The Heart of the Church: Unhurried Prayer
I pray often. Many times a day. Alone.
I pray often with my wife.
Sometimes I say a public prayer at a church service.
What about praying in a small, intimate group? Have I done that? Well...not lately.
Yet, in times past I have experienced the most powerful prayer meetings in this kind of venue. Especially in college and also when I lived in Mexico with the men of the church there.
Yes, when I was a pastor we held Wednesday night prayer meetings. Just not too many people attended. And the deacon chairman and I prayed before the church services, etc.
Yet, in this writing, I am talking about prayer meetings that last as long as the Holy Spirit directs. Does that sound strange to you? If so, that is not a good sign. It means that we are still infants in Christ and have not reached the full measure of faith.
Why don't churches emphasize small group prayer vigils? Have we allowed too many program-driven venues to consume the available time? Some pastors actually discourage it. They fear it is really a meeting to talk about how to fire him. I've been told this more than once by pastors.
But I will tell you, praying together with others is the most difficult thing for Christians to commit to doing. Satan does every trick in the book to stop Christians from praying.
The flesh is weak and recoils from seeking God in open-ended praying. It is just more pleasing to the flesh to meet only in larger groups where one sits, is quiet, and listens to a Bible lesson. The prayer requests are voiced. Then a few pray and the pastor closes.
God does hear sincere petitions. The people who pray are blessed. Yet is that the most effective and powerful prayer that a church body is capable of giving? If that is what our churches are then we might as well be the Shriners or some service club meeting.
Remember, we Christians have adversaries, namely Satan and our flesh, who always conspire to block prayer, especially group prayer (1 Peter 5:8).
Therefore, it is difficult to get a group of Christians together for nothing but praying in mind. We're busy "doing church" which is more sitting than doing for ninety percent of church attenders. The language is telling. "Doing Church." That's us. That's not God.
One would think it would be so easy to get a group of Christians together to pray once a week. That doesn't seem to be true. If you want to do the present matra, "Go be the church," then doing good to your neighbors, building bridges that lead to sharing your salvation testimony and the plan of salvation, will be fulfilling that mantra. But that mantra is a fad started by whom? I don't know, do you? You do not have to be the church. You must be Jesus.
To build a salvation bridge can only be done by the work of the Holy Spirit. And being plugged into the will of God and to the Holy Spirit involves prayer. Personal praying is indeed mandatory. Yet, group praying is very, very powerful and effective in unusual ways.
And group praying is modeled in the Bible by the first church in Jerusalem as the primary activity that produced the preaching and evangelism.
What would happen if your church suspended all regular "services" and just had people praying around the clock? Ahh, I can hear it now: "Then why would we pay a preacher? He only works one hour a week anyway! And how would we take the offering? And how could we invite our friends?"
These are all questions about human activity. What we need is to get out of the way and let some God activity begin. Praying is what moves God to action. Then you will see God drawing people to your fellowship where they will hear your teaching and fall down and confess their sins.
In unhurried group prayer, unusual things happen. We get new insights. We are made aware of unconfessed sins. The Holy Spirit makes the presence of Jesus known to our hearts and it is palpable. And this is why you and I and our Christian friends are afraid of real earnest praying. (It is so difficult to get a group of Christians together to simply pray.)
These spiritually driven things happen when Christ's followers come together not to make these things happen, but to simply seek the face of God and speak to Him. Yet always, always, the results of group prayer become evident during the prayer time as well as later.
Where should a group pray? Somewhere private, uninterrupted, and quiet.
Pray in a car...
Or at a sand bar!
Pray in a church,
Or pray on a perch,
Pray in a home,
But don't pray alone,
Pray with close friends!
Let prayer never end!! [1 Thessalonians 5:17 --NASB]
I'm not talking about praying at the church on Sunday mornings or evenings when the "regular services" happen. I'm talking about in our leisure times when we are not working or committed to something else.
We need an unhurried approach to group prayer. And a group prayer meeting has a set beginning but not a set end. The Holy Spirit decides that--He really does. Everyone knows when it's over! Yet people are free to come and go during the meeting. Where the Spirit is there is liberty (2 Timothy 3:17, KJV).
