Prayer

Three Reasons Churches Need Seasons of Intentional Corporate Prayer

Churches go through seasons when they need intentional corporate prayer. It can be prompted by a variety of circumstances, some which grieve the hearts of the congregation and others which enliven the vision of its members. I have observed churches go through a season of prayer when they are in the midst of senior pastor transitions. Following the significant moral failure of a pastor, churches may initiate a season of prayer for healing and direction, or when a church senses God leading them to a new vision and are ready to see God begin a movement among them, they may go through a season of intentional corporate prayer.

At First Baptist Church, we are entering a season of intentional corporate prayer over the summer. Over the past couple years, we have sensed God leading us to be more purposeful in the way we love, care and reach our downtown neighbors. There are over 20,000 people that live within a half-mile of our building, most of whom do not know the life saving message of Jesus Christ. The majority of people that live near our building are young urban professionals, but many others are at or below the poverty line and need to receive love, care and a message of hope. Collectively, the members of our congregation have thousands of neighbors, co-workers, family, friends and other relationships in our spheres of influence that we desperately desire to know and follow Jesus. Not to mention that we all, the people of our church, need the continual revival of God's Spirit within our own hearts.

As we continue to pursue a vision for God to move in our own hearts, among our downtown neighbors and among the many people whom we come into contact with on a daily basis - people whom we love and care for deeply - we have recognized our need to enter a season of intentional corporate prayer this summer. A primary avenue for this is to meet in five prayer meetings throughout the week, and pray through the book of Acts. As we hear from God through His Word, and as we speak back to Him in our prayers, we are asking that God would do something remarkable in our church family and in the lives of our neighbors.

As you read this, whether you are part of the church family at First Baptist or part of another congregation, here are three reasons why churches need seasons of intentional corporate prayer.

God Loves when His People Pray

Prayer can be a bit of a mystery. We have a God who is fully and entirely sovereign. A God who has complete foreknowledge and has chosen us in Christ before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). But yet, a God who invites His people to pray. In the Scriptures, we see God respond to the prayers of His people, specifically when they pray in ways that are consistent with His will and desires.

For example, in Exodus 32, after the Israelites had acted with great dishonor toward God in making the golden calf, God tells Moses that He is going to consume them, and begin afresh with Moses (v. 10). In response Moses petitions God to relent from his wrath, and argues back to God in prayer, using God's words and desires as a buttress for his prayer. It says that God "relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people (v. 14)."

Space does not allow for a full exploration of the relationship between our prayers and God's sovereignty and foreknowledge. But from a human perspective, God responds as Moses petitions Him on behalf of the Israelites. Moses prays in a way that is consistent with God's will and desire, and God responds. God loves when his people pray, and He responds to our prayers. When we want to see God do something in our congregation, something we believe is consistent with His will and desires as revealed in the Scriptures, then we ought to pray and ask God. Like a father who delights in the opportunity to provide good gifts to his children (Mt. 7:9-11), God loves when His people pray and ask.

Prayer is an Acknowledgment that We Cannot do it on Our Own

When we bow our knee before God, we recognize that we cannot do it on our own. We need God's help. Whether we are needing to select a new pastor, heal from a broken situation or see a new vision come into reality, we cannot do it on our own, and it is important for us to recognize our insufficiency. God's grace is sufficient, but on our own, we are not. In Peter's exhortation to the churches, he wrote:

[6] Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [7] casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. [8] Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. [9] Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. [10] And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. [11] To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-11)."

Prayer is an act of humility before God. When we pray, we intentionally position ourselves under his authority, and cast our anxieties upon Him. God restores, not us. When broken relationships need restoration and healing, we cannot do that on our own, but God can. God strengthens. Youths grow tired, and young man stumble, but "those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31)." When we get tired, and fear we do not have the energy for the task, God gives the strength. God is the one who heals broken hearts and gives strength. But most of all, God is the one who draws people to Himself and saves forevermore those who were once perishing. God gives new life to those who once walked in darkness. We cannot bring that sort of life transformation, but God can. Prayer is an acknowledgment that we cannot, but God can.

Prayer is an acknowledgment that we cannot, but God can.

Prayer Helps us Give all the Glory to God

Early in the book of Acts, Peter and John were on their way to the temple and along the way healed a lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-10). All the people were "utterly astounded" at what had happened. When Peter addressed the crowd he said:

[12b] “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? [13] The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. [14] But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, [15] and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. [16] And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all (Acts 3:12b-16)."

I love their answer. And it is so helpful for me to hear. It was not by their power or piety that this man was able to walk again. Peter is quick to point out to those listening that it was the power of Jesus that made this man strong. When we go through seasons of prayer, it can help us to remember to give God the glory for the work He does. To say with confidence that Jesus is the one who did the miraculous. God is not limited by our lack of prayer and He can do something extraordinary among us whenever he chooses, but when we go through a season of intentional corporate prayer, it helps us give God the glory when he does chose to act on our behalf.

How do we pray in the face of opposition?

