I have a confession to make. I have a strong dislike for group “prayer time”. The angst I experience in those moments is powerful. The desire for them to end is embarrassing. The other day I was with a group that began lamenting the long-gone days of Wednesday prayer meetings.
Others must feel the way I do as well.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love to pray! I literally pray throughout the day. I pray throughout my shifts at Walmart. I beg God to intervene on behalf of people. I give thanks to Him while acknowledging His grace in my life. I tell Him my hurts, my frustrations, my desires (some high and lofty, some are on the level of “please let me shoot a bear”), I confess my sin and weakness to Him. Praying with a group of people though? I would mostly pass if I wasn’t a pastor. Frankly, they annoy me.
This has been a slow and often agonizing journey God has been taking me on. Two books began this work in me which began years ago. “Working with God through Prayer” by D. Edmond Hiebert and “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” by D.A. Carson were instrumental in directing me to see what the Bible says and what God desires in prayer. Looking at prayer in the Bible has, I believe, revealed my annoyance with “prayer time”.
The Typical Church Prayer Time
Most requests are typically of a mundane (albeit important) nature.
Someone is sick.
Someone needs a job.
Someone has a wayward child/spouse/loved one.
…and the list goes one!
Listening (and often praying such myself) to prayers offered for those individuals consistently (and almost exclusively) reveals a focus on personal convenience, comfort, and happiness.
God please heal.
God please supply a job.
God please reconcile the relationship.
Prayers offered in such a fashion invariably reveals our core values and worldview, which sadly, are focused on “self”. Pain and misfortune are viewed as “bad”, something to be avoided and gotten through as quickly as possible.
Additionally, the routine is to spend 30-45 minutes talking to each other about prayer requests and 5 minutes talking to God. Our time most often is spent dialoguing with each other, seeking details, and offering our advice for solutions.
In the end we have become primary while God is secondary and distantly so.
What do “those people” need?
Obviously, the sick, the jobless, the hurting, the worried, and the grieving need specific help and to that end we do need to pray! Our prayers must not end there, though.
The record of the Bible demonstrates with crystal clarity the role suffering and neediness play in accomplishing the work of God in our lives as well as accomplishing God’s work in the world. The stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Job, and the Apostles (to name just a few) display that overwhelming truth.
When we pray for those in need we must fervently pray for God’s power to be operative in their lives…
-to not doubt His goodness
-to persevere in hope
-to submit to His sovereignty
-to be a witness amid the crisis
-to grow in faith (or come to faith!)
-to live Christlike lives in the midst of it all
When we pray, we must realize God may be leading people down a hard road to accomplish something we can’t even imagine in their lives and the lives of those around them. He may not deliver or provide in the way we see fit!
Some suggestions for change
I have come to understand my disgruntled attitude comes from general shallowness and a perception that prayer in meetings is primarily just checking it off the agenda list while asking God to make people happy and comfortable.
How about this instead…
1) Do not share prayer requests before praying. There is no need. The best way for us to share with the group that Joe or Jane Doe needs prayer is to pray for him/her. Everyone else pay attention and pray along!
God is primary, we are secondary. Our priority must be talking to God FIRST, others second. We must not forget, prayer is talking to God, not Him merely listening in on our conversations!
2) If anyone desires more detail than what was shared, individually initiate follow-up. This builds community and relationships rather than taking time away from actual praying.
3) If anyone desires to offer advice or suggestions, initiate conversations outside of prayer time. This builds community and relationships rather than taking time away from actual praying.
4) Rather than each person praying for as many requests at one time as they can remember or have written down, try keeping it to one request per prayer. Long and lengthy prayers covering many different requests at one time is generally counter-productive to the group prayer time as it leads to people’s attention drifting.
5) Rather than being content to pray once and get your turn over with, lets spend time PRAYING, actually praying. As a group we need to commune with God, seek Him, and not merely check prayer off the agenda or “to-do” list.
I wonder how many of us would be energized to pray if we truly pursued the Lord in our prayer times rather than what on the surface appears to be nothing more than religious ritual.
“…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” (Isaiah 29:13)