Equipping the church with Tools to encounter God
Where do people learn how to pray? Where do believers continue to mature in their prayer life? I’m a big fan of equipping people with tools to encounter God, that in-turn they can use to equip other people. I have a hard time believing that the reason many churches struggle in prayer is because “the people” are so cold and bad and have absolutely no desire to know who God is. Personally, I believe that most have never been shown how to experience Jesus and how to have confidence before the Throne of Grace. As a pastor I have made it a point to clarify the “tools” that I want everyone to have on their “tool belt”, and I want every leader in the church to be able to teach and model these tools, and I want every ministry/department in the church strategically working on how to incorporate these tools into their environments. These tools are not “the way” to experience Jesus in prayer, but they are helpful for creating corporate agreement and giving the average guy a way of approach that he can be confident in and re-teach to others.
Adoration, Meditation, and Agreement are the three prayer tools I teach the most often, and the three tools I ask leaders with me to teach as well.
Adoration is transformational in the life of a believer because it shifts their prayer life to be Jesus-centered. Adoration prayer is simply telling Jesus who He is and thanking Him for it out of scripture. Bob Hartley has an incredible Adoration prayer book that has done wonders for us as a praying community.
Mediation gives people the grace to encounter Jesus in prayer by receiving revelation from scripture. My friend Kirk Bennett taught us his RWSSP (read it, write it, say it, sing it, prayer it) model years ago and has empowered many in our community to sit before the Lord in the place of prayer for extended times as they grow in the knowledge of who God is.
Agreement is the term I’ve started using for Biblical intercession because there were too many bizarre pictures of prayer that got triggered as I used the term “intercession” (let the reader understand!). We base our intercession, our requests before God out of scripture and help people to grow in their ability to ask God what the Bible asks us to ask Him instead of people feeling the pressure to “make up” something to say before God.
When it comes to teaching these tools to others I use this pattern: model it, discuss it, experience it, debrief it, empower it. If I’m in a small group on prayer I’ll model a prayer “tool” for the group and the only thing they have to do is listen to me speaking to God with an open heart. What amazes me every time is that even when I’m “modeling” it never fails that we experience the presence of God and as a group we enter into the Holy Place…and that’s while we’re “practicing” prayer! After I’ve prayed we discuss what the group felt/experienced and then I’ll ask for one or two others to pray. After we “enter in” for a second time we discuss and debrief it again. It never fails that God does amazing things when people enter into agreement and partnership with Jesus in the place of prayer.
Build Community around experiencing Jesus together
People are made for community, friendship and relationship. One of the unique challenges with prayer meetings is that they are almost 100% vertical (people connecting to God) and they often struggle horizontally (people connecting to people), which means that we often experience God in the room while trying to figure out how to get another human being into the room! I believe that the more ways we can discover that build a sense of community and family around our “vertical” experiences, the more strength and longevity we will have in our prayer meetings, and the stronger sense of a prayer culture we will have in our church.
Why not serve food after a prayer meeting? And advertise the fact that the food is going to be there! Sounds like a gimmick, but I can think of several prayer meetings where we ended with a great sense of family because we simply gave out cookies. It was an environment we strategically created that allowed people to build friendship and relationships around the prayer meetings and it did nothing but produce good long-term fruit in our church.
Most people go places and do things because of who else is going to be there. If given two tickets to a sporting event, and the person who was given the tickets could find anyone to go with them, the tickets would remain unused because most people are not wired to go to the game alone. There have been many times where I’ve seen someone with a fiery heart for Jesus fade away from the prayer meetings simply because they never developed friendships around experiencing Jesus. As church leaders we can bridge this gap with the Spirit’s wisdom and the engagement of the pastoral and hospitality gifts in the church. I believe the prayer meetings should be one of the greatest demonstrations of loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
My final encouragement is that you would walk in the grace of God while experiencing the challenges that come from building prayer and shifting existing church culture into a culture of prayer. Change is slow, difficult and very emotional for leaders and church attendees alike. But in the midst of it all there is the sustaining life of the Spirit available to us as we continue to encounter Jesus, the Head of the Church. I’m sold on prayer because of how it has sustained my life personally. The difficulties of my journey should have done me in emotionally and physically, but because of prayer my inner man has been sustained and hope is still alive in my heart for the future. How can I not do whatever it takes to create a culture that allows people to experience the life and strength that I’ve experienced with Jesus? There is a greater grace available to all who start the journey of culture change in the local church because the Head of the Church is fully commitment to His house being a house when the nations encounter Him face to face.