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We want to create a culture or atmosphere in our churches and lives that is conducive to seeing prayers get answered -- quickly and powerfully. That means we also need to create an atmosphere where prayer is valued and seen as a powerful and valuable resource.
Unfortunately, there is an unspoken mindset in many church circles today that prayer is simply a "last resort" because it is not very effective. People do not usually articulate this point blank, because they could see in the very articulation of it that it violates their theology -- at least it violates what they claim to believe. Unfortunately, people's claims (what they say they believe) and their practices (the way that they live out their Christian live) often do not line up very well. Most believes claim to believe strongly in the power of prayer. In theory, they stand in agreement with what Jesus said in Matthew 18:19-20, "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them." Despite their claims, the average Christian does not have a lot of confidence that God will answer their prayers.
When the road meets the rubber, most believers try to solve their problem from their own resources. They only resort to prayer when their own efforts fail. These people usually don't expect God to answer their prayers because they don't think that prayer is a very powerful or effective tool. You have probably heard someone say something like this: "We've done everything we know to do. Now all we can do is pray."
When I hear a statement like that, it raises an internal alarm for me. I feel like asking them why prayer wasn't their first course of action instead of their last resort when all else had already failed.
But I never do ask that question because I already know the answer -- they don't pray because the church has inadvertently taught them that prayer is weak and ineffective and not worth much effort. Many people know that there is a group of people, called intercessors, who seem to have some sort of "spiritual gift" to pray. They see intercessors as "good at prayer" just like evangelists are good at leading people to the Lord. But they don't think that effective prayer is an option for every day believers like themselves. Since they have not experienced the incredible power of prayer, they view prayer as a last resource.
Let me share an example, in the natural, of what can happen when you don't value/use a powerful tool or resource that is available to you. I hate to date myself, but back when I was in High School, hand-held calculators were just becoming popular. My physics teacher had not bought one yet. He relied on his "slapstick" (e.g., a slide ruler) to solve mathematical problems. As students, we had to do complex mathematics in the process of solving physics problems. We were allowed to use slide rulers in class to help us with the math, but we were not allowed to use hand-held calculators to help us do the math. Why? Because our teacher did not see much value in them. He thought they were a passing fad that would disappear in a few years. He felt he would be doing us a disservice to allow us to use calculators that would be "here today and gone tomorrow" because we would not know how to solve the problems via slide rulers when the calculators "went away." As it turned out, the slide rulers went away and the calculators stuck around. In the past 10 years, I have not met a single high school student that knew how to use a slide ruler. I also have not met a single high school student who did not know how to use a hand held calculator. This is a somewhat humorous example, but it does illustrate how people can have powerful tools at their disposal and not use them because they do not value them.
And that happens far too often in the church regarding prayer. People do not understand the value of prayer because the church has not taught them how powerful and effective it is. So many Christians view prayer as a last resource to use only when all else has failed.
As pastors and leaders in the body of Christ, we need to create an atmosphere that will change their expectations and send the message that prayer is powerful. We need to create a culture that values prayer. We need to begin to send the message to the local body of believers, over and over again, that Prayer Changes Things. We need to make it a value and a priority in our local church. We need them to begin to realize that they are expected to pray, and they are expected to pray in a manner where their prayers are answered. That needs to begin to feel "normal" to each member of each congregation.
These are just a few ideas of things you can do to make the local church begin to value prayer more. They will also help change people's expectations to believe that God really does hear and answer prayer.
Offer quality teaching on prayer and intercession. Many churches only offer this type of instruction in an adult Sunday School or a midweek home group. Teaching on prayer in these environments is good, but people also need to hear it from the pulpit. They need to know that the senior pastor is strongly behind prayer. Don't make this a one time sermon but turn it into a whole series. If you need resources for developing teachings and sermons on prayer, visit the GodSpeak Prayer-School Mini-Course Teaching Series web page. You will find more quality teaching and lessons there than you can possibly use. The URL is:
PROVIDE READING RESOURCES
Begin to carry quality books on prayer in your Christian bookstores or on a book table/rack at the back of the sanctuary. If you don't have a book table or book rack, start one! Some of the "must read" authors on prayer include (this is just a partial list) Mahesh Chavda, Jim Goll, Cindy Jacobs, Dutch Sheets and C. Peter Wagner. Also, the biography of Rees Howells is definitely a "must read" -- the title is Rees Howells Intercessor, and it is by Norman Grubb.
HIGHLIGHT TESTIMONIES AND INTERCESSORY PROGRESS REPORTS IN THE SERVICE
We will have a whole teaching on the value of testimonies in a later lesson. This is where people report how they prayed for something they needed or a problem they faced, and how God answered their prayer. Testimonies tend to raise faith. Testimonies tend to get people thinking "I should have a testimony too" and then praying more seriously so that God will give them a testimony -- and He usually will do so!
In addition to personal prayers, there are always some people who seem to take on various prayer projects or intercessory reports. For instance, if crime in your city is high, a small group may mobilize to pray for God to lower the crime rate, and they may be calling the local police department for weekly statistics. As a church, we need to praise and encourage those who are praying for various projects. We need to give them visibility and allow them to occasionally give progress reports and praise reports as a small portion of the main service. For instance, if you had a group praying on crime, they could give quarterly reports that show the change in crime statistics as well as sharing one or two things that God has been showing them as they prayed. The congregation will be blessed and encouraged as they watch the crime statistics go down in response to prayer. The people involved in the prayer project will be encouraged because they will feel that the church values their prayers. Other people in the congregation will begin to get the idea that maybe they should be praying too, and as a result, more and more people in the congregation will get involved in prayer projects.
Most churches offer weekly or monthly corporate intercession meetings. In most churches, very few people come to them because they see them as "dry", "boring", or they think "It is just too hard to pray for a whole hour or more." We need to make them a "big deal" and make them fun. Perhaps there should be a quarterly "Prayer Event" where the entire church is not only encouraged to attend, but even motivated to attend. Make these events fun and exciting. Include things like food and worship as a part of your quarterly prayer event. Exhort people to attend from the pulpit and after each event have people share "dynamic reports" of what the event was like for them. Include some personal ministry time at the end so that people feel their personal needs are being addressed. Organize the Prayer Event for beginning pray-ers -- so that it is not overwhelming for them. Keep the atmosphere light and upbeat and encourage faith in it. Have worship interspersed between short periods of concentrated prayer on a given subject. Have an open mic where people can come up to pray on a given topic... and encourage them to keep their prayers short so that they don't loose others (the power of agreement is important) and encourage people to feel free to pray many times during the Prayer Event.
Worship is such an important aspect of effective prayer. You might want to have monthly "worship jams" where the whole purpose of the meeting is primarily to worship and there is also some prayer. Make these services fun instead of grueling. Or you may want to have some type of worship band come in for a special event -- youth especially love this type of thing if you get groups in with music that is relevant for that age group.