This past week the topic of "prayer" was raised from a couple of sources. In one case a subscriber asked a question. In the other case it was a forward of an article by Buddy Smith from Australia.
In the one case the question was asked:
"The answer: Time and time again, his preacher friends would search the archives of their hearts and then a look of great solemnity would come over their faces. And they would confess their universal failure, "My greatest shortcoming is my prayer life. That is where I am most inconsistent."
The subscriber replied, asking 'which' of the links would answer the question about "motivation" to prayer. Essentially, asking the original question over again. I thought about essentially repeating my prior question, but then said this:
"I included the link so you could verify what you mean by "prayer". If you are talking about when the people get together, and they all take turns speaking words, allegedly -to- "God".....I don't have an answer for that. That's why I asked your 'definition' of prayer. If the people truly know and love the Lord, there -is- prayer....by definition."
They replied: "I'm not really sure. This question was asked of me and I don't attend that church. But I think you just answered that question."
And of course, for these people, the famous passage that is quoted to support their "all-night" concept is Ac12:5, how for the early church prayer was a "priority".
So, let's start there. We have looked at it before...but apparently it is time to do so again now...
"Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church." (Ac12:5)
They use this verse to support what they do, the way they do it, or bewail the way it isn't being done anymore. But I have suggested in the past that this account actually illustrates the fallacy of what they -call- "prayer".
Remember: Acts is the "Acts [deeds] of the apostles". It is a -history- of what they -did-; right or wrong. It is not a doctrinal treatise, except as it records what the apostles might have preached correctly. Just because they did something in Acts, and they were the first Christians, didn't mean it was right. For us who are Christians today, we don't always do everything right, either. (1Jn1:8)
Peter is in prison, ready for execution the next day, and "constant prayer" is being made for him. The Lord releases him from prison, and Peter goes and knocks on the door where this prayer meeting is going on, and when Rhoda tells them excitedly that "Peter is at the door!" (vs14), having been engaged in prayer based on faith, they all eagerly went to the door to greet him! Right?
Awe you crazy girl! You don't know what you're talking about! (vs15)
OK. So let's try this again...
So when they finally do go to the door, and see Peter, they are 'thankful' and praising the Lord for "answered prayer"! Right?
No! Amazingly... "They were -AMAZED-" (vs16)
If they were praying, and expecting their prayer to be "effective" (Ja5:16), when Peter appeared...should they not have 'expected' it?? The fact that they were -AMAZED- indicates that 'something' was "wrong" within that account. And you can be sure that the fault was not with the Lord, for rescuing Peter. Nor was it with Peter for following the Lord out of the prison. Nor was Rhoda a "crazy girl"! The only other part of the story is their "prayer" and/or their "faith". And if their faith was faulty...was it even true prayer?
The fact that they were doubting, but the Lord delivered Peter, means that Peter's deliverance did NOT happen -because- they "prayed"...but IN SPITE OF IT! Their prayer had NOTHING TO DO WITH 'effecting' Peter's deliverance. It was the Lord's will for him to be freed, so he could go on and continue preaching....so the Lord did according to His own will and purpose.
Sadly, what most people (including a very high percentage of so-called "christians") think is prayer, is nothing more than another form of Babylonish eastern meditation and spiritism. (Please re-read that sentence. Every word is very seriously intentional) Buddhists drone with their voices, TM, Yoga, Hindu, etc., and variations, meditate with "Ohm", or other syllabic vocalizations, charismatics babble incoherently with their mouths, and fundamentalists put 'words' to their vocal utterances punctuating with "Lord, Lord, Lord". But in most cases, they are all equally pagan...and just as equally meaningless; except, that is, for those activities and hearts that are open to the demons to become "spirit-filled". The demons 'love' that activity on the part of humans! Here they are, humans presuming that they are actually -doing- something with their repetitious words; the demons cackle all the way into 'possession' of those thusly engage.
I've shared this before, and other accounts of it are at the website under some of those links... but: 17 years ago I was still 'in' Babylon. I hadn't yet figured out that what I was in -was- Babylon. But what I relate here was part of the process the Lord used to show me of what Babylon consists. If you read the newly posted series from Micah, you will see how the Lord sometimes has to 'show' the prophet just "how bad" the evil is, in order to properly motivate the prophet to proclaim against it with the same fervor God hates the evil.
