The Necessity of Prayer

“If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital…If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient, and your church is irrelevant.”

– Francis Chan

“When God has something very great to accomplish for his church, it is his will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of his people.”

– Jonathan Edwards 

“The greatest workings of God come by corporate prayer, and we will not see the power of God in sufficient measure to transform the world around us until we pray together. As a leader you must make praying together a priority equal to preaching and teaching. If I sound a little melodramatic, good. Then you caught just how monstrously important it is…Personal prayer lives alone will not result in the working of God to the degree needed for spiritual transformation in our lives, our churches, our cities, or our nation. God in his sovereignty has determined that something happens when we pray together that transcends praying separately. His working increases exponentially.”

– John Franklin

“Hear me clearly. I have never seen successful and sustaining change take place in a church without prayer. Never. Not once.”

– Thom Rainer

“Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m praying to the exact God Elijah prayed to”? Do you genuinely believe that Moses, Esther, David and Daniel had no advantage over you spiritually? In fact, some would argue that you have the advantage of both the risen Christ and the indwelling Spirit. Let’s stop looking at the godly men and women in Scripture as though their prayer lives are unattainable!”

– Francis Chan

“Prayer is our strength; prayer generates strength…and the devil will drive you away from the prayer closet more than anything.”

– Leonard Ravenhill

“Prayer is expressed helplessness. When we’re not engaged in prayer, it’s because we feel like ‘we got this.’ The extent to which you are not engaged in prayer is the extent to which you are relying on your own strength.”

– Jared C. Wilson

“Prayer is one of the primary demonstrations of our selflessness and God’s self-centeredness. In our selflessness, you and I realize that it is impossible for us to accomplish his purpose in our own strength. So we express our dependence upon God in prayer, and he delights in showing his glory by giving us everything we need for the accomplishment of his purpose. Through prayer, God gives grace to us in such a way that he receives glory for himself. Prayer is a nonnegotiable priority for selfless followers of a self-centered God.”

– David Platt      

“There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”

– A. T. Pierson

“History is full of exciting results as God has worked through concerted, united, sustained prayer.”

– J. Edwin Orr

“The coming revival must begin with a great revival of prayer. It is in the closet, with the door shut, that the sound of abundance of rain will first be heard.”

– Andrew Murray

“All revival begins, and continues, in the prayer meeting. Some have also called prayer the ‘great fruit of revival.’ In times of revival, thousands may be found on their knees for hours, lifting up their heartfelt cries, with thanksgiving, to heaven.”

– Henry Blackaby

“The prayer meeting is really a very excellent barometer of the spiritual maturity of any given church. That’s just a matter of fact. You can tell how popular the church is by who comes on Sunday morning and how popular the pastor or guest speaker is by who comes on Sunday night or for a special meeting. But you can really find out how much the people really know God and love Jesus by who will come just to wait on the Lord in prayer.”

– Jim Cymbala

“God answers an individual or a church in proportion to how they are walking with him. He never differentiates between the thing requesting and the one making the request. God doesn’t answer prayer; he answers you. No amount of education, mastering a formula, or learning a certain skill set determines spiritual power in a prayer meeting; rather, God moves based on the hearts of the people praying.”

– John Franklin 

“When someone is born again, the Holy Spirit gives that person new Fatherward desires, a new heavenward orientation whereby we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ In other words, all those indwelled by the Holy Spirit really want to pray. The Holy Spirit causes all the children of God to believe that God is their Father and fills them with an undying desire to talk to him.”

– Donald Whitney

“I know the idea of a prayer meeting doesn’t sound very glamorous. The trouble is, churches and pastors feel the pressure of innovation constantly. Our society is obsessed with innovation, so the common and plain are regularly devalued. People want something fresh, new, and exciting. Pastors like me are tempted to think we need to create exciting events that people will want to attend. Yet prayer meetings are seldom exciting. People come into a room, share their burdens with each other, and together take them before God with eyes closed and heads bowed.

“The truth is, we don’t need to innovate. We only need to be intentional. The prayer meeting isn’t meant to be a theme park. It’s more like a storage facility, and we are all cars without trunks. We were never meant to store up our concerns within ourselves. We were meant to off-load those things to God. The prayer meeting isn’t a place of attraction, but a place of necessity. It’s a place where people come with burdens and leave without them because they’ve been placed in God’s hands. Here, we come together to lean on God with each other, for the sake of each other.”

