If we never or rarely pray, what are we saying?
Maybe that we are Christian atheists, unbelieving, like I mentioned last week? It is not enough to believe intellectually that Jesus is God and that he died on the cross and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins, we also show that our faith is real by the choices and actions of our lives. Persistent prayer is an action that shows our faith is real!
I see this as referring to both personal prayer and corporate prayer. Each one of us should spend time in prayer, just as Jesus did, so often alone. And we should gather together as a church to pray, as the apostles did when the church was just beginning. In Acts 2:42-47, we read that the church was committed to prayer.
What does it take to sustain consistent prayer? Yesterday at Faith Church we heard Jesus tell a story about how we should pray and not give up. What will it take to grow our practice of prayer, both the focused times of prayer, as well as a conversation with God all day, as well as a commitment to corporate prayer?
Time of crisis can drive us to prayer. Remember the days after 9/11? Churches were full. Government officials prayed in public on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC.
Another more personal example of how times of crisis can lead to prayer might resonate with you because it is about dating. Remember that anxious excitement you felt when you were getting close to a potential date? You’re hanging out a lot, really enjoying one another, and you’re thinking this might become a serious relationship! One couple from Faith Church told the story of their first moments of dating. They were getting close, but they wanted to be sure they were right for each other. So they had a couple days of nervous prayer when they asked God, was this right?
It might be a huge need in your life, it might be something small. But what happens when the crisis passes, when the need is met? So often our practice of prayer fizzles away.
How can we sustain a vibrant, consistent prayer life?
What could it look like to have a vibrant, consistent prayer life?
We need, first of all, to believe that it is important, that it is valuable. We do what we believe is valuable. Have you heard of the Tyranny of the Urgent? It is the principle of life that the Urgent crowds out Important. We can evaluate our lives and see how much time we give to social media, to TV, but we say we don’t have time for prayer. What is really important? For me it took a course in college on prayer tot opened my eyes to the importance of prayer.
Second, remove busyness. There are moments, and maybe your life feels like this, when you are on the go sunup to sundown. When you are young, though you feel busy, don’t allow yourself to believe that you don’t have time. “Remember your creator in the days of your youth,” says the writer of Ecclesiastes.
Third, don’t give up. Like the persistent widow, we do what we value. We might say that we believe in prayer, that we value it, but so often our belief is just intellectual. If we say we value prayer, but rarely pray, what do we really believe about prayer? Our actions speak louder than words.
Fourth, remove hindrances to prayer. Ask people in your life to help you see those hindrances. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you those hindrances. Are you prideful? Do you need to increase your faith? Do you have broken relationships?
How do we measure success in ministry?
This is really personal for me, thinking about the power of prayer. Prayer is saying to God, “Work in your power through these situations.” He alone has the power, the true power. As Christians if we say we believe that God alone is powerful, and not we ourselves, but we do not pray, we are like Christian atheists. How do we show that we Christians believe that God exists and that he alone has the power?
As Jesus taught in John 15, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.”
I need to apply this to my pastoral ministry, to the church. But it can be applied to your work, to your family, to any way you serve the Lord. For me I have to ask, should I just do the tasks of ministry: sermon prep, email, phone calls? I have to ask, where is the power in ministry? The power of ministry is remaining in Jesus. A significant way to remain in him is a persistent, consistent practice of prayer. As I think about how Faith Church pays me to be pastor, based on what Jesus says, the church’s money is best spent if I am spending ample time praying.
This reminds me of something the Apostles said in Acts 6. The events of Acts 6 take place when the church was in its infancy, likely within the first few months or years after Jesus had returned to heaven. The church had grown significantly, possibly into the tens of thousands in number. At one point, we learn in Acts 6, that the Apostles faced a logistical crisis in their church’s ministry of providing food for widows in need. Rather than spend time on that problem, they selected quality leaders to make sure people were being treated fairly. You know what the Apostles’ reasoning was delegating this ministry and not handling it themselves? They said they needed to focus on the ministry of word and prayer. But I have to admit to you that I have been weak in prayer. I want to make a change and prayer more. One idea I had was to try to take prayer walks around the building of Faith Church, praying for the various people and ministries of the church.
I would also encourage you to think about how you can increase your practice of prayer. What can you do to pray and not give up? If you are part of Faith Church, and even if you’re not (!), I would like you to consider if you could make time in your schedule to join us for Wednesday evening prayer. I continue to believe that it is vitally important for churches to have a regular time for their entire congregation to gather for prayer. Have you heard the story of the Brooklyn Tabernacle? I encourage you to read all about it Pastor Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. Brooklyn Tabernacle was weeks away from shutting its doors early in Jim’s tenure as pastor. During a vacation he sought the Lord in prayer, and felt God wanted him to continue, but that prayer had to be central. Here’s what he told his congregation upon returning from that trip:
From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church. What happens on Wednesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us. – Jim Cymbala in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire
Prayer is the engine of the church. Let us measure our church not on Sunday morning attendance, but on how much we are praying! Brooklyn Tabernacle regularly sees 75% of its Sunday morning crowd attend prayer meeting. Does your church have a prayer meeting? Have you considered it to be antiquated? Perhaps you will reconsider!
What do you need to do to increase your practice of prayer? Do you need to spend more time praying? Less time doing other things? More time trying to have an ongoing conversation with God? Let’s avoid Christian atheism by being persistent and consistent in prayer.