I was still in this particular Baptist church. At the time the pastor and I got along. I did all sorts of music. Filled pulpit supply when he was away to conference, or on vacation. Taught adult Sunday School class. I was not a member, but was as involved as anybody would be. And besides, the pastor had formerly been a missionary to Japan, so we also had that 'bond'. Thus: I was still -in- Babylon.
Well...a new thing came to the area, enough to fill the laity with wonderment as the pastors would describe it from the pulpits. It was called the "Pastor's Prayer Summit". All the area pastors would ride together in this bus to some remote Bible camp ground, where the totality of their time together was "prayer". There was no schedule or (alleged) "agenda". Just gather around in a circle, and various ones would lead out in prayer, in song, in testimony, etc. Once the special event was finished, the pastors decided to meet in similar fashion every Thursday morning. And this pastor asked if I would like to come to the Thursday morning meetings. I did, gladly; still being of the same opinion as the attitudes of all the great ones Buddy Smith enumerated in his article the other day.
But you know...I finally started putting 2 & 2 together, and learning what 4 was all about. It took these meetings to finally put all the pieces together for me. Throughout my earlier life there was always 'something' about the way christians 'prayed' that always bothered me in my spirit. There was a certain aura of "holy spirituality" that many would put on, that would just as quickly disappear when prayer was done. I would observe the (fake) holiness, uttered in KJ-eze, but I also -knew- the hearts of these people otherwise. They were ANYTHING BUT "holy"! But around them, if you did not subscribe to this same 'aura', there was this -unspoken- 'understanding' that you are not AS SPIRITUAL as they were. Perhaps even 'backslidden'! Particularly... if somebody prayed in 'normal' English, not KJ-eze! And of course, having grown up in it, I knew 'how to' utter words the correct way (in KJ-eze) to participate in prayer meetings, and from the pulpit. But in my heart I was never comfortable with this 'ritual'. I did not know how to -pretend- properly to be "holy" like they were. I could never moan and groan with "Amen!"s to somebody else's prayer, etc.etc.
Anyway(!) Back to the Thursday prayer meetings... There was some mighty 'vehement' praying going on. But oddly enough, a big percentage of it was -to- SATAN. Satan, we are gonna Getcha! Satan, by the power "of the blood" we have power over you, and you are wrapped around our little fingers....you just better Watchout!!! We're coming for ya!! Start trembling before us!!! And for those prayers that were more 'normal', there was an aweful lot of moaning and groaning (like described above, that I had grown up around).
In addition, this was a few months after my unequal yoke had just left, and so one of the mornings I asked them all to pray for her. Whereupon it was offered that I could sit in the "hot seat", have hands laid on me, and "pray". Oh, let me tell you....there was some mighty vehement "praying" going on....all at the same time...a cacophony! I think, judging by some of the words, some were expecting that I should suddenly become "spirit-filled", or something, due to the volume and pomposity of their words. Some of them, claiming this and that, prayed that "TODAY! TODAY!" the Lord would do this or that, according to their commands. They were naming and claiming on behalf of what had been requested.
As Smith promotes: "storming the gates of hell" and "rattle the gates of Heaven". Sorta like the prophets on that other occasion: "O Baal, hear us!" (1Ki18:26); as they danced and cut themselves.
So...as I left the meeting, and was in traffic on the freeway, getting to my store for work for the day, I was actually (quietly) "praying" to my Father, asking Him for "truth" regarding everything I had been experiencing and seeing. (That morning was the 'climax' to the prior 4 decades of observations, and spiritual discomfort with what I had grown up with, alleging to be "prayer" to the Most High) I was seeking true understanding. The things they prayed for "TODAY!" did not happen. I did NOT become 'spirit-filled'...such that, a few weeks later as I happened to be sitting at McDonalds, a couple of them came in, and the one said to the other, "Hey, there's that guy!" But they did not greet or acknowledge me as they passed where I was sitting. I guess they had figured out that I wasn't really one of them..?
But the places and ways I experienced God's presence and prayer was at home, quietly. Sitting reading God's Word; sitting at the piano singing certain songs of praise to God. (Not today's "worship" songs)
Praying "without ceasing" is the state of being "IN HIS PRESENCE" at the "throne of grace" (Heb4:16) When you are in the presence of a -GREAT- one, you don't speak unless spoken to: well... the 'preacher' says it like this...
