Prayer seems to be a forgotten art in the lives of many Christians. All too often, Church prayer meetings go unattended or abandoned all together and prayer closets are filled with cobwebs. What happened to prayer? I think I may have put my finger on what caused the flame to dwindle on the altar of prayer, and how we can reignite the fire.
What Happened to the Prayer Meeting?
The hard truth is that many Churches have abandoned the prayer meeting. This is tragic because it was one of the primary staples of the rhythm of life in the early Church.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”Acts 2:42 (NIV)
We find the Church gathered together in prayer frequently throughout the book of Acts. When Peter and John were threatened by the Jewish religious leaders for healing a lame man and preaching the name of Jesus, the response was a prayer meeting. (Acts 4:23-31) When Peter was imprisoned by Herod, the Church held a prayer meeting. (Acts 12:3-19) The commissioning of Paul and Barnabas for their missionary work happened in a prayer meeting. (Acts 13:2)
Prayer was a regular part of Church life, but it wasn’t just a normal part of the corporate lives of the Church, it was also an incredibly important part of the personal spiritual life of Jesus.
Yet the news about him spread all theLuke 5:15-16 (NIV)
more,so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
If the Lord Himself saw a need in His life for extended times of personal prayer, what makes us think we can do without it?
Now, this is the point where some preachers will beat folks over the head for their lack of prayer. I don’t think that approach is appropriate, and I believe it to be counterproductive. When we become aware of our own sinfulness, the right response is not to obsess over our sin, but to seek God for forgiveness and receive His empowering grace and gift of righteousness.
When preachers, who are no doubt very sincere and passionate, try to beat the Church into obedience through harsh rhetoric, it may produce short-term results, but the results are motivated by fear, insecurity in our relationship with God, and by striving in the flesh for spiritual life. But Jesus said, that “flesh only gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:6)
I believe the frantic striving in the flesh to become spiritual through long arduous prayer meetings and barren hours (or really, minutes) in the prayer closet has killed the joyful spirit of prayer. Rather than embrace the reality of the Gospel, that we have been brought near to God through the work of Christ, we expend our emotional and spiritual energy trying to “feel close to God” and bring some halfhearted requests to Him, not truly expecting anything to change as a result of our prayers.
I very much doubt this is what the prayer life of Jesus or the apostle Paul looked like. This striving in prayer is the result of Gospel amnesia.
Gospel Centered Prayer
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He told them to begin the prayer with two very simple, and very powerful words: “Our Father”. The foundation of all prayer is an acknowledgment of our relationship to Him, and His relationship to us. If we do not begin our praying with a celebration of the Gospel—that is—God’s gracious adoption of us into His family, we have resigned to fruitlessness whatever praying is to follow.
For God in all his fullnessColossians 1:19-22 (NLT)
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
You have been brought near to God through the work of Christ. If you confess your sins, the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin, and you stand before God holy and blameless without fault. The veil between you and the holiest place of God’s glory has been torn 2,000 years ago, and God has invited you into a real, experiential relationship. You have an open invitation to the throne room of Heaven, and we can pray bold prayers, knowing that our Father in Heaven is eagerly listening and is willing to act with power on behalf of His children.
I doubt very much that Jesus withdrew into the wilderness regularly for prayer out of a sense of obligation. I think He knew the glorious life that is to be found in the presence of the Father. He didn’t go to prayer to “be close to God”. He and the Father are one! Instead, He withdrew to enjoy and fully inhabit the place of union with the Father apart from the distraction of ministry.
Prayer is a celebration and an appropriation of the reality of the Gospel! In prayer, we are simply taking hold of these realities which have been accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The reason so many of us have dull and powerless prayer lives is because we have neglected the truth of the Gospel. We spend our precious few minutes in prayer trying to re-accomplish what Jesus has finished. We try to feel close to God through praying prayers like, “God, I just want to be close to You.” or “Lord, please be with me.” or “Lord, I feel so far away from You.”
We waste time and energy praying prayers that can never be answered because they have already been answered. These prayers come from unbelief, rather than faith. When the time comes to actually make requests and supplication of God, we have very little expectation that anything will happen at all because we don’t even have confidence that God is even listening. We then leave emotionally exhausted and discouraged, feeling like nothing was truly accomplished, because in reality, in our unbelief, nothing truly was.
Powerful prayer is born in a faith that the Word of God is true; that we have been brought near to God, that He delights in us and is eager to answer our prayer because of His abounding kindness toward us. After all, He has given us Jesus. Is there anything else that He would withhold from us? (Romans 8:32)
I pray that the God of peace will fill you with confident hope in His promises. I pray that you will inhabit the place of confident and joyful prayer. I pray that the Church will appropriate Her rights as the bride of Christ, and will enter the throne room of Heaven in confidence that Her Bridegroom loves to hear and answer her requests. I pray that the Kingdom of Heaven will invade the earth through the powerful prayers of righteous men and women and that the Church will wake up to the importance of earnest, fervent, joyful, and confident prayer. I pray that the prayer meeting becomes full again, and it returns to its places as the engine of the Church. I pray that the prayer closets will again burn with the firey prayers of hungry saints and that God will again revive His Church.
May you pray prayers which will change the world.