Our positive ideals about prayer prompt most Christians to speak enthusiastically about “talking with God.” We tend to eagerly embrace prayer as a tool for personal enrichment and when coping with difficulties. Many church leaders aspire to see prayer become more evident within the congregation. However, when we move beyond romantic notions about prayer to real commitment, unexpected opposition always follows. Concerted efforts to make prayer an authentic and all-encompassing reality in the life of the church can evoke perplexing responses.
After 30+ years of pastoral leadership in prayer (and in working with hundreds of pastors across the nation to develop greater levels of prayer) I have come to some new clarity about the realistic expectations we must have in this all-important journey.
1. Expect satanic counter-attack – When we make the commitment to accelerate our praying we pick a fight with the devil at a whole new level. Our spiritual enemy is not particularly threatened by a busy church, a big church, an educated church, a high-tech church, a talent-rich church, or even a conservative, evangelical church. He is threatened by a praying church. When a congregation declares their dependence on the power of the Spirit and the word, through prayer, Satan amasses all varieties of counter-attack.
Yet, we are called to be “praying menaces” to the devil. We have powerful spiritual weapons in prayer to wage a winning battle (2 Corinthians 6:7, 10:4; Ephesians 6:18) and must persist and prevail.
2. Expect superficial resistance – Many people are very content with a nominal request-based approach to prayer. When they hear that prayer can be something more, but that it will require more time and effort, superficial excuses abound. “I already know how to pray” is a common rebuttal.
Additionally, seeking the Lord through intimate worship with fellow believers can feel threatening to some who just want to get together to pray about “things”, usually pertaining to superficial concerns in the lives of other people. Expect pushback. (Read more in our previous e-devotion, “The Pride Divide” – CLICK HERE).
3. Expect traditional suspicion – Traditions die hard, especially when they have provided a safe and predictable path and a sense of belonging. For decades, churchgoers have been in a rut of attending “prayer meetings” that feature Bible study, discussion, and extended periods of talking about prayer requests – but minimal prayer. (CLICK HERE to read more in our previous e-devotion titled “False Advertising”.) To seek to change that tradition through a Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based approach upsets the established apple cart. Expect misunderstanding and questioning.
4. Expect methodological dissonance – Prayer is a bold declaration that the Holy Spirit is still “the how-to” of faith and ministry. Sadly, we live in a method- and program-dependent church culture. We love to emulate the strategies of other successful mega-churches. Some leaders find security in this predictable and “proven” path of ministry agendas. The call to extraordinary prayer will often be met with subtle disagreement by those who find it more compelling to serve the Lord than to seek the Lord.
Of course, we have more ministry tools today than ever before. There is nothing wrong with the tools – but there is a difference between USING the tools and DEPENDING on the tools. The prayer level of the church is the acid test of which one we are doing. This can be a hard pill to swallow for hyperactive and over-programmed ministry establishments.
5. Expect leadership transition – Many volunteer and staff leaders in a church are content to “support” the prayer efforts as long as there are no specific expectations for their personal involvement. During my decades as a Sr. Pastor, staff members would often ask, “Do I have to come to the prayer gatherings?” My answer was standard and clear: “I don’t want to ‘make you’ come to prayer but if you don’t ‘want to’ then we need to have a conversation.” If the priority of prayer is clear in the Bible, and the obvious direction of the church, then those called by God should have a desire to journey forward in obedience to the Lord. If this is not in their heart, they eventually transition to succeed in another role or ministry with different expectations. Difficult as it is, unity prevails and blessing follows.
6. Expect slow advancement –I often remind myself and others that a prayer culture is more a “crock pot” than a “microwave.” Experts on cultural change all agree that it only happens through constant, relentless pressure over a long period of time. By grace and the supply of the Spirit, we need to resolve that we will pursue the Lord and His blessing through prayer until the day we die. This is our calling. It is not easy, but it is definitely worth it.
7. Expect personal discouragement – I define discouragement as a “temporary loss of perspective.” In the midst of focusing on the “trees” of weekly prayer ministry it is easy to lose sight of the “forest” of transformed lives and powerful Gospel advancement. (Next week we will talk about the POSSIBILITIES of Prayer – which far outweigh these PERILS.)
So, in spite of the perils, be encouraged, my friend. Yes, the world, the flesh, and the devil oppose all attempts to embrace extraordinary prayer. As John Piper says, “Until you know that life is war you cannot know what prayer is for.” We must continue to fight the winning fight in the power of the Spirit, through passionate, persevering prayer. He is worthy. We are needy. The single greatest need of the world today is Jesus Christ living through a REVIVED church. Therefore, we must pray.
Copyright © 2014 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.