Some thoughts on prayer…

by Mike Bergman on February 1, 2014 · 10 comments

prayer_06This year at the church I pastor, I have decided to emphasize prayer. I didn’t make this decision because of a lack of talking about prayer in the past. Each of my last three years here have seen at least one series where I have taught on prayer on Sunday morning, and a couple of years back I did a several week study on the Lord’s Prayer on Wednesday nights. Also, three times in the past three years we have abandoned our normal Sunday morning routine and had services focused on nothing but prayer and singing praise to God.

Also, since I first arrived at this church in mid-2010, I have kept a monthly calendar with all the active individuals and families spread across 28 days. Each day I pray for two or three households, and every other month I send cards to them letting them know I have prayed for them, encouraging them with Scripture, and asking for any requests.

I guess all of this is somewhat unusual, because on a ministerial evaluation for a class that I am in, one lady wrote: “I’ve never had a pastor who valued prayer as much.”

I am humbly grateful for that statement, yet I must confess that I know my own weakness.

Prayer does not come easy for me, and I feel more often than not I neglect sufficient prayer in my life. I consider prayer and time in the word to be our two foundational acts of devotion to God and the two primary tasks of pastoring (John 15:7-8 and Acts 6:4). The way I think about the two is that time in the word is more heady—we must read, think, and meditate; and prayer is more relational—we talk to God as Father, Brother, Spirit, Lord, King, and Friend. In my own personality, I’m more wired for the heady and less the relational. I can get along fine in a day with my nose in a book and not saying hardly a word to anyone else.

Thus, I can read and study and diagram and dig into the Bible until the cows come home. But prayer…talking, relating, communing? That takes more energy for me and more fighting against my natural inclinations. Prayer is harder. Prayer is a personal weakness.

I have found this to not only be true for me. One day within the past year, a deacon and I were visiting with a lady in my church. She is a dear, sweet lady in her mid 80’s who has essentially spent her entire life in one of two churches depending on where she lived at the time. Her husband, before his passing, had been a deacon in these two churches. Towards the end of our visit, I asked her (as is my custom): “What can we pray for you?”

She thought for a moment, looked at me, and said, “Pray for my prayer life. I don’t think I know how to pray.”

Those words took hold of my heart. Here is a lady who had spent her entire life active in church, and now in her final years she says, “I don’t think I know how to pray.” How does this happen?

And it’s not just this one lady and it’s not just prayer. I’ve also had conversations with church members who have been involved with churches longer than I have been alive. We’ve talked about how much of the Bible they have read. “Maybe most of the New Testament but not really any of the Old Testament.” In thirty some-odd plus years, they have not made it through the Bible even once.

These aren’t fringe members. These aren’t the ones who show up once a month and don’t really have anything else to do with the church. These are men and women who spend far more Sundays in church than they don’t, who attend Sunday School, and who have been a part of other Bible studies. They have actively served in church ministry.

Yet, they don’t know how to pray and have never read through the Bible even once. Again: how does this happen?

It burdens my heart. I don’t know how long I will be in this place—be it five years or fifty years—but however long I am here as pastor, I want to work so that the legacy I leave behind is that these people were taught and challenged to pray and these people were taught and challenged to know their Bibles. I hope that when I’m gone, all the people I serve will be devoted to God through prayer and the word; and if they are not (and I hope this wouldn’t be the case) I want it to be because they chose not to learn and engage, and not because they weren’t taught and given opportunity.

Two things I’m doing this year to emphasize prayer: First, to the start the year, I wrote a little booklet on prayer and made it available to all the people at the church. We even handed them out on a Sunday morning with men and a stack of booklets stationed at each door. The booklet is based on the Lord’s Prayer and breaks down the five main ways Jesus taught us to pray, as well as providing ways to put these into practice. I’ve attached a .pdf copy of the file to this post for you to use if you want to take a look at it (here: Daily Prayer Guide booklet). Just a word of warning: it is formatted to be printed out as a booklet, so it won’t make much sense if you just start at the top and try to read it through.

Second, on Friday February 7th from 7pm to whenever we feel like we have reached the time to finish, we are hosting a prayer meeting at our church building. I’ve advertised and pushed (gently nudged) our church members to attend. I’ve also invited all our area and associational pastors to join us and bring leaders or others from their churches. I don’t know how many to expect, but if there’s three of us we will pray and if there are three hundred of us we will pray. I also plan to do this at least two more times during the year.

Part of my inspiration for such a meeting was the services we have had over the past few years to just spend time in prayer and song. Another inspiration for it is another church and another pastor not far from me. Towards the end of last year, I was having a difficult time with a certain situation in my church (that’s all of that detail you need). Sitting at home, I was reading through Daniel 9 and came to the part where Gabriel showed up with an answer from God to Daniel’s prayer.

I paused, shook my head, smirked, and said to God, “It’d be nice if you still gave answers like that.” I returned to reading and before I reached the end of the chapter I received a text from this other pastor inviting me to his church that evening for a 7-to-Midnight prayer meeting. Even though I originally had something else planned, I stared at the text, nodded, and then said to God, “It’s not Gabriel on my doorstep, but I’ll take it.” I changed my plans and went.

There were only three of us at that meeting, but it was a good five hours of prayer, worship, and fellowship. It didn’t bring complete resolve (yet) to the situation, but it helped on several levels.

God desires our prayers. He desires our relationship with him, even if we’re not the most relatable of persons. I need to be more faithful in prayer, and I want to lead the church I shepherd to be more faithful in prayer.

