Should We Let Prayer Meetings Go Away?

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Praying is a hard spiritual discipline. No one will argue with that.

And the church “prayer meeting” has never been less popular in America since the First Great Awakening of the 18th Century. If your church still has them, statistically it will be the least attended church event in the 21st Century.

But do we even need Prayer Meetings? I mean, are they essential for what God is doing in the world today?

Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen is know for saying, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”

In that same vein, someone else once said, “A church may be filled, but what that church is on their knees together before God, that they are and no more.” Ouch!

According to Jesus, to some degree the mission He has given His disciples cannot be accomplished without prayer. When the disciples who had been commissioned by Jesus to heal and cast out demons came back wondering why they had been unsuccessful, Jesus questioned their faith and said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). So Jesus taught that faith and obedience in the Christian life needs a life of prayer for its full growth.

Therefore, A praying church plays a crucial part in the Great Commission.

The Apostle Paul wrote, For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

  1. The Great Commission is a very difficult task, v8-10.

Paul is reporting back to a church he planted as he lived out the Great Commission.  As we see from Paul’s words, this is a very difficult task. Its one reason you don’t want to IMG_2149be a “Lone Ranger” Christian. You do not want to do this alone because it’s difficult. Sometimes following Christ and being obedient to the Great Commission feels like a sentence of death (9).

Making disciples is a life and death mission.  That’s the call of all Christians. It’s the mission of a disciple to be a disciple-maker. It’s the mission of every church, to advance the gospel selflessly in order to make disciples of all nations. It’s why Paul tells us then that…

  1. Prayer plays a crucial part in the Church’s Mission, v11a.

The Apostle Paul says in verse 11, 11 You also MUST help us by prayer. By must he means it’s absolutely necessary. Prayer is crucially important if a church will remain faithful to its God-given mission, the Great Commission.

The Bible teaches us about the role of prayer for the Christian and the Church in their DSCF3456mission. “Not only has God made the accomplishment of his global purposes of salvation hang on the preaching of the Word; he has also made the success of the preaching of the Word hang on prayer. …[The] gospel will not be proclaimed in power to all the nations without the persevering, earnest, global, faith-filled prayers of God’s people” (John Piper).

Prayer alone cannot save people. It takes hearing the gospel. But the Bible teaches that the Apostle depended on prayer in his evangelism (Eph 6:19; Col 4:3; 2 Thes. 3:1).

 

 

But most importantly, consider this very important distinction about prayer. The original question is, since it is becoming more rare for churches to devote specific time to pray together, should we let the prayer meeting die off? According to Paul, NO!

  1. Churches must pray TOGETHER and OFTEN for their mission, v11b

Look at the second part of verse 11 and notice: you must pray so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

PRAYER is not only crucial for the Great Commission, CORPORATE prayer is crucial if the church will be faithful in its mission. Our mission requires the prayers of many.

IMG_2299Paul says prayso that many will give thanks…for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. Many will give thanks to answered prayer when many in the presence of those prayers hear what the church is praying for. All prayer for missions is good, but corporate prayer is the kind of prayer that provides the greatest glory for God because many more will praise God when He answers.

Two hundred and ten years from this summer five friends who were  students at Williams College in Massachusetts decided to begin praying frequently together, every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. Many in those days were meeting to pray together all over as a result of the First Great Awakening.

But these students happened to be reading William Carey’s small booklet, An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. They met in a meadow near the college to discuss the book and pray. In their day  Carey’s book was a controversial one because it laid the weight of responsibility for world evangelism on all believers. This was not a prevailing idea in America at that time. There were no American mission boards.

On that hot August afternoon in the meadow, thunderstorms rolled in as they prayed and discuss world missions, specifically in China. Being so focused on the discussion and in prayer they let the storm close in and they were too far away from shelter, so they found a nearby haystack to huddle under.

All five friends later committed themselves fully to the Great Commission and taking the gospel to the nations. Through their efforts, the first American missions agency was formed. And four years later, in 1810, The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent their first five missionaries to Calcutta, Indian. Among them were Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice.

