The year is still young enough to make the question of what the church needs most in 2005 an appropriate one. Our answers may vary. The Church has many pressing needs. A vacant church may think its most pressing need is a new minister, whereas, a church in a changing community may think the greatest need is addressing those changes taking place around her. These different answers reveal the fact that this question is always appropriate. The need that I have in mind, however, is the same as our greatest need in past years and will remain our greatest need in the years to come. The greatest need of them all is the need for more prayer, especially intercessory prayer.
All true Christians pour out their hearts in supplication to God. One cannot be a prayerless Christian. Such would be a contradiction of terms. One of the first things said about Saul after his conversion on the road to Damascus was, “Behold, he prays.” Prayer, as the song says, is “the Christian’s vital breath, his native air.” The cessation of prayer, if that were possible for one who is born anew, would mean the suffocation of his spiritual life.
Yet, it seems that many Christians today are getting along on a minimum of prayer. The fact that spiritual life is waning in many churches, the ineffectiveness of much kingdom work, and the lack of enthusiasm for solid Reformed teaching, cannot be satisfactorily explained in any other way. The promises that God has attached to prayer-soaked religious work are so large, abundant, and emphatic that the streams of our spiritual life are sure to reach high levels and our work in the kingdom is certain to abound in fruitfulness when God’s servants deem prayer to be as vital as the work for which they are praying.
Why is there less prayer than in former times? The answer is that many factors in modern life are hostile to prayer. First, we are apt to stress the practical side of life at the expense of the intellectual and spiritual. We must be up and running, doing this and that; marking things off of our “to do” list if we are to have any sense of accomplishment. We are inclined to count as lost the time spent in reflection and meditation.
Second is our overemphasize of the public side of life. We stress that which is social at the expense of that which is personal. Martin Luther once said that the best time of the day for him was the three hours each morning he spent in prayer. Three hours!! Each day!! I have noticed times when the organist delays the “Amen” at the end of the silent prayer in our worship services. If that prayer is longer than thirty seconds, people begin to shuffle and cough because the prayer is taking too much time. We are no longer comfortable with lengthy time spent with God. We are far too busy text messaging, debating on various email discussion groups, and changing the ring on our cell phones to spend time in prayer.
Third, our age of rapid communication is one of feverish haste. The person who is constantly driven, whether by internal impulses or outward circumstances, seldom takes the time to pray. Prayer requires mental composure. It must have spiritual concentration. It takes time and thought to converse with God. When Christians imagine that they must “keep busy” even to the neglect of the quiet hour, they are robbing themselves of the very strength they need to carry on in the Lord. If we are to do fruitful work for the kingdom in 2005, whether at home, the church, or the school, we must take the time to replenish our spiritual streams. Prayer and meditation are indispensable for the cultivation of that spirit of concentration in which all truly effective work in the spiritual world must be performed. Without constant prayer the Christian cannot be in the proper spiritual mood and attitude for his work in the kingdom.
We need more intercessory prayer not only to make our work for Christ more concentrated and fruitful, but also to increase our interest in religious work. The Church of today does not need more activity. Some of the things we do are very trivial; many of them are secondary. It requires very little spirituality to arrange for social events within the church. Yet many churches focus more attention upon those kinds of activities than they do on the study of God’s Word. These activities are not wrong in and of themselves, but all to often they take the place of the primary task of the Church: the winning of souls, the spiritual training of the youth, the diligent study of Scriptures, the consolation of the sick and shut-in, the care of the needy, the faithful exercise of discipline, the Scriptural administration of the sacraments, and the proper government of all the affairs of the church in accordance with the Word of God.
Those primary tasks of the church require much prayer, lest they degenerate into a mechanical performance of formal duties. Much fervent prayer is needed, for example, to make our consistory meetings and classis meetings alive. Prayer would make activities of the church which we often consider to be dull, like family visiting, vital and fruitful. It would make our Bible discussions more eager, our admonitions to the wayward more tender, our visits to the sick more inspirational, and our efforts on behalf of the needy more spiritual.
The most cogent argument for the indispensability of prayer is the fact that it has pleased God to make His blessing depend on the prayer of the saints. Through prayer we acknowledge our total dependence upon Him. Prayer glorifies God. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that prayer is the “chief part of our thankfulness to God.” What a solemn thought it is that God has made the salvation of sinners, the progress of His truth, and the preservation of His Church depend upon the prayers of His people. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say that the whole course of the Church during this year will depend upon the measure and manner of our prayers.
Let 2005 be a year of much and mighty prayer and it will be a year of unprecedented spiritual prosperity for God’s Church. Such praying cannot be done by the leaders of the church alone. Every member of the church must perform his/her share of this our first obligation to God and His Kingdom.
Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He also serves as Editor of The Outlook.