyone may be able to gleen some encouragement to seek out prayer in your own church or community groups.
As I sat down to try and write this little article (for the fourth time), I found myself distracted… distracted by work, distracted by numerous church responsibilities and issues, distracted by personal things and planning a wedding… distracted by the ‘fall’ of a Pastor who’s sermons I have found so much truth, help, and refreshing hope in. In typical fashion, I did everything other than the task that I set out to accomplish.
At this exact moment, I instinctively turned to the website that causes any hope of productivity to come to a grinding halt: Facebook. Providentially, the very top post was from Pastor Tim Keller and he simply wrote:
Pray and pray a lot. Especially when you don’t feel like praying at all.
That was the well-timed and well-themed Spirit-led kick in the pants that I needed. So here we are!
My nature is to fix things. Everything. Often times, this is a helpful trait… But sometimes it’s pretty terrible. It’s terrible when my first reaction to a problem is to immediately think of all the potential paths to a perfect resolution rather than “casting all your anxiety on him because he cares for [me].” When it comes to my prayer life, there’s a lot of refining that I need God to do in me. (Pray for me?) For me, the accountability in prayer that a Sunday worship service or an every-other-week Bible Study provides just isn’t enough. This came to a head during the last Congregation Meeting when Jerry Meltzer gave such a passionate plea for folks to join in one of the weekly prayer meetings at church. I was convicted. I knew about the prayer meetings. I had preconceived ideas of what went on there and reasoned that it just wasn’t for me and that “I had so many things to do.” But I promised myself I would attend the meeting the following week.
Wednesday came and I ended up getting a flat tire and my schedule was all discombobulated. It was the perfect excuse to not follow through on a promise I made. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, Jerry’s words ran through my head. I confess, I made it to this meeting because I forced myself to go. It was not out of joyful expectation. But praise His name, the following 3 weeks I cleared my schedule out of that joyful expectation of being able to sing a few songs, hear a brief message, and pray for an extended time with my church family. Some of the things that I used to reason why a prayer meeting wasn’t for me are the exact reasons I so enjoy the prayer meetings!
To you, the seasoned prayer warrior, this may seem like an elementary story. I tell it not because I’m some wise man who discovered a revolutionary way to pray. There are saints who have been coming to these meetings faithfully for years. They are the wise ones. They’ve realized the importance of communal prayer. God bless their vigor and faithfulness! I tell it because the turnout at these meetings is disproportionately small compared to the attendance of a Sunday morning service. I can only think that there is someone else out there that might have had a moment where you saw the prayer meetings listed in the Bulletin or the weekly email blast and glazed right over it like I did. You may have thought, like I did, “I pray at home. I hear the Pastoral prayer on Sunday and pray silently in my chair. I go to a bible study and pray along with the leader or even pray aloud sometimes. I’m so busy, so those other times are enough.” Or maybe you’ve never thought of going to a prayer meeting because you’ve managed to miss all of the advertising! Maybe you realize you need to slow down from the business of life and could use some community support.
My attempt at a plea for you to come out to a prayer meeting may not be conveyed with the same emotion and heart Jerry was able to do in person that Friday evening. It’s not meant to be a theological explanation of the importance of prayer. But I hope it’s something that might cause you to rethink coming out to a prayer meeting!
For the past 4 weeks, many of my frustrations have been put into proper perspective when I am in His presence hearing His people praying for each other, this church, and those that don’t yet know Christ. You know those prayer cards that are in the Bulletin every week that may seem so traditional or ritualistic? Every one of those that gets turned in gets prayed for – thoroughly – at these prayer meetings. Hearing people’s hearts and prayers for their friends, family, and those in the community who don’t know Christ, and being able to intercede in prayer for them, is far more eternally valuable than anything else I could have possibly done during that 1 hour on Wednesday evening – even if it was some practical church project! Hearing how much struggle there is going on within our church family is heartbreaking and humbling. Hearing the praise and hope that people have is encouraging. Seeing how church members are caring for each other “behind the scenes” provides an encouraging perspective.
Maybe prayer is an equalizer in the life of the church. Maybe it’s the one thing that we can all freely rally around. There are no preferences to be had. There are no committees to go through. There are no generational differences. It’s just pouring our hearts out to our Father who promises to hear us. Maybe the first step to deeper ‘community’ in the church isn’t more activities… but more prayer – together.
My prayer is that the Wednesday evening prayer group is no longer able to meet in the Choir Room and the format has to be adapted to support multiple classrooms and a Sanctuary: because we’re that zealous, as a church, to pray together.
I’ll leave you with what Tim Keller writes about Jesus and prayer in his book ‘Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God‘:
Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a ‘house of prayer’), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb. 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1–26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying. (pp. 27)
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. –Romans 12:12