The Haystack Prayer Movement, as it later became known, is an example of what God can do to fulfill the Great Commission through the means of corporate prayer. It was through the means of prayer that God bound these men together by the single-minded purpose of advancing the gospel around the world. It was not one magical prayer meeting. These men were devoted to meeting in prayer corporately many times a week.

May God motivate us to give ourselves to praying together as a church for the Great Commission. May He give us the single-minded purpose of advancing the gospel through the local church around the world.

 

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Reflections: Sabbatical 2016, Pt 2

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One challenge I discovered with planning sabbaticals when having a family is making sure to consider them in the plans. It would be one thing to plan a month-long hiatus from the pastorate in a secluded quiet place in order to study, plan, reflect, and pray; but if those plans come at the expense of my family, it defeats the purpose of a sabbatical. Sabbaticals should help pastors best serve their churches, and one of the qualifications of a healthy pastor is being a faithful husband and leader of the home. Plus, resting would be near impossible for me while away from my bride and kids. My sabbatical plans had to include serving my family’s needs.

So then, the other challenge is to plan a sabbatical that aims to help me return to serve the church well while not being so selfish that my plans bore my family. Even if I would love a month in a cabin in the woods with peace and quiet and a pile of books, this would torture my 10, 12, and 15 year olds. So after 8 nights in the woods (which I summarized in Part 1), we loaded up and headed to northern Kentucky to visit the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.

I wanted this sabbatical to do for Mary and the kids what I hoped it would do for me. Part of this included hiking, canoeing, and taking in beautiful aspects of God’s creation. (By the way, the sound of Eastern Whip-poor-wills each evening in the mountains is amazing.) I also gave each family member opportunity to lead a devotion from their time in God’s Word. And one night we shared the top 25 things we wanted to experience or accomplish before we die. Caring for my family’s faith in Christ and spiritual growth motivated the trip to the museums. And this is the part of the trip my children were most excited about.

We visited the Ark Encounter first. It was Friday and the park featuring a life-sized Ark Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.13.49 AMhad only been open 7 days. The park was created by scientists who have found, despite popular opinion, that science actually does support the Bible’s claims. The Ark Encounter is devoted mostly to featuring the science and educating visitors with the biblical evidence of one of the most important events in history: the global flood recorded in Genesis 6-9. Every member in our family, from youngest to oldest, was completely engaged by the quality of the exhibits, and the depth of the scientific and biblical information presented.

The next day we met up with members of Mary’s family who live in northern Kentucky and Indiana and we visited the Creation Museum together. This is the original park, which is located about 45-minutes from the Ark Encounter, started in 2007 by scientist Ken Ham and the organization Answers in Genesis. And like the newer park, the Creation Museum was filled with great content and science that supports the Bible’s historical claims. Only this park had even more to see and hear because its now 9 years old. My favorite part of the campus is its planetarium. The majesty of God from what we know and can see in outer space is incredible.

After two great days in northern Kentucky which included encouraging and refreshing time with Mary’s older brother Matt, her cousin Jared, and their wonderful families, we headed for South Carolina. Mary’s mom and dad live in Abbeville where her father pastors the First Baptist Church. Thursday, after four days in SC, we headed back to Southwest Florida. It was good to be home for a day and sleep in our own beds.

IMG_1131On day 18 of the sabbatical we headed to Sanibel Island for three nights. There we were blessed by some friends to stay in their beautiful home just a 3-minute walk from the beach. This again provided me time to read, pray, and reflect while the family enjoyed extended time on the beach. This, I believe, was Mary’s favorite part of the trip.

The challenge for me during a sabbatical by this stage was the desire to get busy again doing what God called me to do and what I love: Preaching God’s Word, discipling, and shepherding. But I fought the urge to check in at the office and I tried to quiet my mind and rest. On Monday evening we headed 50 minutes west to Lehigh Acres to our home and I prepared to spend what would end up being my last day on sabbatical. Wednesday I would fly to Kosovo with another pastor for 10 days to serve alongside missionaries there.

