Some of my favorite moments in ministry have been in prayer meetings. They have all but fallen out of practice in the modern American church. But we are experiencing a resurgence at Faith Bible Church. They are not electric or packed and we don’t walk out with the sense that a revival has started. But, what prayer should do, it is doing.
It is entrusting to God what only God can do. It is crediting to God what only God should get credit for. We want to become a praying church.
I have always found it easier to do than to pray. Prayer often feels like one of the greatest fights of faith. But as we see in Scripture, it is a worthwhile fight. A praying church is a church where private prayer, gathered prayer, and spontaneous prayer are noticeable priorities. For us, disciplined and strategic use of time in prayer fuels the spontaneous and continuous prayer of which Paul writes “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).
Saved to pray
Prayer is an essential aspect of abiding in Christ—it is both the proof and fruit Prayer is a vital part of our relationship with the Father made possible by the atoning work of the Son. Jesus taught, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16).
Milton Vincent writes of this verse “As a chosen one of God, I was saved to pray; and whenever I come into His presence to behold Him, worship Him, or make request of Him, I am arriving at the pinnacle of God’s saving purposes for me.”
Jesus has brought us near to God by His sacrifice and is our perfecting High Priest. Because of this, the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16)
Praying shows you are abiding in Christ
Jesus taught, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)
Prayer is an essential aspect of abiding in Christ—it is both the proof and fruit. Abiding is conscious dependence on Christ and continual meditation on His word. The overflow is prayer.
If you want to become a praying church, you will have to pray for it "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples." (John 15:7-8)
After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples took His teachings on prayer to heart. Before Pentecost the small band of disciples gathered and devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). After Pentecost, the same was true of the first mega-church (Acts 2:42). When crises emerged, the church gathered to pray (Acts 4:23, Acts 12:5). When the church wanted to send missionaries, the elders fasted and prayed (Acts 13:1-3).
Examples abound of private and gathered prayer in the New Testament. So, how do we become a praying church today?
Taking Steps to Become a Praying Church
Step one: pray for help praying
The disciples had never seen someone pray like Jesus. It was so profoundly different that one day they asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).
If you want to become a praying church, you will have to pray for it. You will need Christ through his Word and Spirit to teach you. Make it a goal for this month to ask Jesus to teach you how to pray.
Step two: encourage the elders to pray
It is always appropriate to ask the elders to pray for something in the church. If you are an elder or pastor, you can ask for an extended prayer time to be incorporated into your meetings. And, it is always appropriate to interrupt a difficult discussion to confess, humble yourselves, and pray.
At our elders' meetings, we decided to pray for our families by name over the year using the church directory. We e-mail them ahead of time and get prayer requests so that we can pray more specifically. We also implemented elder prayer meetings before Sunday services. We include our wives in this as well. Not everyone can make it because of the early hour (like elders with young children), but we urge them to pray in the car with their families on the way to church.
Step three: teach about prayer
John Piper said that he has preached on prayer more than any other topic. Each year, his church has a "week of prayer" which begins and ends with a sermon about prayer. That's over 60 sermons in 30 years!
At your church, this might look like a sermon series or a season of special prayer meetings. Our church implemented these things and it inspired groups to meet throughout the city to pray. They were not big meetings, but it gave our leadership a chance to disciple people in prayer. It was such a special time for our church that people are now asking when we can do it again.
Step four: prioritize prayer
The most telling reality about the importance of prayer in Acts came in the way the Apostles viewed doing and praying in Acts 6:1-4. We want prayer to be a noticeable priority in our pastors' day planners "Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.’"
Prayer was necessary for the success of the ministry of the word and essential to the growth of the saints. Feeding widows was indeed important, but not as important as communion with God. The Apostles raised up new leaders to serve the widows. But, in terms of strategic use of time, it was more important to keep time to pray than to give time to do more. We want prayer to be a noticeable priority in our pastors' day planners.
Some other ways we try and prioritize prayer at our church are specific prayer teams like for missions and our college ministry. Another example is a midweek prayer meeting which was started by one of our distance location's seminary students. We also have a strategic group whose sole purpose is to meet monthly and pray for the pastors and elders as they plan and strategize for ministry.
None of these groups are big, but they are faithful. And every time we pray, we pray to the omnipotent God. We want this attitude towards prayer to spread throughout our church, so we are seeking to make prayer a more significant aspect of our Sunday services by giving time for the congregation to pray in their pews.
What will it look like to be a praying church? We are not sure. Becoming, not arriving, is the goal. We simply want the gospel to produce its fruit—fruit of a dependent, humble relationship with God. God will be glorified.