4 Reasons You Should Add a Regular Prayer Service to Your Church Calendar
If you could add one thing to your church calendar, what would it be? A women’s retreat or men’s breakfast? An evangelism seminar? Community groups? A Saturday evening service for the morning-challenged? A mid-week Bible study?
That’s the question I’ve asked myself time and time again since arriving at my new church last fall. Though many of those suggestions are laudable, I have, alongside our elders, led our body to begin a regular Sunday-evening prayer service.
Seriously, a prayer service? That sounds old-fashioned and quaint, the kind of thing Christians did before the advent of electricity, when life was simpler, churches were smaller, and our children’s recreational activities didn’t consume our calendars.
And it’s been met with at least some opposition. I had one member tell me we already pray too much. He felt our prayer times in the morning service were already long. They detract from the music team’s ability to get into a rhythm, and disrupt the worship experience. I’ve had others suggest it may foster legalism, by giving people something else they feel they must do. Others voiced concern that it may hinder community, for some individuals may drop out of their small group in order to attend the corporate prayer meeting.
So, why a gathering largely dedicated to corporate prayer? Let me suggest four reasons.
1. It reminds our people of the importance of prayer.
It’s not difficult to get our people to sign up for an event, or plugged-into a small group. Hundreds came to our recent women’s retreat. Scores came to the men’s breakfast and Secret Church. So why the reluctance of many to corporately gather to pray? Why has the prayer service in many churches gone the way of the rotary phone?
Simply put, prayer isn’t sexy. It’s not entertaining. It’s often not easy or convenient; it requires effort and work. It’s why Jesus gave us the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18, so that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart.” We’re accustomed to being spoon-fed with music and media, podcasts and preaching. But prayer requires us to turn the world off while we turn our minds on.
And this is what we must do—not just individually, but corporately, together. In Matthew 21, Jesus chides the people for turning the temple into something like the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matt 21:13). According to the New Testament, the church is the temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). Are our churches then the house of prayer God intends? Do we set aside the time? Do we prioritize the commitment to pray together? Or is our corporate prayer merely the filler between music sets?
Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously said, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.” What if we applied that same measure to our churches? What would it say about us? Corporate prayer impresses upon our people prayer’s importance, indeed, its absolute necessity. For our fight is against spiritual forces, and thus requires spiritual weapons—and what greater weapon is there than the prayers of not just one, but dozens, hundreds, even thousands?
2. It models for our people how to pray.
I remember the first time I prayed publicly. I was a new believer, both paranoid and perplexed over what to say. So what did I do? I copied what I heard others do.
Apart from studying the prayers of Daniel or Paul or Hannah or Mary, nothing teaches our people how to pray more than the prayers they hear from the faithful at church. If we want our people to pray biblically and thoughtfully, if we want them to pray with reverent awe and personal affection, then we must model it for them corporately. As D. A. Carson aptly notes, “Choose models, but choose them well. Study their content, their breadth, their passion, their unction—but do not ape their idiom.”
3. It unites our people around God’s purposes.
We’re naturally narcissistic people. We have no problem praying for our individual needs, wants, and desires. And it’s not wrong to do such things. We ought to. Yet how deplorable when our prayer life, especially our corporate prayer life, is dominated by such concerns. After all, we aren’t the meaning of human history. Our health and happiness isn’t the meaning of human history. The church and her prosperity is the meaning of human history (Eph 3:1-13).
When we gather to emphasize the spiritual over the physical, the corporate over the individual, we unite our people around God’s purposes for his church. Corporate prayer builds concern for our corporate unity, and our corporate witness.
4. It prepares our people for God to act.
The church corporately praying marked many of the great movements in the book of Acts. It defined their life at Pentecost (2:42). It equipped the believers with the Spirit to speak the Word of God boldly (4:31). Prayer marked the commissioning of the first deacons (6:6), the spread of the gospel to the Samaritans (8:15), and even Peter’s vision to spread the gospel to the Gentiles (10:9). In fact, it was the church praying that led to Peter’s release from prison (12:5)!
Friends, prayer changes things! It’s why Paul assumes the church will be praying together, both men and women (1 Cor 11, 14). Prayer is God’s ordained means to accomplish his supernatural ends. It is both personal and powerful. As Jesus reminded his disciples, there are some obstacles that cannot be conquered by anything but prayer (Mk 9:29).
Friends, as Jamie Dunlop notes in The Compelling Community, “God loves to defend his reputation. When we pray together, our needs become public. When he answers, his glory becomes public. ” Praying prepares our people for God to act.
OUR FIRST PRAYER SERVICE
Last month, we hosted our first Sunday evening prayer service, at least in recent memory. And with it came plenty of awkward moments and blunders as we stumbled through the service. It didn’t go exactly as I planned, and for much of that I am to blame!
But that’s okay. For we, the people of God, by the power of God, prayed. We did what no other people or institution on earth are privileged to do. And we’ll do it again. And we’ll watch, and wait, and anticipate what God will do on his behalf.