– John Onwuchekwa

“Prayer can accomplish what a willing God can accomplish…Prayer can do anything. Because with God, ‘all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26). It can reach out and address any issue that anyone is facing anywhere on the earth. It can be silently engaged without the enemy ever hearing the life-changing conversation going on in our heads and hearts with our Commander in Chief.

“So this is not just a harmless little church ritual we’re talking about. Nor a pitiful beggar asking for a handout he’s almost sure he won’t receive. There’s raw power here. There’s access to God Almighty. There’s a certainty of His sovereignty. There’s a boldness that no amount of enemy resistance can steal from us unless we give it away. And that only happens when we don’t pray.”

– From The Battle Plan of Prayer

“The great work of intercession is needed for this returning to the Lord. It is here that the coming revival must find its strength. Let us begin as individuals to plead with God, confessing whatever we see of sin or hindrance in ourselves or others. If there were no other sin, surely the lack of prayer is matter enough for repentance, confession, and returning to the Lord.”

– Andrew Murray

“I have joyfully dedicated my whole life to the object of exemplifying how much may be accomplished by prayer and faith.”

– George Muller

A Culture of Disconnection

Of all the points of discussion among church leaders in America, one currently tops the list: declining attendance among members. Books and articles explore the various reasons and potential solutions, podcast hosts ask leading experts on church growth about the most-recent statistics and conferences, research firms as well as denominational teams attempt to discover what the future might hold for churches across the nation. This is not an isolated occurrence; it is being felt in the largest of metropolitan churches as well as smaller, rural congregations, and the trend is happening across denominational lines. People attend church less frequently than ever before.

The temptation is to single out one factor and claim that it is the sole reason for the decline, but leading research shows that the problem has multiple roots. People are much busier and are presented with many more options for spending their time. Families travel more and tend to take weekends to enjoy leisure activities. Members do not see a deep, spiritual need for regularly attending church services because they feel that a “monthly dose” is enough. Still others show up only when they have no competing activities on the weekend’s schedule. Over my years of ministry, when this topic comes up, I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard the same words, “We are all very busy during the week, so Sundays are for me and my family.”

Though the specific reasons for the decline are many, I do believe that there is at least one overarching theme: we have an identity problem. As followers of Christ, church is not a place we go; church is who we are. The church is the body of Christ, not a building. Sunday services are not about “having church,” but are opportunities for the church, the people who know Christ, to gather together to worship and bring glory to the one, true God, be built up in our maturity and understanding and then go into the world and make disciples (Ephesians 1:12, 4:12-13; Matthew 28:19).  

We can forget easily, in a world that values individualism, customizable options and personal preferences, that to live for Christ is to live in the context of his body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:14-27). When we miss the fact that we are connected to each other in Christ, we can also begin to forget the true identity and unchanging character of the One we have the honor of worshipping.

The author and speaker Francis Chan expressed this potential neglect well when he said, “I’ll confess that a lot of times I don’t act like Jesus is the head of the church and that I’m just an arm. The arm doesn’t do anything unless the head tells it to. I don’t really humble myself and say, ‘Lord, you’re the head of the church. What do you want me to do?’ When we let God be the head and realize exactly who we are, that’s when things really happen…I’m talking about the miracle of true rebirth: where the Spirit enters someone, and you don’t have to force them to get rid of sin in their life. You don’t have to beg them to get along with the Lord. Their spirit is crying out, ‘Abba Father.’”

If we share the same Spirit, should we not also share God’s desire for unity among his followers (John 17:20-23)?

The church is who we are. The church is Christ’s body. The church always gathers.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25

Prayer

I have not only been praying for our church that we would become a people of genuine prayer, but I have been asking God to teach me how to pray more intimately and effectively. Many churches and quite a few people are known for prayer that is ceremonial, polished and safe, but what I am referring to is something much more than that; I am speaking of direct and honest communication with the God of all creation.

After reflecting upon it, there are some things that I have learned about prayer that have shaped the way I approach God… Continue reading

Hope Below the Surface

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They are called “hunger stones.”

Lying in certain Central European riverbeds, large stones bear messages chiseled upon them hundreds of years ago…

“If you see me, weep.”

“If you will again see this stone, so you will weep, so shallow was the water in the year 1417.”

