Today at lunch I met for the first time with my new men’s ministry partner for this quarter. Right out of the chute my brother asked me, “What makes you feel alive?” And off we went!
We agreed to get together again. So much to learn about a fellow member of the body of Christ. I planted a seed with a question for our next lunch. “What puzzles you?”
I admit much puzzles me, particularly in the pastoral ministry. Among the things that baffle me most is the difficulty believers have, including me, with prayer. We often think of that only in terms of individual prayer. This truly is a dilemma. But equally puzzling to me is the challenge to motivate God’s church to participate in corporate prayer. No meeting of the church presents bigger issues in terms of ownership by its people than the corporate prayer meeting.
This is indeed puzzling when you consider, among other things, the testimony of the New Testament church. For example, we have Acts 1:14 – All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. And then in response to persecution, the church gathered for prayer with Acts 4:31 noting this outcome: And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Acts 13:1-3 tell us that the first missionaries, Barnabas and Saul, got commissioned and sent out from Antioch during a time of corporate prayer and fasting.
Ben Patterson wrestled with this puzzle in an article I discovered recently. He places the blame for the woeful lack of corporate prayer in the local church in a couple of strategic places including this one:
American individualism has taken its toll. If churches fancy themselves self-sufficient, it’s because their members share the same conceit. We like our lives to be self-contained. For many, the prayer meeting is unnecessary as long as individuals are praying in their own homes on their own time. What is missed is that most of what the Bible says about prayer is addressed to groups, people meeting together, to pray. The Bible’s great book of prayer, Psalms, was written largely for use in the congregation of Israel.
You can read the rest of the article, including other reasons for the malaise of the missing prayer meeting here.
I fear we have become far too conformed to the world in our individualism when we consider how many of us take corporate prayer so lightly. It seems we treat it as an optional accessory to our lives rather then the vital necessity it truly is.
I don’t write this post out of a desire to motivate from guilt. That won’t cut it. I appeal to all of us at OGC, especially with another monthly concert of prayer coming up this Sunday night at 6 PM at the church in the conference room, to take our cue from Jesus in John 17. There, before He did His saving work of atonement on the cross, He poured out His heart in prayer that was corporate. He prayed with His disciples on so many fronts before His passion. Let us be imitators of Jesus, loving one another well by praying with one another.
Hope to have to move the meeting Sunday night from the conference room to a bigger venue.
And may we add to the collection of verses in Acts the following: “and we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” People will be quick to point that this verse was written for leaders in the church. But we are called to imitate their faith. So lets get out of “our comfort zone” and lets get on with the Concert of Prayer and the weekly 8:30 prayer time held every Sunday.
It would be fun to sing that old hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer” sometime.
Anyone else remember and love it?