Open Mic Week keeps on trucking with a post from our friend Nate Pruitt. Nate is a writer, speaker, and minister living in Nashville, TN with his wife and 3 children. Make sure you check out Nate’s website and follow him on Twitter at @n8overflows.
I love going to places like Williamsburg, VA or Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg, TN. Not only are such getaways family friendly, they also provide a breakfast option I love- Pancake Houses! There isn’t much confusion as to what will be available when you walk into a pancake house, and the truth is when you order something off the menu that doesn’t include at least one delicious pancake it almost feels like you are somehow messing up the meal. On more than one occasion the conversation about what everyone is having has come to someone saying in the group at the time, “Well, I’m thinking about getting this meal, but it doesn’t have pancakes, and that feels wrong somehow.” Everyone chuckles, but deep down we understand. Why would you go to a house of pancakes and not have some?
Unfortunately our mindset with church isn’t always the same. Where pancakes are the noun (thing) that a house of pancakes would be predominantly about prayer isn’t always the noun (thing) we see as the central part of our churches. Prayer is a part, sure, but not the central part. Churches are rarely attended because people love the way that the church prays. Pastors are mentioned often as the reason to attend a church, as well as the style of worship, perhaps a specific age-based ministry, outreach program, or small group. Church prayer doesn’t often make the list.
I am fortunate enough to attend a church now that often gets called upon to pray because of what that means for us. Former members who have moved away will often call or write back and say, “We know that you [collectively] will really pray about this matter.” Co-workers, friends, and family members also get in on this, having noticed something in prayer when they attend that resonates later. As it turns out we don’t often get many returning guests the following week because of our prayer, but we do see waves of requests come in over time. Prayer isn’t a flashy entertainment piece at our church and that can have an impact, too. Typically what we’ve found is that it isn’t until prayer becomes a major need that people suddenly realize the difference.
The one thing the disciples asked of Jesus, as a group, to learn was prayer. Prayer being displaced caused Christ to have a personal riot in the Temple. After a journey on the Emmaus Road it was the blessing and breaking of the bread that suddenly made it clear to his friends that it was Christ who had been with them. We are told that even now Christ sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes (prays) on our behalf! Prayer was absolutely the epitome of life in Christ’s eyes. We claim to follow Him, as well as claiming to live the life He displayed, if we accept the term Christian as a description of who we are, but do we value prayer as He did?
One thing that I’ve found common in many churches is that prayer is actually uncomfortable for most, and that their apprehension still connects to prayer being a type of performance. For many this goes beyond stage fright because deeper questioning will reveal that they aren’t all that comfortable with their private prayers, either. It has certainly happened to me when I hadn’t cultivated a healthy prayer life. That moment of terror when the leader of the gathering turns, looks you in the eye, and says, “Will you pray?” Your mind is trying to tell your face to wipe the shocked, stupid look off. Meanwhile, your heart is racing, your palms are getting sweaty, and your mouth has become suddenly dry possibly even extending into your throat as you begin to choke and cough.
Prayer is so natural in life with God that I’m positive the real reason Christ took it so seriously was because it told Him everything about the relationship between God and the one praying. This often resulted in those who seemed confident in themselves being proven as those who failed to grasp the significance of what it meant to approach God. However, moaning and repenting tax collectors probably had a better grasp of who God was even if they did know less about the Law. The good news is that to have a better prayer life we only need to get started.
Here are some tips from my church as we continue to grow in prayer:
1) Don’t wait. If someone has a request that is pressing and significant don’t wait to pray. Not only to you risk forgetting, you also miss a great opportunity to pray in the moment when it matters to them, too. We love to ask people if we can pray for them. What’s even more fun is saying, “Okay, let’s pray now, then.” Sure people are shocked by this, but gathering together with them in prayer is significant from both a scriptural and personal standpoint. Added benefits include the fact they don’t doubt you’ve prayed for their request, because they witnessed it and the next time you see them it will be far easier to recall their request, too.
2) Make prayer the event. Have specific gatherings for prayer and stop making it seem like some dreary holy club. If you can’t muster a genuine expression of enthusiasm for prayer that exceeds your excitement about even the coolest youth trip or church picnic then you’re failing to grasp what prayer means. With prayerful preparation and the willingness to set up ways to focus intentionally on various parts of prayer (praising God, seeking healing, requesting guidance, or interceding on behalf of others for example) you will find that these times will actually be far more influential on how your church functions than the best committee meetings.
3) Know that praying together is the bedrock for accountability. Accountability groups are awesome, but they work even better with a prayer focus that accentuates both the needs and the answers for prayer. When a friend of mine was set free from his addiction to cigarettes after a focused gathering of prayer it was time to celebrate. That moment was way better than God scoring the winning touchdown or something, but we definitely wanted to raise God up while we held our fingers up signifying that team Heaven was number one and jumping around like fools. Okay, so we didn’t act quite like that (which I’ll chalk up as a missed opportunity) but my heart was all over the place with outright joy and giddiness. Celebrating God victories will keep an accountability group going forward, because how else can we take seriously that God hears and responds to our pressing needs?
My hope is that prayer isn’t just a habit before a meal, offering, sermon, or end of a church service. Prayer is the inhale-exhale of life in Christ. May our houses of prayer breathe deeply and feel as though something is completely amiss if our focus wasn’t prayer.