Many Christian leaders, possibly stating with Augustine, said that prayer is the occupation of the soul. For the mature Christian, their heartbeat is to serve the Lord and, in serving, we are communicating and, in communicating, we are praying. The occupation of our soul is our communication lines with our Holy God. The occupation of our soul is our prayer life with Christ, one of the primary purposes of our existence.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:7)
When prayer is mentioned at most churches, dull, dry, and boring images come to mind. Most Christians flat out do not want to pray and even get offended when they feel they have to spend what they perceive as too much time in prayer, usually over 10 minutes. Yet the Bible is filled with examples of prayer gatherings, which we called to participate with. This is called "corporate prayer," which means praying together as a community of believers. However, this does not necessarily mean praying for big business. What it does mean is a way to express oneness and unity. Yet we do not like to do it! We may spend time with our individual prayer lives but not together or when we do, it turns into gossip and ridicule.
God calls us to seek His presence, as a body of believers with one mind and voice, so why don't we? And if we do get together, it is all about us and our individual needs and desires, which is good as long as we include others and go beyond our own backyard. So we need to find the excitement of communing with our Lord and doing it with each other. We are to focus on the Lord and not ourselves.
When we desire to have a church that is after God's purpose then prayer will be at the heart and core of it. The church cannot function without prayer. To have a church that does not pray is like having a telephone operator who refuses to use the phone or the computer programmer not using a computer in their occupations. Sounds like foolishness? Well a lot of churches do not pray, in fact if you carefully inspect churches as I have over the years, you will be shocked on how little prayer actually goes on, or that prayer is wispy and scarce.
Unfortunately today a lot of churches have altogether neglected prayer in their weekly schedule. All you have to do is look in a worship folder or bulletin and see what is listed in for mid-week activities, and unfortunately you will not see much listed in the way of prayer and spiritual growth. Some churches may have small group activities, or even Bible studies, which is well and good, but what about prayer? In years past most churches had some form of a mid week prayer meeting. People in the church would gather for the sole reason to pray. There may have been a devotion or some teaching, but the bulk of the time was in prayer.
I was an intern in a very large church in southern California during my seminary days. I was responsible for starting a young adult group, but because of a lack of facilities we could only meet early in the morning. Since Sunday was a time to sleep in for most, we did not have very many people attending. The elders asked me to cancel the class, because they saw no fruit in it. But one young lady was determined not to let it go. She convinced the elders and I to change it from a Sunday school class into a prayer group. They agreed, and so we did. For six months we had met just to pray. I would lead a short devotion or teaching, then had a discussion about prayer needs and then prayer within the larger group, which was around 20 people or so. We then would break into small groups for at least 20 minuets to pray. I saw some amazing things in that group. I did not see miraculous healings, but what I saw was even more amazing, people started to become more mature and focused on the Lord. Their attitudes changed and then they stated to reach their friends. These people went from only being focused upon themselves and their carrier to being surrendered to Christ. Some even left their carriers to become missionaries and teachers. One person was a top 'rocket scientist' for NASA and left that career for a couple of years to teach English in Russia. Others went to China and even a closed Middle Eastern country where being a missionary is a sure death sentence. One person was a top LA disk jockey, he left that profession to become a marriage and family counselor. He reasoned that he could help more people that way. Prayer changed these people from being self focused to being God focused.
And there was another person who did not attend our prayer meetings, because he was afraid of being convicted. He did not want to leave his carrier or lifestyle. Though there was nothing wrong with it, he was a good Christian, but he was comfortable where he was at in life. And after several years he started to attend and grow more and then he left his job and went to a two year missions trip to teach in Russia. Now God will not send you anywhere you are not gifted and called to do. This young man was afraid of leaving his comfort zone. We must allow God to lead us where we are best suited. Perhaps the call is to go overseas, but more often then not, it is to stay where we are already at and be better there for Him.
After 6 months from starting the prayer group we stated to exploded with people. We had over a hundred people attending very early in the morning. So we moved the prayer meeting to the evening and in the early morning we started a Sunday school class, with worship, teaching and prayer. Over 15 years later this group is still going strong. It is sad to think that I had to be convinced from a young women something I and the elders should have instinctively done and supported.
