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Where are the Praying People?
"If you want to see how popular the church is, attend Sunday morning worship. If you want to see how popular the pastor is, attend Sunday evening. If you want to see how popular God is, attend the prayer meeting."— Armin Gesswein, Everything by Prayer, Fred Hartley, page 123
Which of these are the heartbeat of your church?
A Church bulletin
Welcome to Average American Church. Here are the upcoming events for this month:
This week in church:
Potluck - Sunday after church we will be having a potluck. Come out for a great time of food and fellowship. Bring a side dish or dessert. Hot dogs and hamburgers will be provided. All are welcome.
Youth Group - Tuesday evenings at 6pm. Youth leader, Steve Graham will open with a short Bible message. Games and snacks to follow. Bring your friends. It promises to be a fun night.
Children's ministry - Tuesday's at 6 pm. This week is our annual Pinewood derby event. Our kids have been working hard. Don't miss it kids, and bring a friend.
Intercessory Prayer Meeting - Wednesday night at 5:30 to 6pm. We will be praying for our church, one another, our loved ones, and the community. "Let us come boldly before the throne..."
Bible Study - Wednesday nights from 6 - 7 pm. We will be studying the book of Acts. Join us as we follow the adventures of the Apostles as they turn the world upside down.
Men's breakfast - Saturday mornings at 7 am the men will meet at the Applebees on first street for a time of food, fellowship, and inspiration.
Women's Bible Study - Thursday mornings at 9am. We are currently studying Proverbs 31 about the virtuous woman. Dessert and coffee provided.
Special events this month:
March 10th Volunteer meeting - Immediately following church there is a volunteer children and youth workers meeting. This is a mandatory meeting for all those who work with kids and youth. A hot lunch will be provided.
March 15th - Worship Fest - It's almost here. The third annual Worship Fest will be in town at the convention center. This year contemporary Christian music's most popular worship leaders and bands will be featured in a worship extravaganza. It promises to be a memorable night and you won't want to miss it. If you are coming we must have your ticket money by the 10th.
March 25th - 27th Will Graham Crusade - Evangelist Will Graham, son of Franklin Graham, grandson of Billy Graham will be in our city on the 25th to preach the gospel. They are looking for volunteers from the local churches to help with greeting, ushering, follow-up and prayer team. Sign-up sheets are in the narthex.
March 29th Feed homeless downtown - We will be handing out lunches to the homeless downtown. All are welcome. We will meet at the church at 5pm. Dress warm.
What does your flock flock to?
Which of the above church activities has the most participation in your church?
How do you feel about meeting with other believers to pray regularly?
Reasons for not praying corporately
I think we can all agree that the prayer meeting is the least attended meeting in churches today. People will go to the ends of the earth for a potluck or a concert, but not a prayer meeting. Why is corporate prayer so neglected and rejected in the church? Why the lackluster attitude on prayer? Here are some reasons I have heard, followed by a response. See if you can relate:
Prayer meetings are long and boring. If we consider prayer as boring, it is indicative that our view of God and the reason we pray is gravely amiss. God is glorious, not humdrum. If we are bored and keeping a stopwatch, our hearts are humdrum, not God or prayer. Boredom requires repentance and revival in our hearts and church.
We don't have time what with other life and church demands. God always has time for you. If we neglect prayer, we will not glorify Him and the ministry of the church will not be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We prefer doing the work of the church that is more visible and hands on. Being the hands and feet of Jesus. The work will be effective and powerful if we seek his guidance and power. If we serve without prayer we are not His hands and feet, but our own.
We are not to pray as the Pharisees by praying for men to see and take notice. We are not being Pharisees by meeting together to pray. The Pharisees stood out on the street corners and in the town squares and market places praying at the top of their voices to be looked upon as holy by men. They were not conducting a sacred assembly or small group intercession, with humble hearts. They were not praying in God's will or by His Spirit. They were not praying to God, they were exalting themselves for glory.
We are to pray alone in our prayer closet. Yes we are. But to argue that only praying alone is acceptable is conveniently editing out or ignorantly missing that God also calls us to pray together. Imagine if the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost had not been praying together. The three thousand that were saved that day would not have been saved. Guess where they would be?
We can pray at home. There was a pastor who said this when someone brought up the fact in a Bible study one day that no one was coming to prayer meetings. When he announced the prayer meeting from the pulpit, he gave the when and where - and then said he realized, "Many of you are tired from commutes or other things, so if you can't make it out, no need to worry as you can pray at home." I believe this minister was trying to prevent guilt on people for staying home. People who say, "Well, we can pray at home," seldom pray at home. All you have to do is ask them and they are quite open or they will tell you they said a prayer. God has called us to pray together as well as in our prayer closets. Our ministry and our lives are directed and empowered by God when we pray and invite God to move in our midst.
