In Why Revival Tarries, first published in 1959, the evangelist Leonard Ravenhill called the prayer meeting the “Cinderella of the church today.” I wonder how he would evaluate our prayerfulness in 2013. I could be wrong, but I suspect things have gotten worse. Generational apartheid in churches often means that youth and young adults avoid the prayer meeting, seeing it as a place for the elderly. Whilst they are pioneering a “cool” new style of praise and worship in the main church service, the quiet and crucial foundation of prayer is often maintained by a dying generation of intercessors and prayer warriors. People from whom we have so much to learn.
Why do we neglect it? Every week my church urges “Members – Don’t forget the prayer meeting”. I have yet to attend; I stand as guilty as the next. After a year of the encouragements and discouragements that came with coordinating prayer meetings at Queen’s Christian Union, I should know better. I knew the joys of having over fifty people coming along at 8am to pray together, the disappointment of periods when it seemed like an uphill battle to convince students that collective prayer mattered at all.
I often use busyness as the excuse for avoiding prayer time, as if it is an optional extra in my relationship with God and his church. Often the argument goes something like this:
1. Jesus prayed
The Son of God, during his earthly ministry, took himself off to desolate places to pray (Mark 1:35-39), and this time often refocused his ministry (Mark 1:38). Also, before he went to the cross, Jesus spent extended time in prayer in Gethsemane (John 17) and often encouraged his disciples ‘always to pray and not lose heart’ (Luke 18:1). The God-man sought the face of God in prayer, recognised its centrality and acknowledged his dependence upon God. How much more do we need to seek his guidance, to actively and persistently invite him into the monumental and seemingly inconsequential decisions of each day?
2. The early church set an example of prayer
Though there is much emphasis upon the apostles’ teachings and preaching the gospel in the life of the early church, there are many references to communal prayer (Acts 2:42; 4:23; 6:4; 6:6; 12:5; 13:3; 14:23; 21:5). Prayer is a powerful catalyst upon the community of faith, in maintaining unity, retaining vision, commissioning, committing and increasing effectiveness by consistently submitting the work to God, acknowledging their need of his power and approval.
3. The Christian faith is built upon relationship
God is our Father, he created us for relationship with him, so he wants to hear about our lives, our thoughts and struggles because he cares. Though many of us come from dysfunctional families and struggle to comprehend dependable, fatherly love, we must not allow it to distort our view of God.
Prayer is not about getting our words right or mindlessly rhyming off liturgy, but actively acknowledging our need of God in all areas of our lives. It involves trust, as we lay our concerns and praises before the hands that crafted stars. For me, a prayer as simple as “Good morning, God”, consciously invites him into my mundane, everyday routine from the moment my eyes open. When I do this, my perspective changes and my purposes change; I become motivated by his glory and aware of his prompting through the Spirit.
So, prayer does change things, primarily by changing us. The question is, how much do we desire change in our lives and in our churches? Perhaps we prefer battling on in stoic self-dependence. Praise God that we are saved by grace and not works, that a tally of prayer hours will not make Him love us any more than He does today. However, time on our knees will enhance our love for Him and make us more aware of how He wants to involve us in His mission of bringing His kingdom to earth. We begin to grasp the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).
How could engagement in prayer change your relationship with God and your local church?