I heard from multiple, very reliable sources of Wednesday night prayer meetings in their small church. The service was located in the pastor’s study with the church’s faithful gathered together in the warm room on a cold evening – perhaps fifteen people. The pastor delivered a Bible study at the first part of the service before they went into the prayer portion of their time together. As people were taking turns praying for the concerns of people in the church and the community, they could hear some rustling sounds. When they peeked to see what the sound was, they could see the pastor shuffling through papers on and around his desk doing church business while everyone else was praying. It turns out, this was an ongoing behavior by the pastor.
In worship services in your church – or outside your church during this time of COVID – what does prayer mean for you? If you are a church leader or teacher of any kind, there is an odd balance between leading those attending in meaningful personal prayer and evocative corporate prayer. What a great honor and gift is given to us in our ability to pray to the great and almighty God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. [Ephesians 3: 20. NIV]
But then, there are offsetting experiences that makes one wonder of the place of prayer in churches. We need to ask ourselves if we are so root-bound in our worship ceremonies that elements of the service cease to have meaning. In the following part of this blog, I will share several suggestions of how we can do better in our services and our Bible studies around the concept of prayer.
- How often does the worship leader or teacher ponder other things during the prayer time? Perhaps the leader is shuffling papers like the pastor in the story with which I began. Or setting up the Bible and notes to be ready when the sermon or teaching portion begins or ends. The congregation certainly does this as well. As a child growing up, I knew when the church service was coming to an end. People would start rustling (my favorite word of the day, apparently), gathering their things together and putting on their coats as the pastor was wrapping up his sermon – and it was even before the final hymn! Remember, you are in the presence of God.
- I admit to being a bit of a fuddy-duddy on this concern – getting ready for the next movement in the service. Is it really so important to be ready for the next song when people open their eyes from their corporate prayer? In some churches in my experience, the first note of the song begins as soon as the “Amen” is uttered at the end of the prayer. Is “smooth” really more important than the being in the presence of God?
- I have mixed feelings about this next point, but I feel it should at least be mentioned for the reader to think about. I’m talking about corporate intercessory prayer, whether it be in a worship service, a Bible study or any small group gathering. This is when we raise up names before the group to pray about or to be made aware of the difficulties someone is having. Yes, it is good to know of these people or families to pray for – and perhaps even to physically help. However, sometimes it seems to smack of a sanctified gossip. If names are raised up, but no one acts to do anything about it or even writes the names down for prayer at home, then perhaps that’s what it is – just holy gossip. On the other hand, though, if a need is mentioned and the church acts to help with that need (through a physical act like installing ramps to the home, taking them food, writing them a note or just praying in personal prayer time), then my thought is that it is useful for God’s people in worship or Bible study.
- Before I mention this, I must admit that I’ve not seen anyone do this but me. By raising this to your attention, perhaps it could become a viable and uplifting option for you as well. There are times when I was preaching that the words just wouldn’t come out right. Or I was in a brain fog, perhaps because of a cold or medications or whatever. You, as the preacher or teacher, are not hiding anything. They notice you’re struggling and wonder what’s going on. The few times this happened to me, I would stop – right in the middle of the sermon, but I would stop. I would then share what everyone knew anyway and ask for prayer. It ALWAYS worked out wonderfully. I would usually ask a church leader to lead us in prayer (I’m the one with the fog, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to pray). After the prayer, God would then work with my brain, my body and my message to make it come out clearly, and the people would be praying in support. I’ve never regretted doing that. And in order for you to be successful at this approach, you as a worship leader or teacher do have to get beyond the idea that you and the service/study are performance-based. The service is not about the performance, but it’s about being the conduit for people to encounter the great and holy God.
- Finally, I am going to bring up something that seems to be revolutionary – only because I’ve not seen anyone practice this, either. During the service, have you ever heard the siren of one or more emergency vehicles, especially if it goes right by the front door of your church? What do you do about it? Ignore it? Why? EVERYONE is listening to that siren. NO ONE is listening to your sermon at that moment. Is prayer important? Are you in the presence of the Holy God when you pray? Then stop whatever you’re doing. Whatever you’re preaching or teaching, no matter how wonderful it is, just stop. Lead the entire congregation in prayer. Pray for the First Responders (capitalized on purpose) who are rushing to an emergency of some sort, the nature of which is truly unknown until they get there. Police. Ambulance. Fire trucks. It doesn’t matter. The responders need God’s protection and clarity of mind to make the right decisions upon arrival. I also entreat you to pray for the person(s) who called in to 911 as they are in distress of some sort, and/or the person they are calling for is certainly in distress. They need God’s peace and protection at that time in their lives.
Whether you are a worship leader, a pastor, a teacher or a person in the congregation, I hope you will consider these points starting this weekend in church. Consider what you are doing each day. Are there times to pause whatever you are doing and take some time with God? Think outside the box. Look around you with God’s eyes.
I hope you have a great weekend! I’ll leave you with this great promise:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time, [casting] all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. [1 Peter 5: 6-7. NIV]