If the church is not meeting to pray, the work being done in the flesh will not last or bear lasting fruit. J.B. Johnston said "As prayer meetings fail in a congregation, so will the ministrations of the pastor become unfruitful, the preaching of the word fail to convert sinners and promote holiness in the professors of religion."
The boiler room
The story is told of five young college students who were spending a Sunday in London, so they went to hear the famed C. H. Spurgeon preach. While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the boiler room of this church?” They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our boiler room.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.
Charles Spurgeon had a vibrant and powerful ministry. Every week he preached to over 10,000 parishioners. Many, many came to Christ, and many saints grew in holiness and effective service. It would not have happened with out the saints in the boiler room. Spurgeon said this,
"The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So the prayer meeting is a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if He be not there, one of die first tokens of His absence will be a slothfulness in prayer!"
Once Spurgeon was asked what he felt was the reason for such a powerful ministry. His answer was, "My people pray for me." He was absolutely right.
Prayer meetings are the arteries of the early church
Prayer meetings the arteries of the early church
D.A. Carson said, "Prayer meetings were the arteries of the early church. Through them, life-sustaining power was derived." Don't you love the word arteries? Arteries are channels through which blood (life and power) flows throughout the body and pumped through the heart. Corporate prayer is where the power flowed for the first church. With the Holy Spirit empowering them to evangelize the world and plant churches, the Jews accused the Christians of turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6). What a compliment! What evidence that prayer was being answered. Through the book of Acts we read about prayer meetings.
Acts 1:12-26 - They prayed in the upper room and chose the twelfth disciple to replace Judas.
Acts 2: 1-39 is the account of the day of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came down resulting in three thousand souls being saved.
Acts 2:42 tells us that they met together continuously to pray, fellowship, breaking of bread (1st century potluck no doubt), and doctrine.
Acts 4:24 they got together raised their voices to God when they heard Peter and John's arrest and persecution.
Acts 6:4 The apostles state they would devote themselves to the word and to prayer. This was after assigning a godly group of believer to organize the distribution of food.
Acts 6:6-7 They laid hands on the men they chose and the word of God spread and multitudes came to the Lord.
Acts 8:14-17 Peter and John prayed that the new Samaritan believers would receive the Holy Spirit and they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
Acts 12:12 The disciples were praying for Peter because he was imprisoned. It happened that Peter was miraculously released by an angel.
Acts 13:3 The church at Antioch fasted and prayed and laid hands on a group of men who were being sent out, two being Saul and Barnabas.
The purpose of prayer meetings
"Prayer, then, is cooperating with God to bring about His plan, not trying to bend Him to our will." ~ S. Michael Houdman
The central reason we gather together to pray is to seek God's will and direction for the church and anything else the Lord lays on our hearts. The quote above reminds us that in corporate prayer we are not to seek or direct God to what we want, but what He desires. Praying for and according to God's will is the only way He answers. We dumb sheep in the flock (and we do it as individuals as well) get it into our heads that we need x, y, and z to make the church more successful and happy. We are sure it will take a, b, and c, to solve this or that problem. So we join hands and tell God what we need, tag his name on the end as a seal of approval, and wonder when He doesn't give it to us. Sometimes, there is a specific need that we know is God's will and we pray and God delivers. But we must be careful not to meet to force God's hand to do what we want. Waiting upon the Lord is an integral part of praying in His name and according to His will.
The second reason we are to pray in prayer meetings is to intercede for the saints, the church, the community, the country and the world. We can indeed intercede at home, but interceding corporately is a blessing from God. The disciples and apostles did this regularly. When Peter was imprisoned, the disciples back home were praying for him fervently. In this case, God delivered Peter. Who knows how it would have gone had they not prayed.
Do's and Don'ts in prayer meetings
Another hubber, Lifegate, just wrote a hub, Ten Hindrances to Prayer Part 1 (please read every part) and talked at length about prayer meetings that look more like a Sunday worship service than a prayer meeting. Music, message, and ten or 15 minutes of prayer. I won't elaborate because he said it so well.
I have participated in hundreds of prayer meetings over the years, as well as facilitated many, and have found some things that work and don't work.
Enter into His gates with Thanksgiving and praise - this should be our established attitude as we enter into his presence. Asking before praise is selfish and self centered. Allow this to happen at it's own pace. Communion before anything else. If we are meeting only to ask and get, we may as well be watching the football game at home.