Churches used to have prayer during the service, in which the pastor would lead the congregation in prayer. This used to be called the 'pastoral prayer' where the pastor would pray for the needs of the world, the nation, the community, and the church. Where praise and thanksgiving was offered up that lead the congregation from corporate prayer in the church to being prayer warriors in their individual lives. Then the people in the church would emulate and put into practice fulfilling to the best of their abilities the needs of the nation to the people in their church. Thanksgiving, praise, and glorifying Christ our Lord where apart of the Christian, because prayer was the focus in their lives.
As I have visited countless churches across the country and world over the years as a consultant, it seems through my observations that churches are adding more worship time and taking away prayer from their services. They forgot that prayer is the highest and purest form of worship that we can do. Celebrating our Lord through music is very important, but prayer is the essential act of worship. It is like putting on a light sweater on a cold day, when we should have put on a coat. The sweater may look better, so we replace the 'real' need for the looks good 'felt' need. Missing the very point of keeping warm when it is cold. We are missing the point of worship when we cancel or reduce prayer. We are making a sandwich with great home baked bread and all of the condiments but with no lunch meat. Leaving prayer out of the church service is leaving out the meat.
These very same churches also have eliminated any prayer meetings during the week, saying people will not show up. And those churches that do have weekly prayer meetings, their attendance is typically only a fraction of the churches total congregation. Somehow through the years the busyness of life has interrupted the prayer life of the church. Today it seems we no longer have the focus that prayer is a priority. We may think it is and even say it is, it may be in our mission statements; but, is it our practice, is it our passion? Pray has left the building literally in the church.
The few times that a church may pray, the passion and intensity that once was is missing. Prayer has become just an obligation, and something we must get through. Prayer is not something we do because He first loves us. Nor is prayer something we do because we desire to change, to grow in Him, to learn to be our best for His glory. Our lives now are just too complicated and important, and what little time we do have is relegated to our pleasures, or the TV and the bed.
Churches tend to spend little time if any in prayer at their committee and planning meetings. Most elder meeting have only a minute or two devoted to a quick wimpy prayer. At one church I was on staff with, I took it upon myself to have at least 15 minuets of prayer before the meeting, I really wanted to do more. The elders said this was wasting time, and to cut it down to 1 minute like everyone else. (This was the church that was a disease to its community.) When we throw out prayer from our planning meetings, we are throwing out God. We are in fact saying 'I do not need God to guide me.' Can we be anymore arrogant? But what I tried to explain to those elders is that our meetings actually ran more smoother and went a lost faster; because we were more at one mind and purpose. They just did not get it, to them having God at church was a waist of time.
Just take a look at Acts and see how much prayer was a part of the early church. Prayer is addressed more often than any other activity or subject. For example in chapter 1 they prayed for the choice of a new apostle. In chapter 4 and chapter 12 Acts speaks about the 'church gathering with their concern for the imprisoned apostles', they prayed. In chapter 14 when it came time to appoint new leaders, they prayed. In chapter 13, for the calling of Paul and Barnabas, they prayed. When you look down at the daily planner of the early church, what they established as a priority was prayer. What they did before anything was prayer.
Maybe look into your own family history if you are a multigenerational Christian, how much was prayer apart of you parents or grand parents life. How does their time in prayer compare to yours and your church? Do you realize how and why prayer was so important to them? So is it important to you? If your church were to schedule a prayer meeting and a social, what would bring out the most people? Does your daily schedule reflect the priority of prayer? Does the desire of your heart cry out for intimacy with our Savior? Does your church have at its core values and practice prayer? If not what is hindering you?
Perhaps why prayer is disappearing from the church weekly schedule is that we do not want to be convicted. At one time I did not, and one time those in that LA church did not, yet we committed ourselves to prayer and it changed us. And perhaps through us it has changed others too. We must get beyond our fears and embrace what God has given us.
Perhaps we are too used to shrugging off responsibilities. You may ignore healthy eating, but eventually it will catch up with you. So why is it that prayer meetings are the lowest attended event of the week, that is if your church does have a prayer meeting? Why is there so little prayer in the Christians personal life? Why is there so little corporate prayer in our services? Well, because it is not a priority. And when it's not a priority, when it's not a part of our practicing core values, then our church will fail. Because the power is not realized and sized, its power is no longer desired. And when we do not desire prayer, then we do not desire Christ in our mist, then we do not desire Christ in His church, or in our lives.