When you experience opposition, how do you respond? What sort of thoughts control your mind and what sort of prayers do you pray? We can experience opposition in many different ways and from many sources. Whether it is coming from people around you, the situation and circumstances of life, the thoughts you tell yourself or the lies of the evil one, you will face opposition in your service of God's Kingdom. How do you respond?

In Acts 4, we see an example that can inform our response to opposition. After Peter and John were arrested for engaging in ministry at the temple, "they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them (Acts 4:23)." The opposition Peter and John experienced had the potential of actual physical consequences. We do not often experience opposition that would result in physical persecution, but to varying degrees, if we are serving Jesus, we will experience opposition to our work. Here is how Peter and John, along with their friends responded.

The Believers Pray for Boldness

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31 ESV)

In the example of these early disciples, there are three key elements to their prayer that can inform our own response. But before that, we first learn that prayer is an important and necessary response. Do we even get to the point of praying when we experience opposition? When we stare at the face of a mountain standing in the way of what God has called us to do, do we get on your knees and pray? If not, let's begin there. Once we start praying, here are some key elements we should include in our prayers:

1. Praise God for His goodness (4:24-26)

The disciples prayer begins with praising God for who He is and what He has done. They address him as "sovereign Lord" and give him credit as the "one who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them." They are further amazed at those who have rejected God (4: 25b-26). Whenever we pray, it is important that we give acknowledgment to the God whom we are offering our prayers. We pray to the sovereign, creator God. The quality of His character should under-gird our prayers and we should praise Him for his goodness.

2. Acknowledge God's sovereign plan (4:27-28)

After honoring God for who He is, they thank God for His sovereign plan. Even in the death and resurrection of Jesus, they thank God that Herod and Pontius Pilate did "whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (4:27-28)." No matter what opposition we face, we can trust and believe that God has a plan and that He will work things out for our good and for His glory. When we pray, we can thank Him and express our trust in his sovereign plan.

The quality of God’s character should under-gird our prayers.

3. Ask for strength (4:29-30)

When it comes time to petition God on behalf of their situation, they ask for strength. They ask that God would, "look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with boldness (4:29)." Notice, there is no request for relief from the opposition or persecution itself. The request is for continued boldness. That doesn't mean we cannot ask God for relief. We see God's people do it often throughout the Scriptures, especially in the Psalms. But that was not their primary request. Their request was that in the face of opposition, they would be bold.

Praying in the face of opposition

No matter what you are up against today, you can pray. Start there. Don't stop there, but do start there. And when you pray, learn from these early disciples. In response to their prayer, "the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (4:31)." God honored their prayer, and they were filled with boldness.

My hope is that we learn to pray like the early church. Praising God for His goodness, acknowledging his sovereign plan and then praying for strength and boldness to press on in our service to the King.

Stop Trying to Have the "Perfect" Quiet Time

Do you feel like you need to have the “perfect” quiet time? Each time you sit down to read the Bible and pray, do you feel bad if it was not earth shattering? Does your inability to ever achieve the holy grail of quiet times keep you from coming back again?

In my experience, whether it is spoken explicitly or felt implicitly, there is a sense that each and every time I take a moment to pray, meditate and read God’s Word, I need to have a ground breaking experience. Let me just tell you that you don’t. You can stop trying to have the “perfect” quiet time. Release yourself from that burden. 

The pursuit of the “perfect" quiet time is debilitating

The nobility of wanting to have the absolute best quiet time is actually working against that great desire. The weight of that high standard is crushing people, and actually keeping them from spending time with God at all. If we fail in our attempts to achieve the perfect quiet time, over time we begin to stop trying. We begin to believe that investing in time with the Lord doesn’t achieve anything anyway, and we give up.

The impossible standard we set, leaves us feeling like we have failed and that it is not worth trying again. It is like me attempting to beat Lebron James in basketball. It will never happen. I might initially think that I have a chance, and might event attempt more than once. But after getting beat down repeatedly, I would eventually give up, having determined that it just isn’t worth trying anymore.

The pursuit of the perfect quiet time is an impossible task, and because we can never achieve it, we eventually give up. Stop trying to pursue the perfect quiet time, and just start to spend time with God. Even if it isn’t earth shattering every time, over time it will transform your life into the image of His son.

You are far better off having numerous slightly imperfect quiet times than giving up in the pursuit of the perfect one.

The pursuit of the “perfect" quiet time is foolish

This isn’t just a debilitating pursuit, it is a foolish one. Because it just isn’t going to happen. The Bible makes it very clear that we are imperfect people, whom Jesus has and is perfecting. We are still in process.

We need to have accurate expectations that are consistent with what the Bible says about humans. The Bible says that we have sin in our lives. We cannot deny it, in fact, if we do then we make God out to be a liar (1 John 1). We cannot deny our finitude, and we must acknowledge its impact on all areas of life. Including the moments that we spend with God.

We will not experience Him perfectly, because we are imperfect. And it is okay. We cannot ignore it or deny this reality. Thinking that we could have a perfect quiet time is inconsistent with a Biblical anthropology. It is foolish to pursue. So, stop trying.

