Has ‘We’re praying for you’ become a cliché? The dictionary defines cliché as an idea that has become trite. Roget’s Thesaurusequates cliché with commonplace, banal, trivial or stereotypical. Is prayer, then, so commonplace that it has become passéamong fashionable Evangelicals?
Being labelled ‘old-fashioned’ is the ultimate insult. We want to be cool – ‘with it’. And no wonder. We’re bombarded on every side by ever more bizarre novelties in entertainment – reality shows, theme parks, movies, novels or music.
Novelty is in and sameness is out. Hip New Yorkers are laughing at Torontonians who wear truck caps which are already passé. Is French cooking ‘in’ – or is it Italian or Caribbean or Californian? I’ve lost track.
Call me ‘off-the-wall’ but don’t, please don’t, label me as dull, stale, out of fashion or commonplace!
Affecting the outcome
But, wait a minute here . . . Strangely enough, the thesaurus also associates cliché with truism – that which is so universal as to be commonplace. ‘Eat your vegetables Johnny’, ‘Get regular exercise’, ‘Have a yearly check-up’ – along with ‘Read your Bible and pray every day’.
These may all be clichés but they should hardly be cast off like yesterday’s fashion statement. Vigilance demands that we give to prayer the role it deserves.
God has determined that intercessory prayer will affect outcomes in everything from our personal health to our national destiny. No expiry date on that.
Yet, as a friend recently confided, the large ‘successful’ Evangelical church where he is a member has no scheduled time or venue for congregational prayer. He has been singularly unsuccessful in even instituting a ten-minute pre-service prayer meeting.
How can we sidestep the unchanging reality that God has appointed prayer as a means of grace? Jesus promises, ‘If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer’ (Matthew 21:22).
Paul urges: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’ (Philippians 4:6). He also exhorts ‘that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone’ (1 Timothy 2:1).
Peter reminds his hearers that, ‘the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer’ (1 Peter 3:12).
Prayer is not meant to be for emergencies only, like a 999 call. Nor was it given as an occasional boon, to be broken open like chocolates on a gloomy day.
As someone has wisely put it, ‘Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath’. I am not condoning boring prayers full of clichés. Nor am I advocating that we grit our teeth and endure prayers that go on and on and on.
I’m not arguing against freshness. Learning conversational prayer could do much to revitalize the prayer meetings we do have. But that is not my topic. Rather, let me suggest one thing we can do to inject a renewed concern for prayer into the local church.
Day of prayer
One answer is to plan a day of prayer – and then follow it up with a weekly prayer gathering.
In most places where I’ve ministered, the church officers have organised a day of prayer on an annual, biannual or irregular basis – depending on the needs of the congregation.
Are you puzzled about the cause of spiritual lethargy or disunity in the church? Are you planning an outreach ministry? Or needing guidance concerning a building programme? Are you starting a new church year? Searching for a new pastor? It is time to call for a church-wide day of prayer.
Let me share what we have done. Our pattern may not suit every church, but it will give you some idea of what can be done.
On the day appointed for prayer, we set up six to ten prayer stations around the church – in the auditorium or classrooms for example – with a cluster of four or five chairs at each prayer station.
Signs at the front door list the stations and give general suggestions on how to proceed.
Since some people prefer to stay in one location as they meditate and pray, a place for quiet meditation and prayer is also set up in a secluded corner.
For most, however, moving from one prayer station to another gives a sense of direction and lends freshness to their prayers.
Areas of concern
The first prayer station is given over to worship and thanksgiving. We invite people to spend time here meditating on God’s attributes, his triune nature, and his creative and redemptive works. We may have handouts available listing God’s attributes and some suggested Scriptures.
Each of the remaining prayer stations will have a white board or poster with requests that relate to a particular area of concern. For example, one prayer station will be given over to prayer for the members of the church.
If the church is large, the congregation can be divided into groups and each person asked to pray for the people in the group that contains their own name. Have membership lists present at this station.
Other prayer stations can be set up for church ministries (Sunday school, care for the sick and elderly, women’s ministry, youth, local outreach, etc.), while yet others could cater for church leadership, church projects, literature ministry, missionaries, world affairs, the community, national concerns, and so on.
Having posters listing requests and concerns at each of these stations helps greatly to give an overview of current concerns.
Educating members well in advance on the nature of a day of prayer is crucial. Two or three months ahead of time, a day can be chosen – a Saturday or an extended evening – as the occasion for a concert of prayer.
Depending on the size of the church and the zeal of members, time could be set aside from 7.00am to 6.00pm, 6.00pm to midnight, or even a full 24 hours. If the concept is new, it would be best to start with a shorter block of time, for example, from 12.00 noon to 5.00pm.
A list can be posted well before the scheduled day for people to sign up, undertaking to pray during an hour-long block of time. Aim to have all the hours covered.
Those unfamiliar with prayer vigils may have many questions – expressed or unexpressed. For this reason we publish in advance a bulletin insert describing the day of prayer. It seeks to answer the following questions.
How can I spend a whole hour in prayer? Most who have participated in one of these days of prayer testify how quickly and how blessedly the time passes. There are many ways to break up an hour into meaningful prayer segments.
For example, you could spend ten minutes in meditating on a passage of Scripture, ten minutes worshipping and thanking God, considering his attributes and actions, and ten minutes perusing a hymn book.
Similar time-segments could be spent interceding for your friends, loved ones and neighbours; praying for the church leaders; praying for church ministries; praying for missionaries; praying for the sick and needy; and praying for your community and nation. Hold on; that is ninety minutes! Well, you get the idea about how fast an hour can go.
Do I have to pray aloud in public? No, for the all prayer stations are set up for you to pray privately and silently by yourself.
Isn’t this a legalistic way to pray? It doesn’t have to be. Many people find it helpful to be given a structure for their prayers. However, the prayer stations and prayer lists that will be available at the church are only suggestions.
You are free to participate in any way you want. You may want to take a ‘prayer walk’ through the neighbourhood around the church. You may want to spend your whole hour, less or more, in one quiet place of prayer and meditation. That option is available.
You can spend as little or as much time as you like at each station – or only go to two or three.
What about fasting? We invite members to spend the day, or part of it, in a voluntary fast – symbolising a serious desire to concentrate on prayer. But there is no compulsion and no one will be asked. If you do fast, keep it between yourself and God. Don’t fast if you have a medical problem.
Praying with others
Why can’t I just pray at home? Obviously, you can and should pray regularly at home. However, there is something special about leaving the distraction of home behind and joining others in prayer. Your participation encourages the whole church.
Can I pray with others? For those who wish to join others in prayer – and there are special promises to those who agree in prayer (Matthew 18:19) – certain specified hours of the prayer day can be given over to group prayer meetings.
I encourage you to schedule a day of prayer in your church. Invariably, those who participate go home refreshed and uplifted. And God alone knows how many crises are averted, how much spiritual progress is made, and how many times new directions for service are discovered. It could even lead to revival.