“We cried – We cry – And you will cry.” Continue reading

“The 33 Most-Valuable Leadership Lessons I Have Learned”

A few nights ago at a conference, I sat in a room with a group of other lead pastors. Some carried the unseen scars of many years of ministry; a few still showed a bit of the shine of idealism. The speaker in the breakout session addressed the things we needed to remember in order to make it in the “marathon, not the sprint, of ministry.”

He spoke warmly, sincerely and wisely. He encouraged, challenged and comforted us. As I looked around the room, I saw what I have seen so many times in gatherings of pastors: that worn-out facial expression. I couldn’t help but wonder if I looked as tired as the rest of them did.

When I got home, lying in bed, I stared at the ceiling in the darkened room and thought about what I have learned about being a lead pastor in the last year.

I had recently read an article that gave a very direct and honest list (and one that is perfectly accurate in every respect to my experience. You can find it here.)

Having been in ministry for over a dozen years, there have been many lessons, but if I had to summarize things and convey them as concisely as I could to a person stepping into a ministry role, what would I say?

Though I know that the list would grow exponentially if I thought about it for any longer (because I already know many more things I could add), for now, I would give these thoughts as a primer I have gathered from moments in my own life and from watching other leaders in ministry. Some of those examples showed great leadership, deep wisdom and God-centered motives, and others I use as a self-test (when I think about possible actions to take, I think back on some of these leaders’ actions and consider what they might do in a given situation…then I do the opposite).

So, in no particular order, and as they come to mind, I humbly offer these hard-won lessons… Continue reading

A Lifetime in Babylon

A friend of mine held a good job and was able to freely make a difference for God in her position, but she was terminated for no apparent reason. The subsequent positions she has held have been less than what she desires and full of difficulty. She knows that she took the original job after much prayer and careful consideration, but the loss has caused her a great deal of pain and confusion. Continue reading

Muddy Water and Changed Hearts

We often miss what we need most because we refuse to see past the surface concerns of our lives. God will orchestrate events and allow pressures to come in order to expose the deeper issues and give us a clearer view of ourselves and our greatest need. Take the Old Testament character Naaman for instance (2 Kings 5:1-14).

Naaman was a great warrior and was held in high esteem, yet he suffered from leprosy. Hearing that a healing by the prophet Elisha might be possible, Naaman made a trip laden with riches to pay for a miracle. Upon arriving, Elisha sent a servant out with the message that Naaman should go wash seven times in the Jordan River, often-muddy and creek-like, for his healing. Continue reading

A Tomb, Two Spacecraft and a Blind Man From Texas

(My yearly repost of the reason I listened to a particular song just today...)

Blind Willie Johnson seemed to know early on that his future lay at the crossroads of two vocations. He built a cigar box guitar for himself when he was only five and told his father that proclaiming the things of God to the masses was his desire. Continue reading

Bare Spots

A friend of mine lost his wife years ago after a long sickness. He told me that he visited her grave every single day for a year. No matter the storms, sun or snow, he was there.

He said, “Do you know when I knew I had to stop going so often? When I looked down and saw that grass had grown over her grave, but the ground was bare in the place where I stood every day. I was not letting the grass grow over the bare place in my heart either. So, I started going less, and I started healing more.” When you have given something enough time, give it no more. When the healing comes, we feel guilty sometimes about moving forward, as though to take a step is to belittle the importance of what was lost or to disrespect the memory of what once was. We may never be fully free of the grief here on earth, but we can experience a healing that allows us to navigate the “new normal.” There is nothing wrong with thinking through what led you to a place, learning from past mistakes or having regrets, but careful examination can become morbid fascination. When that happens, the autopsy never ends.

When I think of healing and the strange inertia of pain, I remember the story of the man who could not walk…

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The man had been unable to walk for 38 years (John 5:5). It might seem strange that Jesus would ask him such a thing. But if you have slipped down the slope toward learned helplessness and into the deep valley of self-pity, you understand the question.

Jesus then tells him to “get up,” and the man is healed (5:8). Make no mistake, Jesus did heal the invalid, but the man had to obey Christ to know the full effect of the healing.

In other words, he could have been healed, yet never stood up.

Do you want to be healed?

Christmas Plans

“What do you have planned for Christmas?”

That was the message from a friend of mine waiting in my inbox recently. Perhaps others have asked you the same question, and maybe your traditions or your schedule have already determined which relatives’ homes will be visited, what meals will be eaten and when gifts will be opened. Continue reading