I've seen it in the homes of Baptist Christians in Israel. I've seen it in the house churches of Brazil and Venezuela. And I've seen it once here in South Carolina at a "Shepherding the Shepherd" conference almost 20 years ago. And I can say without exaggeration that these events were the most spellbinding, humbling experiences of my life. Whether it was 20 people in a house church in Venezuela or the ball room of a lush hotel with 400 pastors and wives in Myrtle Beach, to see men and women on their faces weeping and crying out to God only to withdraw to a deafening silence waiting to hear Him speak was amaaaazing! I've heard similar testimonies from friends who have done mission trips in Haiti, Romania, Southeast Asia, and southeastern China. They've said things like: "I couldn't believe how much time they spent praying!" "There was a passion and urgency about their prayers!"
This leads me to ask a question about the American Church. When did we determine that prayer was wasted time? Now I know that I'll catch some backlash on this, but having been involved in Southern Baptist churches as a member, youth minister, bi-vocational pastor, pastor, Director of Missions, and church planter for nearly 40 years, I think I can speak with a little authority based on my own experience. AND, I will be the first to say that I did not always provide the most effective leadership in my various roles. But that is why I'm writing this essay.
My experience in churches all across the state of South Carolina has been that prayer is a formality that we usually tack on at the beginning and end of a meeting. Whether it's worship, organizational , committees/leadership, typical midweek "prayer meetings" or staff meetings, we spend far more time meeting, discussing, debating, and planning than we do praying. Now there's nothing wrong with any of those things UNLESS they take the place of earnest fervent, passionate praying.
That's why I am so grateful to have received an article by Trevin Wax titled "5 Things Romanian Believers Taught Me About Prayer." You might find it at www.churchleaders.com. But I'll give you some highlights.
1. Prayer is NOT wasted time. It never is! Wax says that in most Romanian churches, the typical Sunday service begins at 9:00am with the first hour spent in prayer. Larger churches open the floor for spontaneous prayers about various requests. Smaller churches simply go row by row so that every member who wants to gets a chance to pray aloud. Everything is soaked in prayer. Because Prayer Matters! It's never wasted time. Wax calls it "the most effective type of activism for a child of God."
2. We should affirm one another as we pray. Romanian believers pray aloud one at a time, but the prayers are never selfish or individualistic. The entire congregation is listening carefully and affirming that person's prayer with the familiar "amen" or "Yes Lord" or Thank You, Jesus." While this is a fairly common practice among Pentecostals or charismatics, it's something most other mainline denominations have shunned. That's unfortunate because all this practice does is affirm to the pray-er that others are in agreement with that cry of the heart.
3. Prayer is for everybody. Every believer can and should pray. In group meetings, worship services, and family devotions, prayer should be open to everyone. It's not just the person on the stage or the designated deacon. It's men and women in the pews praying for lost friends, broken families, and God's plan for them and their churches. It's teenagers and children learning that more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. This is a demonstration of the priesthood of believers --- every believer granted equal access to the throne of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
4. Prayer can be spontaneous and theological. Once you, as a leader, make prayer the purview of everyone, you open the door to all sorts of messy requests. New and younger believers often pray about strange things and/or they mimic phrases they've heard from others. Don't get uptight or super spiritual. They must be taught. But sometimes the simplicity of those prayers are deeply theological. It pertains to their belief that God is interested in everything that affects their lives. And it's also very child-like. Use the Lord's Prayer pattern to begin with praise to God for Who He is and for the salvation that He provides through Jesus. Then move into general requests/needs, and end with specific desires for deliverance. Encourage one another to pepper prayers with scripture.
5. Prayer Teaches. Prayer and the Bible go hand in hand. The most common way that God will speak and reveal His will is through His word AND He will never speak or lead us in a way that contradicts His word. This is just one more reason that prayer is SO important. It is an expression of our absolute dependence on God. I love the prayer of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:12 - O our God, won't you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help." (NLT) Read the entire chapter. The kingdom of Judah was faced with an overwhelming situation that would surely result in their destruction. Did they spend a great deal of time making plans and then asking God to bless their plan? NO! They recognized that whatever almighty God would do would be better than anything they could plan. So the king prayed and the people prayed. And God said to them through "one of the men standing there" (Jahaziel): Listen all you people of Judah and Jerusalem. Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says -- Do not be afraid! Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's." After that, the instructions came from God that they were to go out for battle and the choir should lead them. Probably not the way most would have planned it, but when we desperately need God to help us do something that we cannot do without His power, Prayer always trumps our planning processes.
It IS true that we must always put feet to our prayers; but this isn't the chicken or egg argument. The fundamental truth is that there is no revival, no transformation, no great break through in Kingdom work that is not first and foremost bathed in prayer. Jehoshaphat was a man of prayer. David was a man of prayer. Daniel was a man of prayer. Moses was a man of prayer. Nehemiah was a man of prayer. Samuel was a man of prayer. Isaiah was a man of prayer. Simeon (Luke 2) was a man of prayer. Anna (Luke 2) was a woman of prayer. The members of that first Church in Acts were people of prayer. Both Lydia and Dorcas were women of prayer. The church at Antioch were people of prayer. And Jesus . . .
What this tells me is that as the time draws near and it becomes more and more difficult to follow Jesus, prayer must become more of priority for our churches and for individual Christ-followers. Paul writes in Romans 12:12 - Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying. (NLT) So go into your prayer closets and gather with your small groups. Prepare yourself for worship on your knees and let's get busy filling up those golden bowls (Revelation 5:8) because that will direct our plans, bolster our courage, and honor God in all that we do.