A dynamic praying church must be built from the inside out, employing all four levels of prayer: the secret closet, the family altar, small group praying and finally, the congregational setting. (Developing your Secret Closet of Prayer, Richard Burr, p 19.)
The members of our Warrenville Leadership Team have been asking a great question lately: What is a biblically effective church?
How might you answer that question? And how would you ground your answer from Scripture?
Today’s post is my attempt to unpack one key marker of effectiveness in a biblical church: a belief in and commitment in the power of corporate prayer…
A few weeks ago at our Blanchard Warrenville campus, I preached a sermon on Jonah 3, which I believe God is directing us to apply not just in the near term but out of the ancient Christian conviction that “devotion to prayer of all kinds” is a defining character trait of effective churches.
With prayer being our chosen spiritual practice during Lent this year at Blanchard, I’m hoping we’ll be able to grow particularly in the discipline of corporate prayer. I believe corporate prayer has the potential for so many positive impacts on a young congregation like Warrenville which, although we’re over five years into our development, we’re still trying to articulate an inspiring corporate identity.
With Lent upon us and our annual Solemn Assembly gathering fresh in our minds from this past Sunday night, I’m thinking about my own commitments to prayer as a follower of Jesus and a pastor. I’m also wanting to ask more boldly for things in prayer through the lens of the beautiful example of the Ninevites compelling and radical reaction to Jonah’s harsh prophecy from God in chapter 3. Jonah’s “message from the Lord” reminded those “wicked” Ninevites (and all of us who, in reality, are far more like them than we choose to admit…), perhaps for the first time, of the awesome greatness of God–our need to fully believe his Word and obey it–humbling ourselves in desperation before Him and asking for his grace and mercy that God might stay His hand of destruction due to our wickedness. James instructs us to “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (5:17)
Like prayer, humility is a great source of power in the Christian life. Quoting Paul as he speaks of his great Savior, Jesus Christ, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
So, like “weak”, powerful Paul, let’s devote ourselves to corporate prayer as God’s people at Blanchard Warrenville in this Lenten season, believing our great God hears us and will transform us by His power.
Here are some additional reasons I believe corporate prayer is so powerful for us as Christians:
- It’s inconvenient (breaking our selfish cycles of doing what we want when we want to do it!)
- It’s countercultural (instead of feeding the well-fed beast of self-indulgence and the “me first” mentality coveted all over the U.S., we put other’s needs before our own when we choose to be in prayer with Christian community over personal satisfaction and fulfillment)
- It encourages “like-mindedness” (when we agree with each other in prayer—not even having to say it out loud; see Phil 2:1-4)
- Historically, it is a way God has moved His people and started revivals all over the world.
- It’s an opportunity for corporate confession, another humbling and empowering spiritual discipline (James 5:16)
- It’s a source of great power in the Holy Spirit’s work of forming us fully into Christ’s likeness (Lk. 11:9-11; Eph. 4:11-13
I’m really looking forward to our joint prayer service at Living Water Alliance Church with Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville on March 14 at 7pm. Pastor Mitch Kim from Living Water recently shared with me how his leaders regard their weekly Wednesday evening prayer service as a critical way for them to find rest, empowerment and restoration for their lives and work in ministry at Living Water Alliance. What a lovely perspective on the power of prayer within everyday laypeople using their gifts to equip the church!
One last thought: as I prepared to publish this post, my friend, Jon Graf, of Pray! magazine, posted these challenging, rich comments from A.W. Tozer (through the Prayerconnect magazine) on what prevents revival from sweeping through the Church once again.
It’s an important concluding caution that prayer–without obedience–is just more Christian busy work.
Therefore, as James challenges us so beautifully in his letter, “You do not have because you do not ask God”.
Let’s put that good advice into practice and become more effective churches and Christians by praying and asking boldly.