The pursuit of the “perfect” quiet time isn't what God wants

God doesn’t expect or need the “perfect” you. Through Jesus, he has already made you perfect, and he is perfecting for all time those whom he has already perfected (Hebrews 10:14). God doesn’t want your “perfect” quiet time, he just wants you.

Do you think he doesn’t know that you have sin in your life? Do you think he doesn't know that you feel distant from Him sometimes, even when you are reading your Bible and praying? God knows. And He still wants you to keep investing in your relationship with Him. We are fatally flawed, but we are also radically loved.

God doesn't want you to achieve perfection on your own in order to spend time with Him. He wants you to spend time with him, and through that relationship, he will work perfection in you.

God doesn’t want you to achieve perfection on your own in order to spend time with Him.

So, if you struggle to engage in consistent quiet times because you feel the impossible weight of the elusive "perfect" quiet time, then I want to release you from that burden. And if you want some help in reading your Bible, you can read more about it here or download my e-book here.

Technology I use: PrayerMate

I enjoy technology. Probably too much at times. It can be a distraction for me, but I have also found ways to use it in my personal life and my ministry. Every now and again, I would like to share a piece of technology that has been helpful for me.

Posts in the Series

PrayerMate

The first piece of technology I want to share with you is an app I use on my iPhone called PrayerMate (it is also available for Android). It has been a great way for me to remember all the things I want to pray for - whether it be my wife, community group members or missionaries. I often have too many things to remember all at once. PrayerMate remembers for me!

The functionality is great and helps me to pray more often for the things that are important to me. Here are some of my favorite things about PrayerMate:

You can set reminders

Every day I get a prompt on my phone to pray. I can open my PrayerMate app and take some time to pray.

It rotates predetermined prayer cards

You can create prayer cards for all the ways you want to pray. The app allows you to personalize how many different things you want to have pop up each time, and it rotates them for you so that you can pray for each of the things that is important to you.

You can categorize your prayers

I have a lot of different spheres in my life that prompt ways I want to pray. The app allows me use the different spheres as ways to categorize my prayers.

Great pre-loaded content

There is pre-loaded content that gives you great ways to pray. You can add scripture passages to read and prompt you to pray. You can download different mission organizations that you want to pray for, and they update their prayer content. There is much more that I have not explored, but I like that it has some pre-loaded content.

Connect prayer cards to actual contacts in your phone

If there is a particular person you are praying for, you can link them to different prayer cards. This makes it easy for you to send a quick text of encouragement to someone after you pray for them.

They continue to improve the app

During the time I have had the app, they have continued to make updates that improve the app's functionality. I am confident that in a year from now, the app will be even better than it is today. I like to invest in apps that I know will be updated and improved over time.

How do I organize my prayers?

I use 12 different categories to help organize my prayers. Here they are:

Biblical Prayers

I rotate Bible passages that I want to have on my mind, and then I pray through them. I use some of the same passages I use when I preach the gospel to myself, as well as others.

Personal Godliness

I have prayers that I pray for my own growth. If there is an area of sin that I want to be more intentional to pray about, I include it here. If I am sensing a need to trust God more, I pray for it here. These rotate based on how God is showing me that I need to grow.

Megan

My wife gets her own category. I pray for our marriage here, and also for specific things for Megan.

My Family

This is where I pray for my kids and their specific needs. I also pray for our overall family in this area. For example, I am currently praying for our family to have better rhythms of life that facilitate our love and adoration for Jesus.

My Relational Sphere of Influence

In this category, I pray for people in my life that are part of my Relational Sphere of Influence (RSI). You can read more about RSIs in this post. I have all their names as separate prayer cards, and add specific notes if there are particular areas of prayer.

My Community Group

I pray for two different members of my community group each time. There are many people in my community group, so it is helpful to have this category show up twice in each prayer session (a great feature of PrayerMate to personalize your prayer times).

Adult Community Groups

As the Adult Ministries Pastor at First Baptist Church (FBC), this is one of my primary areas of ministry, so I like to pray for things in this category.

Connections Ministry

This is another area of responsibility for me at FBC.

Local & Global Outreach

This is another area of responsibility for me at FBC.

Kinship Ministry

This is another area of responsibility for me at FBC.

Apprentice Relationships

I have a list of people who I am investing in as a mentor, and I pray for them as one of my categories.

Prayer Commitments

There are a number of missionaries and organizations I have committed to pray for. I have a category for them, so that I remember to pray for them. I update the notes associated with each missionary or organization as I get new prayer letters from them.

Links and Information

The app is not free, but the cost is well worth the investment into your prayer life. Some may view the use of this app for prayer as being too mechanical, but I have found it to be extremely helpful to remember to pray for the many different things in my life. It was well worth the investment to fuel my prayer life.

You can get it on iOS and on Android.

Here is a link to learn more about the app: http://www.geero.net/prayermate/

And here is a video that will give you even more information about PrayerMate