When I was a young student attending Ontario Bible College (Tyndale University College) in Toronto, I worked with the youth group in the church that I attended. It was a great way to put much of what I was learning into practice.
That church held a Wednesday evening prayer meeting that, to my surprise, a number of the teenagers attended. When it came time to pray the men stayed in the room where we met and the women moved to another room so that they could pray separately from the men. It was a long time ago and in a much more conservative stage of my life. The men and women prayed separately.
The young women who attended found it difficult to pray with the older women. There was one woman in particular who every week was one of the first to pray. She would start at the top of the list of prayer requests and pray for everything that was on the list. By the time that it came around to the teenagers they had no idea what to pray for in that this woman had already prayed around the world and back leaving nothing for them to cover.
The solution was to give the teenagers their own room and let them pray as a group. They chose the nursery partly because it was away from the adults and partly because it was right at ground level which meant that when they finished praying they could escape out the window without having to wait for the adults to finish.
I loved those prayer times with the young people. I loved that they chose to be part of the corporate prayer time with the adults. I even loved their creativity in finding a means of escape if the adults prayed too long.
When I graduated from Bible College, I became the pastor of that church and not too long after that we cancelled the mid-week prayer time. The good side of the meeting was that it brought people together for corporate prayer. The down side was that it was one of the more boring meetings that the church held. It was the right decision to close it down before it, like many prayer meetings in other churches, slowly dwindled away.
The problem was that when we shut it down, we didn’t replace it with anything else that provided the opportunity for corporate prayer. Prayer was included in the Sunday morning worship services and it was hoped that people prayed in the small groups that we started but there wasn’t any place for serious corporate prayer.
A culture of prayer
A few years ago I visited some leaders in the Country of Honduras. Almost upon my arrival I was informed that the church held a prayer meeting six mornings a week and that I was welcome to attend. The problem was that the prayer meeting started at 5:30 am.
This trip was my final stop in what had been an extremely busy period. I was extremely tired and did not want to crawl out of bed before the sun came up.
I told my hosts that I would love to come to some of the prayer times but that I didn’t think that I would be at all of them. I suggested that they come by the place where I was staying and if I was up I would go.
My very first morning God showed me that he has a sense of humour. Right next to my room was a rooster that began to crow at about 4:00 o’clock. He did it every morning that I was there which meant that I was up and ready to go when they came to get me. I didn’t miss any of the meetings that were held while I was there.
About the fifth day I began to have dreams of roast chicken. I could see that rooster in the roasting pot and I wouldn’t have felt the tiniest bit sorry for him
I look back on that experience now with appreciation that God put the rooster next door because I discovered that it wasn’t just that these people met for prayer each morning. That prayer meeting was just one element in a culture of prayer that permeated every thing that they did.
One of my reasons for visiting Honduras was to spend some time with a missionary friend who was working there. She was leaving for her home in the States shortly after I arrived but I got to spend a couple of days with her. I went to her work place with her where I met all of the other people with whom she worked. During my day there they all gathered around her, laid hands on her and prayed for her trip and for her as she traveled.
I then went to the early morning prayer meeting where the people there gathered around her and prayed for her and her trip. Later in the day we were with a bunch of her friends who gathered around her and prayed for her. I was in still another setting in which people gathered around her and prayed for her.
Prayer was their response to whatever was happening in their lives. They believed that God was involved in their lives and therefore it was only natural to talk to him about everything. I had never been before and have never been since in a setting in which prayer was such a natural part of what they did.
This was true of the individuals that I met but it was also true of their churches. Corporate prayer was interwoven into their corporate life that it was a part of everything that they did.
What is reality in the Canadian church?
Most churches in Canada have long ago given up their corporate prayer meeting. They have either replaced it with something that has very little prayer or they have no opportunity for corporate prayer at all. Unlike the church in Honduras with its culture of prayer, the Canadian church for the most part has a culture of prayerlessness. Prayer is not looked on as essential to church life.
I am not writing this to tell you how you should include corporate prayer in your church but I do believe that it is important that it be included. When was the last time that you as a church came together to pray passionately for God to work.
Someone has described lack of prayer as practical atheism. There is some truth in that.
If we believe that Jesus is the head of the church; if we believe that we worship the one true God of the Bible; if we know that God is in total control of everything that occurs; if we are part of God’s family and as such are loved by him; how can we not include corporate prayer as an essential part of our church life together.
Our lack of corporate prayer is one of the realities that we must face as the Canadian church. It can only change as individual churches give it a place of priority so that we develop a prayer culture one church at a time.
Is God asking your church to take the lead and become the first to give corporate prayer the place that it should have?