You can sit in a circle on the floor or in chairs. You can sit in a living room or on a Gym floor. You can pray in the country under a tree.
We have distractions galore fighting against group prayer. We have so many opportunities in this civilization of ours to stay busy. There are our favorite TV programs and our clubs and our gym appointments and, and, and.........ad infinitum. Yet our real barrier is the flesh.
Some also let embarrassment at not being skilled at saying a prayer hinder their attendance at group praying. Some are afraid that they will be judged in how eloquent they are in prayer--you know--getting the "Thee's" and "Thou's" right.
They seem to think prayer is like making a speech. Baloney. Believing that right grammar and eloquence is what is important in true praying, instead of speaking from the heart and soul to Jesus in your own way, might not be praying at all! And I did say "might not be." The point being made is that true prayer--effective prayer--comes from the heart and is consistent with Truth. God's Word is Truth.
God hears the heart and so do those brothers and sisters listening. And they can tell if it's your heart talking, or if it's just your head talking and "saying a prayer."
To pray in a group one must not only get over self-awareness but also must be aware of the presence of God and of Jesus Christ. They are the Ones with whom we are talking with the aid of the Holy Spirit.
So how does prayer in a small group get started and progress? The setting is important. Private and quiet places with access to bathrooms and water are good. Safety is important and a place to park everyone's cars. And for the very nieve (and believe me, I have had some unbelievably nieve questions ask me as a pastor) no, you don't have to be on your knees in the knelling position all night.
Let us say that we have a group of 4 to 8 Christian friends. The first 30 minutes might be chatting and sharing what God has done in the last few weeks in the lives of those gathered. Someone might make a request for the group to pray for a need or issue. Then, someone may dim the lights and perhaps keep on a lamp or light candles. Someone reads a Scripture that meant something to them. Then someone prays.
Prayer may start by thanking and praising God. Next, prayer may continue with praying for others by name and perhaps saying a prayer for a need in one's own life. Then a period of silence might be experienced for a few moments. Then another person will pray. At some point, a person may say, "I need to confess something and ask for prayer." Everyone listens, encourages, offers to help, etc. And the confession should never leave the group, but this is only possible in a group of very close friends who are mature. And yet, the confessing soul may not even care if someone shares it because finally, he is unburdened and free.
Someone may start singing a hymn and the group joins in the singing. Then a testimony. Next, a person reads a Scripture verse or two and follows with prayer. The topics will often be varied and many yet sometimes it will be one theme.
Next, someone scoots on their knees to a corner and begins praying alone. No one bothers them and the group continues to pray.
The group gets quiet for a few minutes. No one is uncomfortable.
Then someone starts singing a hymn and all join in. The hymn ends and then another period of silent prayer. Someone may have to leave at this time, so they don't make a fuss. They simply quietly get up and leave.
In a while, the person who scooted to the corner comes back and says, "I have a testimony," or "I have a confession." And they share. The group responds appropriately with encouragement or advice or more prayer for that person.
The prayer meeting takes on a life of its own because all are focused on Jesus and His Father. The presence of the Holy Spirit is "felt" or "manifested" or "moving." God is real. Why should that surprise you? If it's not real to you, you are what I call a "still-born Christian." On the day of your "conversion," you said all the right words with your mouth but not with your heart.
So you see, I miss group prayer in my own life. And I encourage you to initiate a group prayer meeting with earnest Christians. Groups of Christians praying together during the week is and should be the heart of the local assembly of believers in Jesus Christ, Who is Lord of All. Even the local assembly should be full of prayer as well as singing and preaching and sharing.
You do not need permission to pray. As a Christian, you are commanded and encouraged to pray without ceasing. We all pray constantly, talking to God as we move through life.
You only need a small group--not more than 10--a group of maybe 4 to 8 willing brothers or sisters. You need a quiet place to meet. You might need a small light if you want the lights dim for the right atmosphere. And you want serious believers in Jesus Christ who want to talk to Jesus.
We need to start some serious group prayer. May God help us.##