I can’t speak about what’s going on in believers private prayer closets, but we do know it is rare for believers to gather just for the sake of prayer anymore. Last year I went to a prayer meeting at a large church. All four of us had a great time. By comparison, nearly a hundred attended our pastor’s mid-week Bible studies last week. Why has corporate prayer taken such a back seat in the church?
A staff person of our church asked for our feedback on a proposed training program for new believers. Seeing nothing in the outline on prayer, I suggested it be included in the curriculum. She agreed, adding that people “seem so afraid of prayer.” Why would prayer be a cause of anxiety among modern believers? Maybe it’s just because we are out of practice.
Here is an observation of a cause for this malaise and some nuts and bolts solutions.
The Pastoral Prayer We do have prayer at worship of course, but is it really corporate prayer when the pastor does all our praying for us? Prayer time is even often termed “the pastoral prayer.” Is it any wonder pastors include “people’s prayer proxy” in their job description?.
I once asked a Roman Catholic why she prayed to the saints. “We don’t,” she insisted. “We ask them to pray for us.” This is not so different from Protestants, except they don’t ask dead saints to pray for them but live professionals. And what kind of answers are we getting from these prayers?
Prayer that Got Results Imagine you are back in Jerusalem when Peter and John report to the young church that Jewish leaders are threatening God’s work. Someone suggests they pray and you see Peter stand and say, “Let us pray” and does a pastoral prayer. Was that Jesus’ idea when he taught we could expect great things when even just two or three believers join together in prayer. (Read about it in Matthew 18: 18-20)
Here’s what really happened: “When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:22 GNT). They intensify their prayers by doing it in one accord, as Jesus urged. What happens? Luke tells us, “the meeting place shook, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and bravely spoke God’s message. (4:31). Later we read, Many miracles and wonders were performed among the people (5:12) Imagine how attendance would soar at First Church if these kind of things were going on there today!
What can be done to begin to restore this kind of praying in our churches? In a nutshell, we need to give prayer back to the people. Here are some “for instances.”
Prayers of the People In the seventies, Presbyterians replaced “the pastoral prayer” with “prayers of the people.” We took this to heart in our church. During worship, folks were encouraged to give prayer concerns and then various folks in the pew were invited to pray. Many did and it was warmly welcomed by most and even traditionalists gradually came around to it.
Prayers by the People We attended a service in Illinois where the pastor boldly broke with tradition. In place of the pastoral prayer, he encouraged us to join up with four or five others, share our concerns and pray together, right there and then. It was a heart-warming experience and a step in the right direction.
Prayers for the People Pastors might launch a “teach us to pray” campaign by doing a series of teaching sermons, encouraging the saints to engage in effective corporate prayer They could bring pew sitters into the pulpit to lead in prayer. Bible Studies could be introduced on the subject of prayer. Workshops could be created to believers feel comfortable praying together, then ease them into the experience itself.