Developing the church’s spiritual life during 2013 (2)
The title implies that our churches are not as spiritually healthy as they should be. Among other things, church leaders should seek to strengthen the prayer life of their churches.
This might mean preaching a series of sermons on prayer. There are many aspects of prayer which need covering, including teaching about private and family prayer, stressing that our personal walk with the Lord is foundational.
There should be regular opportunities for corporate prayer. Such prayer is fundamental to New Testament Christianity, as the book of Acts shows. Prayer is not to change God, but primarily to change us.
As we come close to the Lord, we catch his vision and he makes us into people that he uses. It is important to note that the Lord has largely chosen to limit his activity in this world to that which involves believers prayerfully as his co-workers.
‘Normal’ prayer is insufficient in days like these, when sin is so deeply entrenched (Mark 9:28-29). God wants us to plead his own mighty promises in Scripture, so that like Job we can each say, ‘I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments’ (23:4).
Let us use God’s promises as arguments with him why he should bless us. We need perseverance in prayer, as Jesus taught in the parables of the importunate widow and the friend at midnight. Such is very different from vain repetition and mere babbling.
We must work at being radical and creative in refreshing our prayer meetings. Let’s try to avoid sameness in them, so that people stay alert, fully engaged and expectant. This is necessary, because after a long day at work or with children people can come to an evening prayer meeting feeling exhausted.
Instead of a conventional prayer meeting, the church could have a time when several individuals are asked to pray, followed by an open time when anyone can pray. Praying too in small groups for part of the time may be effective in encouraging more people to pray, especially those shy of praying in public.
We should strongly discourage long, wearisome prayers that verge on theological discourses. They often don’t actually ask for anything and aren’t really prayer. They dampen the spiritual atmosphere and discourage others from praying.
C. H. Spurgeon encouraged ‘less tail feathers of pride and more wing to get to the point quickly’. Let’s have shorter prayers and get to the point quickly.
But we need to be aware of when the Spirit is leading. Obviously, if the Spirit really moves, a longer prayer may be God-given and people will hardly notice its length. Also it is not wrong, but helpful, for several people to wrestle and plead for the same thing. That can build up earnestness and expectancy.
Dr Lloyd-Jones at a ministers’ conference once commented: ‘Gentlemen, you are praying like men on holiday’. Another leader was equally blunt when he said, ‘There is too much of the playground and not enough of the battlefield in our prayer meetings’.
We should aim to improve the content of our prayers. Most prayer meetings today are dominated by pastoral and humanitarian needs: for the sick, elderly, lonely and unemployed.
All this is important to pray about, but are we thereby neglecting the big issues? We need ‘missional’ prayer, not just ‘maintenance’ prayer. We must make sure that ample time is given to praying for big, spiritual issues.
Pray for the dunamis, the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, to be poured out upon the church. Pray for the Lord to come and refresh the whole church; for his anointing on the preaching so that hearts are warmed and lives changed, and people become willing for zealous and sacrificial service for Christ.
Pray for a God-given burden for the lost, a fresh urgency to reach them with the gospel; for fresh doors of gospel opportunity to be opened into the community; for conviction of sin and for conversions.
Pray for the Lord of the harvest to raise up a new generation of ministers and workers for the harvest field; for our Bible colleges, that men will be trained not just theologically, but spiritually, so that they will be passionate and empowered. Also, of course, we must pray for God to come in a nation-wide revival.
Church leaders should lead the church in such prayer, so that the congregation increasingly wrestles with God for these really big issues.
We also need to raise the profile of prayer meetings so that everyone wants to come to them.
When the prayer meeting focuses on the really big spiritual issues and when the leaders involve church members in seeking God about the church’s future direction, it soon becomes clear that prayer meetings are where the action takes place. They are the heart-beat and power-house of the church.
This is where serious and urgent business is done with God, where his guidance is sought and where the future blessing of the church is largely determined. Nobody should miss them.
Church leaders should be proactive and find out why some people aren’t attending prayer meetings and what can be done to encourage them, perhaps finding what times would suit them better.
It may be necessary to be flexible and arrange another prayer meeting for those who genuinely can’t get to the main church prayer meeting. This is the helpfulness of a monthly half-night of prayer. A husband and wife can take it in turns, or grandparents or friends can attend and baby-sit for young couples. Even people working late can slip in for an hour at the end.
Most churches have a precious resource of spiritually experienced, older Christians who know the way to the throne of grace and could get together for an hour of prayer at a convenient time during the day.
Let the elders suggest some spiritual priorities for them to pray about. Why should they not occasionally fast and pray for the anointing of the Spirit on the ministry?
It is vital to restore true spirituality to its rightful place in churches. The only way to do this is to restore the Holy Spirit to his rightful place. One leader has warned us that some Reformed churches have so seriously neglected the Holy Spirit they are barely Trinitarian.
We need to seriously re-engage with the Acts of the Apostles. The early church was fearful and powerless without the Holy Spirit, but dynamic and unstoppable when the Holy Spirit was poured out.
If we overreact against Charismatic extremes and neglect the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we become unbiblical, spiritually lifeless, and powerless. If we are guilty of quenching and even grieving the Holy Spirit, we cannot expect to be spiritually healthy!
Let us glory in the fact that Christianity is a spiritual and supernatural religion, the very life of God in our souls. Regeneration is supernatural; every conversion is a miracle of God. Let us begin to live and act knowing that the supernatural, miracle-working God is in our midst, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Face the danger that, as a church, we may have become too cerebral and lacking in spirituality, not experiencing the life-changing power of the Word, and perhaps suppressing the experiential knowledge of God.
There may be a need for repentance and change of direction by church leaderships to restore the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit to his rightful place.
To be concluded