Transformation of God’s people and His church is always rooted in prayer. Here are ten things we must consider.
- We must embrace Paul’s concise theology of prayer (1 Tim. 2:1) – Prayer as supplication/petition, worshipful communion, intercession, and thanksgiving. This is a continuum of prayer, a simple but broad spectrum of prayer. Current prayer theology is stuck in phase one – prayer as petition. It has not learned the value of worshipful prayer by which the believer, the family, and even the church as a congregation in prayer together, constantly reorients their values (worth-ship), moving from self-preoccupied praying (petition), to a life whose driving fire is to please God – this is true worship, out of prayer. Currently, praying in faith is the means by which we attempt to get God to please us (phase one) – our values are upside down. It is faith in prayer, not faith in God. Beyond worship is the instrumentation of intercession, wherein the believer embraces prayer as mission, standing between God and the lost, God and the hurting, God and injustice and oppression, God and the nations – interceding, weeping, protesting, lamenting; and finally, ending in a life of public thanksgiving and praise. This is a Christian who determines not to be silent, a living witness of one who now walks and talks with God. This is prayer in full bloom.
- We must recover prayer, at its heart, as worshipful communion with God. Now, we see prayer fundamentally as a requisition system for our needs – we do not, typically, worship personally, daily, in our homes, with our spouse and children. We must understand prayerful worship as beyond expressions of praise – and more as the centering of our lives in Biblical principles and values. True worship affirms God as the center on one’s life, as the organizing factor, as the love of one’s life, and the motivating factor. It is more than being principle centered; it is ‘Person’ centered, involving ongoing intimacy with God.
- The great need in our churches is humble brokenness coupled with bold faith. “God, resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Our need is not better prayer praxis, but a different ethos, a culture of servanthood in our churches. A genuine encounter with the holiness of God (as in Isaiah 6; Rev. 1), will always result in humility, and humility issues forth into unity, and unity into healthy community, and healthy community sustains a move of God. No healthy community: traceable to a lack of unity; no unity, to a lack of humility; no humility, to a lack of true prayer – before the searing and riveting holiness of God. Shallow prayer. Self-interested prayer. Prayer that seeks God’s provision, but rarely vision or direction itself.
- We must recover daily, personal prayer for the sheer joy of being in God’s Presence. Our prayer times must end in praise – thus we have prayed ourselves to peace and joy, even with the cares of this world still unresolved, and we meet the world singing, having heard music from heaven. This is the lively witness of those who walk with God, an unspeakable joy and an unshakeable faith – not faith in prayer, but faith in God.
- We must recover prayer over open Bibles – staining them with tears, praying that the power of God’s word would work through us. The scripture is a lens through which we see God most clearly, and nothing is more important in prayer than seeing God when we prayer. Second, in the mirror of scripture, we see ourselves most clearly – often undone, needing to repent and change. Third, through the voice of scripture, we hear God most clearly, specifically, his need, “Who will go for us, speak for us, represent us?” Here we find agency, deputation by God, calling and the quickening of gifts, thus life purpose.
- We must move from simplistic, single-dimensional prayer – to a multi-dimensional understanding and practice of prayer. Prayer is so simple, a child can pray – without training, without a degree, without having to read through the entire Bible; indeed, the best prayer is childlike, but it is not childish, not unenlightened, or ill-informed. That is the confusing, complexing aspect to prayer. We assume that good prayer is childlike – simple, straightforward, no complexity, no contradiction, pure faith, innocence. And therefore, no teaching, no training is necessary – and that has produced a virtually prayerless church who, when they do prayer, do so simplistically. The result is that we pray amiss (James 4:3-4), without depth, without the appropriate Biblical reference points, seeing prayer as acquisition, not transformation; as personal and devotional, not missional; as private, not corporate and collaborative.
- Single-dimensional prayer says, “Just talk to God … pray in faith … tell God what you need … be pure … get two-or-three to agree with you in prayer … don’t doubt …pray the promises of God … be sincere … passionate … pray from your heart, in Jesus name …” All these things are true, but this is simplicity on this side of complexity. So often, people do pray with what they believe to be simple faith, and they are disappointed, because God seems to be silent. They then become confused, feel abandoned, and then search their heart looking for some reason God did not answer. At times, they give up on developing a life of prayer. At other times, they come to believe prayer is a matter of some technique they did not previously use. They understand prayer in terms of an outcome; their focus is on the hand of God, not their relationship with God. On problems, not God’s presence. On managing some storm, not on peace in the midst of the storm. Faith in prayer is not the same as praying in faith.
- Every church should have a prayer meeting, and every home a family altar. You are not praying, unless you are meeting to pray. The prayer meeting, the meeting with God, by the congregation, is the most important meeting that the congregation conducts. Praying people comprise a praying church. Praying homes manifest as a praying church; and the absence of prayer at home is more damaging than the absence of prayer at home. Prayerless churches usually indicate prayerless homes, and prayerless lives – and that spells the death of the church. Prayer activities at church are not adequate, we must, as the tap root of congregational prayer, restore the family altar, couple’s prayer time together, inviting and acknowledging the Presence of God in our lives and homes. Indeed, entertaining God (Genesis 18).
- We must recover the practice of blessing our children – and remember, no father has the right to die, until he has blessed his children. He does that, not from the strength of his own character, but as a priestly representative of the heavenly Father. Blessings are conveyed. But a promise, even a promised blessing is not a blessing, until it is spoken.
- We must practice the Great Commitment of prayer, without which we do not have the grace to live out the Great Commandment, and without which, we share good news, but to closed and hard hearts. The Great Commitment calls for systematic prayer to national and community leaders. For “men to pray everywhere lifting holy hands without wrath and doubting,” – the posture of blessing. The proliferation of prayer throughout the community. Our churches rarely pray for community leaders, except as a part of a complaint. This is the means by which God changes the ethos of community (I Tim. 2), bringing peace.
Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. This blog is an excerpt from a white paper, Critical Change Issues in Congregational Prayer Practices, written by P. Douglas Small. Check back next week for more excerpts from this article.
P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.