Since We Can…We Should
Last week’s devotional, titled “If I Could…I Would”, presented the dream of a church where things would function in a significantly different fashion than our common modern-day worship gatherings. I proposed a ministry where the emphasis would be given to people, not platforms; participation, not personalities; and passion, not programs. If you missed it and want to check it out, CLICK HERE.
In this writing, I want to propose one more rather radical idea: Prayer Equal to Preaching. In most of our worship gatherings, we allocate 30, 40, even 50 or more minutes to preaching. Conversely, prayer is often marginalized as a traditional bookend to open and close the service. Sometimes we will feature a “pastoral prayer” and usually prayer is included as an earnest appeal to God for a good offering. In total, prayer may be practiced a total of 5 or 10 minutes at most. Even then, it is not a participatory experience for the people but rather a passive listening to someone else as they pray aloud.
Time = Commitment
In his book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders stated: “Mastering the art of prayer, like anything else, takes time. The time we give it will be a true measure of its importance to us. We always find the time for important things.” This raises a question. If prayer is an important thing, why do we not give it more time in church life, and especially in our weekend services, which are supposed to be the pinnacle of a collective encounter with God and the primary mechanism for modeling the essential components of faith for our people? Quality time for preaching is a protected and cherished mainstay while significant prayer is relegated to a small group in an auxiliary room or even a minor bulletin sub-point in the list of weekly activities. Jesus must grieve.
The Current Priority of Preaching
I am a preacher. For thirty years I have given much of my life to expository preaching. I believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, living, and powerful. I help lead a national fellowship of pastors who are committed to the priorities of “prayer and the ministry of the word.” But most of my colleagues, in both personal pastoral habits and in public ministry, give time to preaching far above prayer by a margin of at least seven to one.
Let’s be honest. If preaching alone, apart from extraordinary prayer, was going to bring revival to the church, we would not be in this spiritual and moral mess as an evangelical church and as a nation. Even the great “Prince of Preachers”, Charles Spurgeon, asked: “What is my preaching apart from prayer but the lifting of a dead man’s arms and the raising of the eyelid of a blind eye?”
I am fully convinced that the best way to apply God’s word is to pray it. Preaching without prayer can result in truth without transformation. Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Christianity is not merely a theological, academic exercise. It is a life-changing relationship with the living Christ, who must be known intimately and experienced practically through a balance of the word and prayer.
Revisiting the Priority of Prayer
In both Old and New Testaments three key leadership priorities are affirmed at crucial moments of priority clarification. When Jethro told Moses to reorder his priorities he gave him three: 1) Prayer 2) Teaching and 3) Empowering others to lead (Exodus 18:19-21). When the apostles were faced with the administrative crisis in connection with feeding the widows, they affirmed three priorities: 1) Prayer 2) Teaching and 3) Empowering others to lead (Acts 6:4-7). So the question today is how these three priorities are evidenced in the way leaders spend their time and guide their congregations in weekend worship.
Jesus’ most passionate display of anger and holy zeal was attached to His solemn declaration, “…’My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). When prayer becomes displaced by lesser – and sometimes man-centered – activities, we seem to be operating in disregard for His clear intention for the worship of His people.
In compliance with Jesus’ teaching and model, the early church was birthed and consistently advanced by an infusion of extraordinary prayer. (See Acts 1; Act 2:42; Acts 4: 23-31; Acts 6:1; Acts 12:5; Acts 13:1-3, etc.) It’s been said that a congregation is never more like the New Testament church than when it is praying.
Common Objections to Prayer
In spite of the evidence for prayer, why is it not a major component in every worship service that gathers in Jesus’ name? Prayer brings such positive benefits to the church. (To see a previous writing called “Prayer Possibilities”, CLICK HERE). So why is it not a substantive emphasis, alongside the preaching of God’s word? Some common objections I’ve heard are:
- “Unbelievers will be uncomfortable.” – Yet, the vast majority of Americans pray in some fashion and with some regularity. When prayer is done properly and powerfully, why would unbelievers be any more uncomfortable with this than they would with singing or preaching? I would suggest that a praying church would actually demonstrate sincere and powerful faith to non-Christians as well as anything else we may do.
- “Believers will be uncomfortable” – Well then, frankly, they need to get over it. By the aid of the Spirit, self-centered introversion can be transformed into a God-centered worship and cry for help. Of course, not all whom we call “believers” really are. The first evidence of Paul’s conversion was the statement, “Behold he prays” (Acts 9:11).
- “Prayer is weird” – Admittedly, some people have turned prayer into a man-centered emotional circus, but the best way to counteract that misnomer is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rather, we have many opportunities to demonstrate the power of authentic Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer every weekend in our services.
- “Prayer is for the ‘prayer warriors’” – This is usually just an excuse to avoid prayer. There is no spiritual gift of prayer. Rather, every believer and every church is called to extraordinary prayer as a vital part of authentic spiritual life and congregational health.
Since We Can…We Should
So, the bottom line is that we can do this, if it is important to us. And because we can, we should. In my mind, it is a matter of obedience and urgency for the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, living through a praying and revived church.
Copyright © 2014 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.