Prayer-Life Crisis In The Church
I will never forget one of my first prayer meetings in America. I had been in the United States for only a few weeks, and I was eager to meet the spiritual giants and leaders. Even before leaving India, I had heard of one man in particular. He was famous for his uncompromising defense of the Scriptures and sound doctrine.
So on that first Sunday, I hurried to visit his church one of the most famous in the city. More than 3,000 attended the morning services to hear the talented choirs and outstanding preaching of the Word.
My ears perked right up when the pastor of the church announced a special emphasis at the upcoming mid-week prayer meeting. There were some things "heavy on his heart," he said. He announced the name of a certain chapel, and I determined to attend.
In other parts of the world, where Christians are often persecuted and attacked for their faith, prayer meetings are the very centerpiece of the church calendar. Everyone attends. Prayer and worship often last long into the night. It is the powerhouse of their faith, and many believers rise before dawn for daily prayer meetings.
Prayer is probably the best thermometer you will ever have to measure your growth in Christ. It drives all that is truly spiritual, both in our churches and personal lives.
On the appointed night I arrived early, fearful that I would not get a good seat or even a seat at all! Right away I noticed that there was room for only about 500 worshippers, but there was no singing or clapping. The hall was completely empty. I walked all the way to the front and took a seat to wait.
By 7:15 I was getting really worried. "I must have gotten the wrong hall," I reasoned. I even went outside to check the name above the door to make certain I was in the right place.
Finally, at 7:30 several others came into the huge hall. There was no leader, songs, or worship. People sat and talked about sports and weather.
After about forty-five minutes an elderly man came in to lead the prayer meeting. The pastor was not even there. I counted seven people. The elderly man read a Scripture, made some devotional observations and led a brief prayer.
As the others got up to leave, I sat stunned. Was this it? Were they not going to stay and wait upon God? Where was the worship? The tears? The cries for guidance and direction? Where was the list of the sick, and the poor, and those in need? What about that burden the pastor said was heavy on his heart? Were we not going to intercede for a miracle?
And what about missions? This church supported missions on every continent. Were they not going to pass around the missionary prayer letters and pray together for those facing attacks from Satan on the front lines?
Many set up their churches and lives much like their secular businesses and careers. With or without the blessing and presence of God, religion goes on like a well-oiled machine.
These churches by the tens of thousands have what are called "mid-week prayer meetings." But it is a shame even to call them prayer meetings. What really happens seldom has anything to do with prayer at all! The people gather. Someone stands to lead some singing. Then one person prays briefly. Another person reads a list of announcements. Of course, the preacher usually delivers a short homily. In some cases, there may then be a few prayers, but most close having had no real time of prayer at all. How can we call that a prayer meeting?
Nothing reveals the bankruptcy of modern Christianity more clearly and quickly than the current crisis in prayer. It has reached emergency proportions.
I Can Handle It Myself, Thank You!
Many times, I have asked, "Why is it that we as believers in the West do not pray more?" and "Why is it churches do not give more attention to prayer?"
After all, since prayer is the ultimate act of spiritual intimacy with God, should it not be the central activity of our whole lives? It cannot be that we lack teaching on prayer. Few Christians have more books and seminars on prayer than do the believers of North America.
The awful truth, whether we admit it or not, is that we do not pray because in our hearts we do not think we really need God. We do not know how to pray because true prayer can only originate from a life emptied of self-sufficiency.
The church we see today is truly the church of Laodicea described in Revelation 3:14-22. There is no more accurate description of our spiritual condition anywhere in the Bible. Jesus said of this church, "I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (vv. 15-17).
Our prayerlessness highlights our self-sufficiency. This "I-can-handle-it-myself" mindset is the spiritual cancer of our times. It is the root cause of the present powerlessness both in our personal lives and our churches. Because we have not yet comprehended the essence of prayer, we fail to see the arrogance and terrible rebellion of our present state.
We have so much else to depend on today buildings, machines, money, programs and technology. We spend thousands of hours with consultants in study and planning. Yet there seems to be no time to pray.
Clearly, we have lost touch with the eternal, living God. Instead, we are serving the machines, programs and systems that we have established. But they are an idol, a god that we have created and now control with our own ingenuity. And the message of the Bible on idolatry is clear. Either we will turn from these idols and trust in God, or the Lord Himself will intervene to destroy the work of our flesh. It is dangerous to travel on in this pathway of pride in our personal lives as well as our church lives.
Waiting for Power from Above
How different our current lifestyle is from the instructions of Christ to the first disciples. After three and a half years of constant example and teaching, what was the only lesson He wanted them to remember? "Without Me you can do nothing!" No wonder He told them to tarry in Jerusalem and wait until they were endowed with power from above, before they went out to fulfill the Great Commission. He wanted them to realize that, in and of themselves, they were headed for disaster. (See John 15:5; Acts 1:4-8.)
Unless we come to this place of total helplessness, we can never understand prayer. This is why Paul says, "When I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). Prayer is nothing more than voicing our dependence upon God. And the answer to every prayer is nothing more than this: God is with us, in all His power and authority, to make up for our human limitations.
Each of us, in our own personal daily walk and work, is led through trials and tribulations. These test our faith and should spur us on to a life of more prayer and deeper dependence upon God.
We have countless opportunities to trust God in the world of missions work. However, even in this realm where it would seem we would want to depend on God the most, it is rare to find leaders moving out in reliance upon the Lord.
We have time to study anthropology, sociology, theology, marketing and media, but we have not time to pray. It is nothing for our leaders to spend two or three days in continual planning and scheming. Yet you will seldom find these same men and women on their knees for one night of prayer. Why are we not waiting for a revelation of His plan? Crying out for the invisible God to go before us in battle?
Is this not a clear indication these leaders and organizations are trying to reach the lost world without coming to grips with spiritual reality? How can we overcome unseen spiritual forces, cast down evil strongholds and open closed doors unless we are a people of prayer? Gods army always moves forward on its knees.
Taken from The Road to Reality by K. P. Yohannan © 2004. Used by permission of Gospel For Asia.