In the small church that I grew up in I learned a lot about prayer.
I learned the word; “DEBMLY.” Ever hear that word? My dad started every prayer that he ever prayed with that word. “Debmly Father …”
I learned that there were men in our congregation who didn’t put a “g” on anything except words that didn’t need one during a prayer. “Askin’, beggin’, … childring!”
I learned about the “sick and afflicted.” I wasn’t real sure what “afflicted” meant but it sounded dreadful.
I learned about “guide guard and direct us and bring us back at the next appointed time.”
I learned that all food must be blessed or it will be poisonous to your soul. There was nothing that would garner a reprimand quicker from my grandmother than nibbling on unblessed food. (However, since we lived in Texas I learned that chips and salsa were divine food sent from heaven and therefore did not need a blessing – this also applies to guacamole and queso – in fact, white queso needs no blessing because it IS a blessing in itself)
My grandfather told stories about HIS grandfather who would only pray with his hands outstretched and his eyes cast toward heaven. He believed that bowed heads and closed eyes were a ‘catholic’ invention and there were only three scriptural postures for prayer: addressing heaven with arms raised, kneeling, or prostrate on the ground.
Later I learned about our hesitancy in prayer. We were quick to pray for healing when Sister Mary had a cold but later when Sister Mary was diagnosed with cancer we prayed for God to make her comfortable.
When I got to a church college, I was in with a bunch of Bible majors. Now I don’t know how it is in other majors but the Bible majors would try and drop in little super-spiritual markers that made them sound cooler to the girls. Things like:
- You can say it as many times as you like. It can be a stall tactic for thinking. It can be a pacesetter. It can be said over and over and it just makes you more spiritual than the guy next to you. “Oh FatherGod, we know FatherGod that only you FatherGod are holy.”
- Pet names for God. “Abba, Daddy, Sweet Adonai,”
- Telling God what we know. “Lord we know that you are faithful.”
- Reminding God of what He has said. “God you told us in your word that you would be with us wherever we go.”
- The prayer grunt when someone else was praying. If you agreed with something you grunted like a “hype man” in a rap song.
- Praying worship songs = “God you are greater. God you are stronger. God you are higher than any other.” “
Now of course there is the “social media prayer.” Pray and forward, pray and share, or a puppy will die. Those who truly love Jesus will type “amen” and if you don’t you are in the grip of Satan himself.
Over the course of time, I’ve come to realize that this prayer thing is not as easy as it seems AND it’s not as hard as we sometimes make it out to be.
The church has always been about prayer.
Immediately after the Lord’s death, the disciples prepare for the future by being “constantly in prayer” together (Acts 1:14). All church gatherings are “devoted … to prayer” (Acts 2:42, 11:5, 12:5, 12). The power of the Spirit descends on the early Christians in response to powerful prayer, and leaders are selected and appointed only with prayer. In Acts, prayer is one of the main signs that the Spirit has come into the heart through faith in Christ.
In Acts 6, the Church in Jerusalem faced one of its first dilemmas. Here’s how it happened:
In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. (Time out! The word distribution is the word “diakonia,” which is the root word behind our words deacon and ministry. So the emphasis is on serving people.)
Verse 2: Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. (Stop once more! The word translated wait on or serve tables is diakonein, from the same root family as in v. 2, focusing on serving others). Back to the passage: Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. Literally, v. 4 reads, But we to the prayer and the “diakonia” of the word will steadfastly continue.
Now I’ve always heard that this meant that the apostles delegated ministry responsibilities to others so that they would be freed up to spend time in personal prayer and receive a fresh word from the Lord to preach to the people. But that is not the point of this passage.
The apostles are not referring to the need for personal, private prayer. Instead, they are talking about the ministry of mobilizing the people of God to pray together. They were marking out the two ministries they must especially do as church leaders. Let me show you the clues that lead to this conclusion.
1) The context of this passage revolves around ministries. Verse 1 points out a problem with ministries. In v. 2, the apostles discuss what ministries they must do and the ones they must not do. In v. 3-4, they instruct that seven men be identified from among the congregation to take on this ministry. This section of Scripture is focused on ministry to people, not on personal issues.
2) The definite article before prayer in v. 4 points to something significant. Listen again: But we to the prayer and to the ministry of the word will steadfastly continue. That little word “the” that appears before prayer indicates that this doesn’t mean prayer in general. It highlights something specific and important. The syntax of the sentence creates the possibility that the ministry of prayer and the word are twin ideas.
3) The example of the apostles in Acts points to the priority praying together held for them. Every occurrence of prayer in Acts preceding Chapter 6 (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31) pictures the apostles leading others in prayer. Not one reference points to their private prayer time; the focus is on God’s people praying together.
Here is the point:
PRAYER IS THE WORK OF THE CHURCH
It’s not extracurricular activity. It’s not optional or diversionary.
It is THE WORK of the church.
If we, as a restoration movement, seek to truly live up to our calling and restore the new testament church we must have a burning commitment to restore the primacy of prayer in the church.
This summer we will bring back our prayer and praise on Wed nights. Lots of people have said the reason they didn’t come on Wednesday nights in the summer is because we were “just praying and singing” and not really doing anything important. I will say again, prayer is THE WORK. The most important thing the people of God can do is seek Him together in prayer.
Prayer is the WORK of the church.
Let’s get to work, church.