The Bible teaches that prayer is important (Luke 18:1; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:1), but it also teaches that there are times when prayer is inappropriate. When Moses prayed that God would change His mind about punishing Miriam, God told him to quit praying and accept the consequences of sin (Number 12:13,14). Prayer won’t change some things:
If I commit sexual sin, prayer may remove the guilt, but it will not restore my purity.
If I am unfaithful to my mate, prayer cannot remove the fact that I have committed adultery, and my spouse can put me away (Matthew 19:9).
If I am promiscuous and contact a disease (e.g., AIDS), prayer will not miraculously remove the disease.
If I as a parent waste precious years of training and molding my child into the image of Christ, it may be that one day I’ll pray that they’ll come back, and I won’t be able to get them back.
If I gossip against someone, I may pray, and be forgiven, but those words will not be unheard.
God told Joshua to get rid of the sin in the camp, and then pray (7:10). Jeremiah was told not to pray for rebellious Israel (7:9,10, 16; 11:14). God told Cornelius (Acts 10) and Saul (Acts 9,22,26; cf. 22:16), in effect, stop praying, there is something else you need to do in order to be saved.
But often prayer is the answer. How can we encourage more prayer at the grass roots level? It needs to start with elders, deacons, and preachers. When we first set the example, we can say with Paul: Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). While one does not talk of his personal, private prayer life, neither can he hide it. Members can tell which elders and deacons pray. Listeners can discern if the preacher has spent any time on his knees that week. It just shows. Paul wrote, likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid (1 Timothy 5:25).
Once the example is being set, preachers should give emphasis to prayer from the pulpit and in church publications. A congregation can also put in place some public prayer sessions beyond the opening and closing prayers. One that works well is to ask all who want to pray for the church to come a half hour before the Sunday morning Bible class. Choose an appropriately sized room (don’t meet in the auditorium because others coming in will disrupt the prayers). Designate one man as the leader. Any who have prayer requests who will not be there can call him ahead of time. When the meeting starts, he quickly takes additional re-quests from those present. Write them down – perhaps on a marker board. Let all male Christians who desire to lead a prayer, do so each Sunday. If there are several, ask each to pray a short prayer. If there are too many, then rotate prayer leaders from week to week. The session is also open to women and children, of course. One does not have to lead the prayer to pray effectively. Some churches ask the sisters to write cards to those who were mentioned in prayer that day. These cards can be passed around and signed by all present. (Those shut-in their homes or hospital rooms with little to do will pass the time trying to decipher all the names and, perhaps, trying to place all the faces.) This is much more personal than just the name of a church with a note saying, We are all praying for you.
Some churches are going back to Wednesday prayer meetings. These can be done monthly, quarterly, or on the Wednesdays preceding Gospel meetings and other special events. They should be carefully planned and not just left to whoever shows up to pray for whatever comes to mind. Those who will lead prayer should be informed beforehand. To avoid too much duplication in the service, ask each man to pray for a particular part of the work or event. With a Gospel meeting, for instance, one man could pray for the preacher, another for those who are not yet converted, another for the wayward, another for the songleader and song-service, another for the congregation, and so forth. Incidentally, it is hardly coincidental that the church stopped growing in our country about the same time Wednesday night prayer meetings went out of vogue.
We have plowed no new ground in this study. We have scaled no unvisited peaks of divine Truth. Most preachers have preached such sermons at fairly regular intervals. But have we implemented these ideas into rubber meets the road, day-in-day-out church programs? Has our methodology matched our theology? Do we practice what we preach?
Augustus Caesar is said to have found Rome a city of wood, and left it a city of marble. If the congregation where we worship is a city of wood, let’s start praying – and working – and see if in ten years it is not a city of marble.