These 22 days I was afforded for sabbatical resulted in me feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, and excited about what God was doing in and through the church I pastor. I was able to see better the larger picture and not just those day-to-day events that sometimes warp my perspective. Providence Church is a young church, and it faces a lot of challenges, but the gospel is powerful and God plans to use the church to make whats already true in heaven true on the earth. I was thankful for the ministry this sabbatical did for my soul, but it was time to return to my post to serve the church God has called me to pastor.

Reflections: Sabbatical 2016, Pt 1

IMG_1016.JPGFor years now, I have wanted to blog. Friends have encouraged me to write more regularly, and mentors and colleagues have challenged to blog more frequently. For various reasons, to which I may blog about later, I have simply neglected to follow through. Now, I have written a blog from time to time (once a year it seems), but I have never learned to consistently blog. This I pray will be the beginning of a new era that involves blogging for me.

Yesterday was my first day back from a sabbatical the church I pastor, Providence Church, graciously provided me. I am grateful for a church that provides prolonged hiatuses for rest and study and soul care. I am grateful for a church and elders who recognize the unique difficulties of pastoral ministry and provide the fading habit of offering annual seasons to unplug. Sabbaticals are not always provided to pastors of churches and some people may not be familiar with them. If you are interested in learning more you can read this helpful article.

I have not always been able to take an annual sabbatical. The last was August 2013 when I planned it so that for 9 days I could research and write alongside a friend, Tom Ascol. Tom and I had hoped that that time and work would lead to publishing a book on the church and family. Tom wrote about that time on his blog (here). I ended up being extremely sick the first half of that sabbatical with Ulcerative Colitis and rarely left my home. I only functioned at all on those final 9 days with Tom because I was on heavy doses of prednisone. Eighteen more months of fighting this disease followed before I eventually underwent a total proctocolectomy and ileal pouch anal anastomosis (IPAA) at the Cleveland Clinic in February 2015 (may need to be another blog). Now I sit at my desk on the first day coming off a month-long sabbatical 3 years after that first one. I feel rested, rejuvenated, and thankful for this season of good health.

Sabbaticals, unlike vacations, usually involve goals like research, writing, praying, and reflecting,  as well as reevaluating one’s ministry responsibilities. Because I am a father of three children, and a husband of 18 years, my sabbatical also included IMG_1113spending time and caring for my family. So on the 6th of July the five of us and our Australian Shepherd “Copper” loaded up the truck and headed north. We were graciously offered the use of a friend’s cabin in Eastern Kentucky some 30 miles outside of Moorhead. We spent 8 nights secluded from people, televisions, cell phones, and internet connections. It was incredible. Our family had never experienced anything like that, ever. I am not sure my children thought people could survive under those conditions.

This time provided me the opportunity to read more than usual. One book I read was the recently published biography by Iain Murray about J.C. Ryle called “Prepared to Stand 510HPo8A0zL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Alone.” This is an incredibly well written book that I highly recommend. It was an especially wonderful resource for a pastor recharging on sabbatical. Chapter after chapter I was repeatedly encouraged by the example of this godly 19th Century English pastor and former Bishop of Liverpool. I also read much from Kent Hughes’ “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.” This too is a great book for pastors. In addition to reading, I also spent more time than is normal for me in prayer. Being in the middle of nowhere hearing the birds and observing God’s creation while spending extended time in prayer is an incredible experience.

I found being off social media and away from the television was a blessing. Family worship around an outside fire-pit and long exhausting walks with my children and my wife, well, these are the moments I will be grateful for as long as I live. During one of those walks we turned a 2-hour hike in the mountains viewing incredible waterfalls into a 5-hour hike causing Mary to doubt my navigational skills (I was never in doubt, most of the time). And there was that Sunday we just popped into a small baptist mountain church with the heave-hawing-style preaching. These nine days were a great start to my sabbatical. I’ll save the rest for next week…hopefully.

UPDATE: Read part two here.