It is widely agreed among Christians that we are not praying as we should be, and yet like rabbits caught in the headlights of a car we seem paralysed and unable to re-engage with God in serious prayer. How then can we break this paralysis?
We must be convinced about the primacy of prayer — ‘devote yourselves to prayer’ (Colossians 4:2); ‘pray continually’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17); and ‘pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests’ (Ephesians 6:18).
We have no record in Scripture of Jesus teaching his disciples to preach, but he made sure they were well taught in the school of prayer. He demonstrated by example and teaching the primacy of asking, persevering, believing prayer.
R. A. Torrey said, ‘We’re too busy to pray, and so we’re too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity, but we accomplish little. Many services, but few conversions; much machinery but few results’.
Hopeless situations changed
Exactly! Do we need any more convincing? We must be clear about the purpose of prayer. It is certainly not to change God’s wise and perfect will, but to draw so near to him that we identify with his heart of compassion and passionately desire what he desires.
His Spirit then empowers us to pray with boldness and spiritual energy for what he has providentially planned, so that apparently hopeless situations are changed, fresh doors of opportunity are opened, fellow Christians grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord, unbelievers are saved, and God is glorified.
The members of each church should agree together to raise the level of prayer both individually and corporately.
As this is absolute priority, why not devote one or more special church members’ meetings to facing this challenge together, with a view to covenanting together before God to seek him in earnest, persevering prayer? Without this definite agreement, little is likely to change.
In order to get everyone praying it may be necessary to make mid-week meetings, like home groups, more flexible (holding them on more than one evening or in the daytime), so that most, if not all, can attend.
Older Christians are a precious resource for prayer. Most churches have retired, experienced believers, who are available for additional prayer during the daytime and would welcome an extra mid-week opportunity for fellowship and perhaps a cup of tea.
Church leaders can supply them with major concerns and items for prayer. Then they can get down to serious wrestling with God for his blessing.
Specific ministry on Sundays and mid-week can help rebuild urgency, expectancy and confidence in God. Pastors can plan a programme of preaching which demonstrates God as a sovereign, living and active God, who has committed himself to save a vast multitude from every tribe, nation, language and people.
Active warfare and thrilling adventure
Preaching which spells out the eternal destinies of heaven and hell, and therefore the absolute urgency of the gospel; which shows the Christian life as both active warfare against a horrendous enemy and thrilling spiritual adventure in partnership with a sovereign God; all will ignite a passion to wrestle with God in believing and expectant prayer.
Why not plan a comprehensive series of sermons on prayer? If you have no minister, arrange for visiting preachers to fulfil this — a blessing to them as well as the church! Or perhaps church leaders could focus on this subject in a mid-week series?
Such a series could combine exposition of some of the great Old Testament prayers, Jesus’ teaching on prayer, the central place given to corporate prayer in Acts, and prayers of the apostle Paul, together with historical passages like Jacob wrestling with God (and remember Colossians 4:12).
Most of the time in church prayer meetings today is devoted to pastoral, humanitarian needs — prayer for the sick, bereaved, unemployed, etc. This has sometimes been called ‘maintenance prayer’.
Vitally important as maintenance prayer is, the larger spiritual issues are being overlooked. When King George VI called our nation to prayer at critical times during the last war, it was not primarily to pray for the sick and wounded, and nurses and doctors (important though they were), but to pray for victory over an evil enemy who threatened our entire future.
We likewise must cry to God to overthrow the enemy of souls who is invading our land, deceiving our people and threatening to take a whole generation to an eternal hell.
Prayers in the Bible are spiritually rich and diverse, focusing primarily on the victory and glory of God, the building of his kingdom, and the spiritual maturing of his saints. They include confession of sin and prayer for God to return to his people in mighty, saving power.
Larger spiritual issues
We urgently need to plead with God to return to us. Plead for an outpouring of his Spirit; for spiritual growth and passion among the saints; for doors to open into our secular, godless communities; for God to raise up a new generation of Spirit-filled preachers; for his anointing upon preaching; for God’s convicting and converting power to raise the spiritually dead; and for new gospel churches to be planted.
The spiritual needs we face are endless and overwhelming, and the challenge to pray very demanding. So how can we ensure that in our prayer meetings adequate time is devoted to these great spiritual needs?
The best way I know is to divide the prayer time. Give the first part to pastoral prayer. But then make a clear break, so that everyone understands the rest of the time is devoted entirely to calling upon God for the larger spiritual issues.
In most churches, the people may feel uncomfortable and on unfamiliar ground, for a time at least, and will need plenty of guidance and encouragement. This part of the prayer meeting can be shorter at first, and gradually increased as people gain confidence.
Without this clear division and discipline, most prayer meetings will quickly return to pastoral prayer only.
Once the people get a heart and passion for serious wrestling with God, and especially as they gain the confidence to plead the mighty promises of Scripture, the prayer meeting can catch fire!
This article first appeared in the EFCC magazine Concern