Copyright © 2017 Roger Helland
Are you “praying the price” for pastoral and church spiritual renewal? According to David Butts, president of Harvest Prayer Ministries, “Most surveys indicate that the average American Christian prays 3 minutes or less a day. Pastors average 6 minutes a day. The first place to look to see if a church is a praying church is to look at its prayer meetings. Many churches have no regular prayer meetings, and those that do, are poorly attended. While most Christian leaders are for prayer, most are not about prayer!”
A Barna study asked pastors to list their church’s highest priorities. Of the 12 highest areas, prayer rated last, and only 3% of pastors identified it as a priority! Fred Hartley offers a compelling challenge: “When Jesus built his church, he built a praying church. What kind of church are you building? When Jesus made disciples, he made praying disciples. What kind of disciples are you making?” Prayer is the oxygen of spiritual renewal. Without it we suffocate.
Devotion to Prayer
To plunge the depths of spiritual renewal we must surpass casual prayer or callous prayerlessness. Paul commands, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16–18). Let us “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The Greek verb for devote means, “to persist in, hold fast to, be strong toward.” It is continual, obstinate, staunch, prayer. I define prayer as “communion and communication with God.”
Pietism and Prayer
The Pietists liberated prayer from the fixed externals of church ritual and planted it into the spontaneous interiors of the Christian heart. Philip Spener expressed a Pietist sentiment: “Nor is it enough to pray outwardly with our mouth, but true prayer, and the best prayer, occurs in the inner man, and it either breaks forth in words or remains in the soul, yet God will find and hit upon it. Nor again, is it enough to worship God in an external temple, but the inner man worships God best in his own temple, whether or not he is in an external temple at the same time.”
You will never plunge the depths of spiritual renewal if you fail to practice private prayer. Spener offers practices for heart-felt private prayer:
- Prayer must occur from a repented heart.
- Prayer must occur in faith.
- Prayer must occur with great humility on our part and with a heart inclined to great reverence toward God.
- Prayer must occur with zeal and true desire for that for which we pray.
- Prayer must occur out of a heartfelt love for one’s neighbor.
- Prayer must be continual and unceasing.
- Prayer must occur with thanksgiving.
Daniel Butts suggests, “The reason most people do not attend prayer meetings at their church is that they have been to prayer meetings at their church!” For those of you who facilitate public prayer gatherings, let me offer three ideas to cultivate transformational prayer gatherings:
First, if you don’t devote yourself to prayer as a leader, you won’t lead your people to this either, and you won’t have a church that can call itself a “house of prayer for all nations.” Your practices follow your priorities.
Second, design all your church services and gatherings so that they contain substantial segments for all types of public prayer. If you have a 90-minute worship service, plan 30 minutes for music and liturgy, 20 minutes for prayer, 30 minutes for preaching, and 10 minutes for announcements and transitions.
Third, hold at least one well-planned and promoted 90-minute prayer gathering per month, where you expect all your leaders, staff, children, youth, and young adults to participate. Use my G. P. S. guide:
God-focused—focus on and experience God. Too many prayer gatherings are hollow, pale, and human-centered. Don’t start with or focus on “prayer requests” that become me-centered shopping lists, usually prefaced by too much talk. Focus on key themes and pray them through. Select music and Scripture that support the themes.
Participatory—involve everyone. People must participate, not just sit and spectate. Plan ways for people to read and pray Scripture, journal their insights, draw, sing, confess, be silent, praise, intercede, wait on God, listen for God’s voice, pray for healing, pray alone, in small groups and as a large group. Pray outward for mission.
Scripture-fed and Spirit-led—pray the passages of Scripture endowed with the Spirit’s leading. Pietist pastor John Piper remarks: “I have seen that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer.” Ensure that your public prayer is Scripture-fed.
Jude exhorts, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith [Scripture-fed] and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 20–21). Ensure that your public prayer is Spirit-led.
When you think of pastoral ministry and prayer, think of the Pietists and spiritual renewal. No renewal or revival occurs without fervent, prevailing heart-felt prayer. The Pietists can teach us more about spiritual renewal in today’s church than what I cover here. For more on the Pietists, see my book, The Devout Life: Plunging the Depths of Spiritual Renewal.
Roger Helland, DMin. serves as district minister of the Baptist General Conference in Alberta, Canada, and teaches as an adjunct instructor at several Bible colleges and seminaries. He is the author of six books including Missional Spirituality, Magnificent Surrender, and The Revived Church: https://www.amazon.com/author/rogerhelland