I'm starting a mini-series of blog posts on the importance of prayer in the church. And I'm going to begin with the argument that the activity of prayer ought to take priority over all of other activities in the local church.
You mean prayer ought to take priority over Bible study?
It's more important than fellowship?
If I were to do a survey of how many churches make a priority of prayer, I would most likely be disappointed. When compared to the priority of children's and youth activities, nurturing relationships with each other, women's ministries, men's ministries, and weekend gatherings, the presence of corporate prayer experiences on the church's calendar would lag far behind.
Barna discovered that the culture we live in today has impacted the way we approach prayer in the church, this is what he has to report:
"The forces of our individualistic culture have influenced what was once a more communal and corporate conception of Christian identity to one now focused primarily on the individual. This “personal” faith focus plays out most explicitly in the practice of prayer: almost all American adults (94%) who have prayed at least once in the last three months most often choose to pray by themselves. Not only are most prayers a solo practice, but the vast majority are also most often silent (82% compared to 13% audible and solo prayers). Affirming this shift is the fact that only a very small percentage most often pray audibly with another person or group (2%), or collectively with a church (2%)."
Dear brethren and sistren, THIS MUST CHANGE!
My good pastor-husband has a favorite saying that is true but not necessarily spiritual:
"The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary."
Today pastors and church leaders voraciously devour stories of success as they seek to understand, and then implement the work that preceded it. Many great Christian leaders have dedicated their lives to pulling successful pastors together so that they can generously share their "secrets" with others.
Why? Because we know that God means for us to succeed. And if we're not succeeding we then surmise that we must be doing something wrong. So, we turn our faces and our eager spirits toward the direction that God's Holy Spirit wind seems to be blowing. We attend the conferences, register for the webinars, and subscribe to the newsletters.
Imagine that we could travel back in time and spend the afternoon with the early Church leaders. If we were to arrive there, we would most likely find the apostles gathered together in the upper room praying.
Consider this, the very first thing Jesus' disciples did after He ascended to heaven was to get together and pray. (Acts 1:14) Even after Peter's sermon when the Church exploded in growth, the new believers were encouraged to join in the prayers!
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” Acts 2:42.
I think it is significant to note that their fervent and consistent praying continued AFTER the great revival--not merely as a part of an evangelist push before their revival.
But the priority of prayer doesn't stop there. Once the Church was expanding to the point that other ministry demanded time and attention, the disciples decided to appoint deacons to take over the ministry of feeding the widows so that they could devote themselves to...
"prayer and the ministry of the word." Acts 6:4.
The early church made prayer a priority, and their success was a direct result of how they did things.
I cannot help but believe that if we were to sit with the apostles, we would patiently wait for their prayers to finish. And before we even had a chance to ask them the secret of their success, we would already be inundated with the prayer-filled evidence of their desperate dependence on God. Without even having to ask them, we would know that the time and energy they devoted to prayer was their secret to success.
For the early church, prayer was essential. For us, it's optional.
Jentezen Franklin shares an excerpt from R. Kent Hughes' book Disciplines of a Godly Man where Hughes shares the testimony of Jay Sidlow Baxter.
“Jay Sidlow Baxter once shared a page from his own personal diary with a group of pastors who had inquired about the discipline of prayer. He began telling how…he entered the ministry determined he would be a real man of prayer. However, it wasn’t long before his increasing responsibilities, administrative duties, and the subtle subterfuges of pastoral life began to crowd prayer out. Moreover, he began to get used to it, making excuses for himself. Then one morning it all came to a head as he stood over his work-strewn desk and looked at his watch. The voice of the Spirit was calling him to pray. At the same time another velvety voice was telling him to be practical and get his letters answered, and that he ought to face the fact that he wasn’t one of the ‘spiritual sort’—only a few people could be like that. ‘That last remark,’ says Baxter, ‘hurt like a dagger blade. I couldn’t bear to think it was true.’ He was horrified by his ability to rationalize away the very ground of his ministerial vitality and power.”
Jentezen Franklin followed this story with this powerful statement: "Understand this: Minutes invested in prayer will give you a greater return than hours spent in ceaseless activity. The New Testament apostles understood that. As the church grew bigger and they became busier, they made a life-changing decision: “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and…the word.” As a result the church grew and multiplied. So make prayer a priority!"
In my next post I'm going to share what your church will look like "When Prayer is Your Priority"
Let me close with this, a powerful sharing of Charles Spurgeon's thoughts on the priority of prayer in the pastor's life (sent via email by Chuck Lawless),
If you’re a church leader, let these challenging words of Charles Spurgeon sink in today:
“The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man. He acts as if he thought himself sufficient of himself, and therefore needed not to appeal to God. . . .
The preacher who neglects to pray much must be very careless about his ministry. He cannot have comprehended his calling. He cannot have computed the value of a soul, or estimated the meaning of eternity. . . .
He will surely become a mere superficial talker, best approved where grace is least valued and a vain show most admired. He cannot be one of those who plough deep and reap abundant harvests. He is a mere loiterer, not a laborer. . . .
He limps in his life like the lame man in the Proverbs, whose legs were not equal, for his praying is shorter than his preaching.”
Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students (p. 48). Fig. Kindle Edition.
If prayer is not a priority in your church, you have a pride problem, not a prayer problem...an independence vs. dependence problem not a programming problem. Perhaps your next best step is to shut your computer down, lay down your phone and get on your knees. Do some business with God, then pick up your phone and invite a few others to join you in prayer before you do anything else.
Jesus said we need to pray because we are utterly dependent on Him for everything else we do.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
Articles that gave me content for this blog post include:
Silent and Solo: How Americans Pray by the Barna Group
Make Prayer a Priority by Jentezen Franklin
What We Need to Learn about Prayer from the Early Church by Tim Barnett
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