If people do not want to come to the prayer meeting we have to ask why. How can we improve them? Are the leaders attending? Does the pastor make it a priority? Do we keep at it even when there is just one person? If not, we have a problem. We cannot just eliminate them by the vote of the feet leaving the scene. We have to be obedient to the precepts of Scripture, even when the body vote is not corresponding. We are in service to Him, not to popular opinion and expectations.
I had the displeasure of working with a senior pastor who flatly refused to pray. We did not pray in staff meetings or committee meetings and he did not even pray personally. He said it was a waist of time. I asked him why he felt that way and he said if God is all knowing why do I need to tell Him anything! He totally missed the point of prayer. What if a parent who knows what the kids will want and say, but flatly refuses to engage in any dialog with them. Creating a household that the children are not to speak, nor are the parents to communicate with them. Would they be good parents, would their children grow up healthy and well adjusted, ready for life? Even though the parents have already experienced childhood themselves, even though they already know what will be communicated, they will precede with communication. Because communication builds up the relationship between the parents and children, and it helps the children get ready for life and their future interpersonal relationships.
Our relationship with Christ is the focus, not God's omniscience. Just as a parent who knows what their young child will say, but will listen to them in a loving way anyway, it is being a loving parent. We have a loving God who desires to communicate to us and with us. Prayer is in the business of building and forming our relationship with Christ. Pray is not a letter to Santa Clause. Yes God is omnipotent and omniscient, which He is all knowing and all-powerful, but he wants to talk and hear from us and this is done through prayer.
So our call is to proclaim the Gospel and further His Kingdom and the primary work of it is prayer. Prayer will enable us to be transformed to do the task that we cannot possibly do on our own or collectively as a church. We do not have the strength, knowledge, or ability to do squat for our Lord, but through prayer we can do all things that He is willing for us to do, beyond our imagination!
Prayer is the key to start the power engine of God that enables us to do His work, the key that empowers us with His presence to proceed in His will and His plan. So what we are doing is activating God's power for our lives and ministry that we do not have by ourselves. God listens to our prayers and acts His will through them. Theologians will debate on the intricacies of what that means. We know through Scripture that God is eternal and never changing, thus He does not change His mind, yet through prayer it seems that He does. Just as Abraham prayed to God to change his mind over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18). Abraham prayed the number down of who is righteous not so much to save the cites, but his nephew. God did not change His mind, but Abraham grew in his knowledge and relationship with God through that process and prayer. We too grow in the process of prayer. That senior pastor who refused to pray and made a campaign in that church for meetings not to include more than a few minutes of prayer because it was a waste of time is not in the ministry or even attending a church. He chose to be lost and disillusioned after he was forced out of his church because of gross theological errors and an inability to pastor effectively. He was a good and knowledgeable person, and taught in a local seminary, but had not a clue what the Christian experience was about. Thus he was unable to pastor people because he was unable to grow himself.
Do we want to be people like that ex-pastor? Do we want churches that are just social clubs and do nothing but exist to themselves? Then the answer is to keep prayer to a minimum, and allow it to be an obligation but not a passion, and you will succeed in your endeavor. And that endeavor is ours and ours alone, because God is pushed out of the equation and out of our lives!
Prayer is the instrument and means that God has chosen to communicate and direct His will in our lives. Prayer must be a priority in the church, in the leaders, and in the individual Christians daily planner. Yes God will accomplish His means without our prayers and devotion, but where does that leave us? Bankrupt and useless! How can we be the people of God without getting direction to do the work of our God? We cannot! God is acting through our prayers with Him and with each other. God works through us, we are His tools, we are the plungers and He is the plumber, and the world is a leaking toilet. Our plumber chooses us! God can choose whatever tool He wishes, He does not need to use us, but He chooses too. This is the incredible beauty of our relationship with Christ.
Our God is the Creator and Director of the Universe. Astronomers tell us we have 12x12 to the 12th power stars in this galaxy (more hamburgers than McDonalds, and more grains of sand than the biggest beach) and at least that number of galaxies in the universe. Then there is the question of how many dimensions/parallel universes are there. Yet God is there through it all loving us and choosing to use us. What an honor! So do we step up to the plate and communicate?