Leave your personal agendas at home - It should be the Spirit leading, not the individuals in the group. Coming in with a personal agenda does not allow for unity or obtaining God's will. It can also be manipulative to pray for your agenda if it is not God's or anyone else's.
Keep the corporate agenda loose - Sometimes a prayer meeting is brought together to pray for a certain issue or concern. Let's say you are meeting to pray for the persecuted church or a particular person who is being persecuted. The facilitator or other members may have a Scripture to read and then everyone is asked to pray along the lines of the Scripture. I have done this many times I think it is a good way to go if the meeting is for a specific topic. But we should hold it loosely in that the Spirit may start directing people in another vein as the prayers are going on. He may reveal to one that there is this or that thing to consider. He may want us to focus more on one aspect than another. Rigidity does not allow for the Spirit to move. It's all about praying God's will.
Don't bring a stopwatch - It can be stifling if the prayer meeting time allotment is rigid. Sometimes it can't be helped. Prayer does not have to be long to be effective, but sometimes the Spirit has much to say and direct you in your prayers. It's a terrible thing to stop a prayer meeting right when the Spirit seems to be moving powerfully. It's stifling and grieving the Spirit when we put the kabosh on Him. It's good to tell the people in the beginning that if they they need to leave to do so quietly but you are leaving the time open for the Spirit.
Avoid rabbit trails - If you are meeting to seek God's will on finding a new pastor, don't pray about abortion.
Don't fill the holy hush - Often times a prayer meeting will be humming along and then everything recedes into silence. This does not necessarily mean God has left the building. I call these quiet interludes a "holy hush." This is a listening time. This is where we often hear that still small voice. Some people find such quiet moments uncomfortable so they continue filling up that quiet space with words that don't matter. I have experienced God's presence and direction more powerfully during a holy hush on many an occasion than when everyone was praying aloud.
Quit talking to satan while you are talking to God - I may get some resistance from this one but I cringe, recoil, when someone in the group is praying to the Lord then suddenly starts railing at satan all in one sentence. " Lord God, Jesus, we love you, we worship you, Satan, I bind you in Jesus name, we take authority over you in Jesus name. Take your hands off any here in this prayer meeting, you are not welcome. And so now Lord we lift our hands and call upon you, blah blah." People think this is a biblical practice and it is not. We don't need to do it for preventative measures either.
We are told to resist, to stand against the devil. We do this by putting on the full armor of God "Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the whiles of the devil" (Eph 6:11). The armor is the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one, and to wield the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, our offense (Eph. 6:14-17). The word of God is the Bible. That is how Jesus resisted the devil in the wilderness. He didn't stick out his chest, clench his fists and tell the devil to scram. He quoted the word of God. In verse 18 we are then also commanded to pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful..."(vs.18).
I don't find anywhere in Scripture that we are to confront the devil in or out of our prayers by rebuking him and railing at him or asserting our authority over him. We see in the Bible that when people were demon possessed the disciples were able to command the demons to flee in Jesus' name. But we are not possessed. We are God's children. While we can be oppressed, we cannot be possessed. Therefore, what is needed is our full armor, not acting big and tough in Jesus name. Christ used Scripture to battle satan in the wilderness. He did not call out a phrase of rebuke like a tough guy. For the Christian, we are asked to make choices. As an act of our will, we are to put on the whole armor of God and wield the sword and pray in the Spirit to resist the devil, not just shout at the devil. Because taking up the armor is an act of faith. It is living our faith not just using words. It requires responsibility on our part.
During the Lord's prayer Jesus prayed "Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (which translated means the evil one), for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever." Rather than start bossing the devil around and asserting His authority, Jesus put the devil and evil into God's hands and then magnified and glorified the name of the Lord. How powerful. The Lord's prayer was a model of prayer he was teaching his disciples. In effect, he was showing the them how to pray. If he wanted us to start railing at the devil during prayer, or just prior to talking to God, I believe he would have modeled and instructed this way.
Hooray, we get to pray
We in the household of faith have the tendency to say in dire situations "All we can do is pray." That sounds like Eyeore theology to me. In Christ we need not be a glum lot. We need to say when things get difficult or even hopeless "We need to pray," or "Let's go to prayer," or "Let's not despair, we can pray." Prayer should never be relegated to the last resort. It should be the first thing we do. And if things get tougher, we get to pray again. Prayer is a divine privilege and a divine responsibility. I love Joseph Scriven's words in his hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus -
"What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."
God has called His people to pray always, everywhere, without ceasing, in our prayer closet and in the upper rooms with the saints. It is our highest and greatest calling.
We get to pray to the Lord of all creation, we must pray, we are commanded to pray. Hooray we get to pray, so lets start praying.
© 2013 Lori Colbo