So... the person asks 'how' to motivate churches to pray...even if it wasn't their (own) question. You see why I responded as I did, asking their 'definition' of prayer. If they want more-of-the-(traditional)-same, they are better off NOT PRAYING! It's not real prayer. At least, to the Most High, it's not. But are the people of the attitude: What do you, Father, have in mind for me? Well, that is not the sort of prayer that is really appropriate in public.
Perhaps there might be 'official' prayers that are 'led' on behalf of the congregation, as Solomon did (1Ki8:22), as Jesus said, "because of the crowd standing by I said this" (Jn11:42), or as Paul did before the heathen in the storm at sea. (Ac27:35)
However: the very fact that the disciples asked Jesus the question, "teach us to pray" suggests to me that Jesus' prayers, typically, were not 'public'; otherwise, would not the disciples have been used to hearing Him utter words, and such a question would have been redundant. Ditto: the suggestion that Jesus did not lead them in "prayer meetings". If they had been having regular prayer meetings, prayer breakfasts, etc., such a question of "how to" would have been redundant. Why would anybody ask "how to do" something that is being done regularly? Yes?
It was -Jesus- who warned against the "vain repetitions of the heathen" (Mt6:7) Why? "For they think they will be heard for their MANY WORDS" You bemoan that people aren't gathering for groups to utter a lot of words? Are such words really 'heard'? Such words typically either 'ask' for stuff, or they 'preach' to the other person within hearing, who is presumed to be less spiritual...but the "prayer" adds an aura of "official holiness" to the words, so -you- (that other person) better listen and pay attention!
And -NO-!!! (another e-mail last week, different context) Prayer is not a "witnessing tool"! When you are meeting with other believers in a restaurant, you should NOT "pray" REAL LOUD, and -LONG-, so that everybody else in the restaurant is sure to HEAR YOU, such that they will then, presumably, -know- you are Christians and be 'impressed' by the fervor and spirituality of your "prayer". That is NOT "PRAYER". That is prideful 'showmanship'. You are doing it "to be seen by men" (Mt6:5) If you observe the "table grace" ritual, when in public quietly bow your heads and pray inwardly in thanksgiving.
Oh yes... and that other "prayer": 'Lord, I thank you for this ministry opportunity you have given me, at which I'm going to do great things for You.' Bragging to those within hearing, to whom you already 'informed' them of your coming exploits, but didn't get a chance to share all the details...now with the 'prayer' you can include all those juicy details uninterrupted...because it is, after all, -prayer-, and you're asking God's 'blessing'! Who's gonna cut you short there! Right? (Lk18:11)
So... obviously, if that question were asked of me, my answer would not be 'universally' the same as all those other famous big-shots. (No, I don't know everything about prayer: I don't understand the kind of prayer of Elijah, praying "seven times" for rain, sending the servant to look for the clouds each time; etc.) But the things that might need more work on, in my life, also would not necessarily be something to share publicly for somebody's 'list' or 'survey', to see if I 'measure up' to their standard. They are not things to be 'bragged' about in that way!
Prayer seems to be, in people's minds, the 'ultimate' in religious ritual and expression. To them it represents the ultimate in piety. Even when addressing one's own thoughts or attitudes about any given topic, one's own piety can be augmented to others by couching it with "I pray that..." such-n-so is/isn't the case. You see: such an expression gives to themself this aura of super-spirituality, because even in their normal conversation, they are letting the other person know that they are "praying" about it...even if their own heart, in reality, is full of dirty rotten filth and lying pharisaical self-righteousness.
For somebody to suggest that "prayer" is a person's area of greatest concern (but in context: everything else is alright as they search deep and thoughtfully), is possibly an attitude of ultimate pride, as if to say: I AM NEARLY PERFECT! But I'm lacking -just- a 'bit' in this 'greatest' area that anybody could ever be qualified in. I need a "bit more work" on it... -then- I (this big-shot leader you've just asked this question of, since you are taking a survey of 'great' Christian leaders) will be perfect. (Yes, I know: I've just added words to Smith's article that he didn't say. But in reality, sadly, this is truth when it comes to a great percentage of leaders... they are so 'great' in their own self-estimation!)
But Jesus said of prayer:
Supposing all this gets you to thinking, doing introspection, and wondering about this, that or the other scenario: Should every Bible study begin with prayer? What about the "table grace"? and whatever else might come to your mind from your own experiences...
HOW do we know how to pray? How do we know 'what' to pray for or about? How do we know 'when' to pray publicly? ...or to keep it private?