Among the many activities in the life of a church, prayer is one of the more important. The Shorter Catechism defines prayer as: “An offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (q. 98). My own experience is not necessarily indicative of the church at large, at least I hope so, but as much as people said prayer was important, their actions revealed that prayer was actually not that important. I can say this because the church’s mid-week prayer meetings were some of the most sparsely attended events.
Turnout was always hearty whenever food was served, but whenever prayer was on the schedule, it was like people-repellant. Only the most dedicated of the church attended, and even then, sometimes it was myself, my wife, and one or two of my elders in attendance. Perhaps low-attendance was due to the busy schedules that many of us now carry? Perhaps the lack of attendance was a consequence of the traffic in a busy metropolitan city, which made travel in the evenings a real chore. The nagging question, however, that always stood in the back of my mind was, “Is anyone praying at home right now even if they’re not attending the meeting?”
I think one of the bigger challenges in the life of the church is convincing people that individual time in prayer is important, but so is corporate prayer. Yes, churches spend time in corporate prayer in worship, which is vital to a church’s spiritual health. However, there should be time dedicated in the life of the church where people fully grasp the first-person plural pronoun of the “Our Father,” in the Lord’s Prayer. That is, they need to realize that they are not alone and that they are part of a body, one that is supposed to pray together, hence, the famous prayer begins with, “our,” and not just, “My Father.”
All too often we are self-absorbed in our own struggles and challenges and don’t realize that others in the body of Christ are suffering to a greater degree—with illnesses, depression, or in other parts of the world, persecution and tremendous suffering. In prayer we are able not only to bask in the grandeur of the marvelous triune God that we serve, but we are also able to take the focus off of ourselves and intercede on behalf of others.
As a pastor, I always prayed that my congregation would discover the riches of prayer, but at least while I was leading it, the Lord didn’t seem to answer my prayers. This doesn’t mean, however, that pastors should stop praying for their churches—sometimes much of a pastor’s ministry is spent hidden away in his prayer closet interceding on behalf of his flock. Only Christ knows of his prayers and concerns. And sometimes pastors must wait years, decades, before the Lord will answer his prayers. But such is the nature of the pastorate—we who are called should not expect instantaneous success, like placing a prayer in a microwave and taking it out, piping hot, after sixty seconds. Instead, ministers should realize that they are committing to a lifetime of ministry and prayer, sometimes with no immediate visible results.