This is my aim: to make 2014 a year of prayer that will hopefully carry on into 2015 and beyond.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christiane Smith February 1, 2014 at 11:06 am

At sunrise, the Psalms of the morning are often prayed by Christian people.
Here is one example:

(Psalm 143:8)

” Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in You.
Show me the way I should go,
for to You I entrust my life.”

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2 Dwight McKissic February 1, 2014 at 11:11 am

Mike,

“God desires our prayers.” God wants a relationship with us. God invites us to call Him Father. I really appreciate what you’ve posted here. I look forward to having my assistant securing a copy of your prayer guide. What you’ve posted here, if taken seriously & applied by all, it would give God much glory, and result in much fruit. Lord let it happen, and let it happen in me. Thanks for sharing this Mike.

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3 volfan007 February 1, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Mike and Dwight,

Maybe if all the Pastors….or most of the Pastors…..in the SBC would really make prayer a high priority, then we’d see revival break out thru out the Churches in the SBC in such a way that we would all just sit back, and say, “Look at what God is doing.” And, it would cure all that ails us, as a Convention of Churches. And then, we’d see an awakening break loose on this nation.

Wouldn’t that be something?

Every praise is to our God!

http://youtu.be/UuuZMg6NVeA

David

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4 dr. james willingham February 1, 2014 at 2:06 pm

“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”{John Bunyan. PRAYER. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, first published 1662, first published in one volume, Banner of Truth Trust, 1965) p13]. I counted 60 volumes on prayer in my library, and, since there are other books yet unpacked, I think the number might well reach a 100 (throw in the devotional works, works on waiting, and sermons on the subject in books and on 33 & 1/3rd records like, George W. Truett on “The Three Fold Message of The Bible concerning Prayer,” and “Is Prayer Profitable,” and Dr. R.G. Lee’s message to the Texas Evangelistic Conference in 1962 or 63 on the subject, “The Prayer of Concern,” as well as many on tapes by various ministers, all of which contribute insights and understanding to the matter. However, perhaps, the best on the subject is the opening quote from Bunyan. I have had occasion to check out his statements against Scripture, and, like Spurgeon, cut him and he bleeds bibline (I think that is the way it was spelled, wherever I read it).

Perhaps, the most powerful work on prayer, certainly, the most influential outside the Bible, apparently, is Jonathan Edwards’ Humble Attempt (really a tract, but length wise is a small book). That tract is the key to the origin and progress of modern missions. It called on Christians of all denominations to unite in prayer for the spread of the Gospel in other nations. Andrew Fuller, William Carey, etc., began to engage in prayer in response to that tract, and it is likely that they pleaded the promises/prophecies record there (nearly a 100, I think). The answer was the Great Century of Missions, and, I believe, another result was the Second Great Awakening from 1800-1820.

Your call for prayer, Mike, is like the beginning of an answer to my prayers which began 40 years ago in the Fall of 1973 for a Third Great Awakening. At times I have prayed for cities, nations, etc., and since that time I have seen large churches rise up in those cities and movements of a Christian nature also. I prayed for an end to Apartheid in South Africa, and one of the most surprising elements to develop out of the end of that evil was the reconciliation commissions, something that as far as I know had never been tried before. I also prayed for an end to racial prejudice in America, especially in the South. Additionally, one of the most curious things I have seen has been the rise of the theology that was associated with the First and Second Great Awakenings and the launching of the modern missionary movement, the theology of Sovereign Grace or as some are wont to call it, Calvinism, a mistake in my opinion.

Your effort to get people to pray is most commendable, and we need to enlist people in a like effort all across this nation. I understand that there are prayer meetings in some areas of the US already and in some of the big cities of Central and South America which has resulted in a change in society, a decrease in crime, an increase in concern for people to have jobs as well as an effort to create them, a counting of everyone as important, etc. I have prayed expecting the fall of a flood of grace like unto the flood of water in the Great Deluge of Noah. Sin has abounded, and Grace super abounds. The latter must overwhelm the former until the whole earth is converted and the gospel goes with mankind to the stars – not with elitism and a hierarchy, but with a real sense of equality and compassion for everyone without exception.

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5 Strider February 2, 2014 at 8:35 am

Lord bless you brother! You are on the right track and I appreciate your humility and honesty here. I myself was one who for many years read, studied, and knew much more about prayer than I ever prayed. That was before I went overseas to work with a Muslim people group. I think that is the real key actually. People wont pray until they need to. As long as sickness is cured by doctors, social ills are the concerns of political action, and salvation is the pastor’s job people will not pray. We must get on Mission with God before we realize that only a miracle will succeed. We must get ourselves into the place where if God doesn’t move all is lost. Until then we will just plan well, budget well, work hard and achieve exactly what we are capable of achieving…. without prayer. Persevere in all good things!

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6 Dave Miller February 2, 2014 at 9:56 am

While we are on the subject (and I should have posted this yesterday) but pray for Bart Barber and his family. His daughter is hospitalized with an asthma attack. I think things are getting better and I don’t know what his preaching plans are, but #1 is to see his daughter restored to health.

Pray for his daughter, please.

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7 Christiane Smith February 2, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Prayers are being said for her tonight, DAVID.

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8 Jim Hedrick February 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm

I suggest the little J.C.Ryle booklet titled A Call To Prayer. God is Enough. Let us talk more to our heavenly Father. One preacher at a time.

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9 dr. james willingham February 2, 2014 at 10:02 pm

God grant grace to the daughter of our fellow blogger. May her recovery be complete. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

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10 Paul W. FOLTZ DD February 3, 2014 at 6:43 pm

True Prayer brings the petitioner into agreement with God/ It causes one to align himself with God’s purpose and plan.

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