If we could think of one area of spiritual discipline that we neglect too much, probably most of us would admit it to be the area of prayer. Yet, conversely, we probably would all admit that prayer is the most important spiritual discipline for the Christian life. What an interesting dichotomy. Prayer is the most important discipline, yet the one most commonly neglected. If any church is to be healthy and strong, then the people of the church must be people of prayer. This month’s characteristic of a healthy church is: Heartfelt Prayer.
I don’t think that I need to spend too much space discussing the Biblical warrant for prayer. The Old Testament saints prayed, the New Testament ones did as well, the Lord prayed, He told us to pray, there are examples of prayers given in the Scripture, commands to pray, even commands to pray ‘without ceasing.’ When Jesus talks to us about prayer He says ‘when’ you pray, as if it is a normal and natural thing for a child of God to be doing. We do need to view prayer as a matter of obedience to the Lord. He told us to do it and so we must. There are many benefits to prayer that I could list, but we are not pray because of the blessings it gives us. We are to pray because our Lord told us to…and that should be enough reason for us to make it a regular habit in our life.
But I call it ‘heartfelt’ prayer because it shouldn’t be a burden. It shouldn’t be a chore. It shouldn’t be formulaic. It shouldn’t be stale and boring. It should be lively, passionate, joyful, communication with God from the heart. English Puritan Philip Henry had two children who were dangerously sick. He prayed to God for their safety and healing and he wrote about it in his diary. He said (paraphrasing) that if God would grant his request, he wouldn’t promise to never ask for anything again, as some do. He said if God answered his request then He would hear from Philip Henry more than ever! That Henry would love God all the better and love prayer all the better as well. Have you seen the Lord answer your prayers? Then why do we not go to Him more often? Why do we not converse with Him all the more?
A healthy church has praying people. Those people pray in two ways. First, they pray individually. Each member has daily personal communion with God; heartfelt conversation and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ all the time. That will make a healthy church I assure you. But secondly, they pray together. They pray with one another in small groups and in big groups. A friend once asked Charles Spurgeon how he kept the passion and the fervor of his church aflame after all the years of ministry. Spurgeon said it was his furnace that kept that passion alive. He invited the man down to the basement of the church to see his furnace. Behind the door was a large room with 1,000 members of the church all praying. It was the time of the evening prayer meeting. The church furnace was the people of the church praying.
I truly believe in the prayer service or the prayer group. That is how the wheels of the church really turn. We have two opportunities for our people to pray together. First, on Wednesday nights right before dinner. From 5:15-5:45 a small group gathers together to pray for the health and growth of our church. That is our targeted focus. The second time where we can gather together to pray is on the first Wednesday of each month during Bible study. We turn our normal Bible study into a prayer service where we pray to God and pray Scripture together. I encourage you to join us at one of those times to stoke the heat of the furnace of Congregational Bible Church. But also, have a time of personal communion with God and let time in His presence fill your heart and soul as you go through the Christian life.
-Pastor Mark Scialabba