Personally, I’m a history guy…always have been and always will be. Now I know that with that statement I just lost some people, but hang with me for just a minute…
When you look at the relationship between God and man throughout the history of the world there’s an undeniable pattern where mankind moves towards God and then starts moving back away. It’s like a terrible rhythm that we have been stuck in throughout the story line of the humanity that we just can’t seem to get out of. This “rhythm” is seen during Israel’s path in the Old Testament, church history in the New Testament, in modern church expressions, and in different chapters of our own personal story.
The subject of prayer and communion with God seems to be right in the middle of all of this…people leave the place of prayer and communion with Jesus, people finding themselves in a desperate place, and then returning back to the place of prayer and communion with God. People leave God by leaving prayer, people who leave prayer always wind up leaving God. So my heart asks, “what if the body of Christ would make the priority of our churches never leaving the place of prayer and intimacy with Jesus?” Sounds like a no brainer right? Except that when you look at the spiritual landscape today, churches that pray, and people that pray are more rare than they are common. Is there still a faithful remnant? No question about it, and probably a larger remnant than any of us could ever know or comprehend. But the challenge of prayerlessness in our local church communities remains in front of us today.
I believe that for many of God’s people, the Father is bringing about some big identity adjustments, shifting our eyes to see Him differently, and shifting our identity before Him and with Him. Because of these shifts prayer and communion with Jesus is moving from being a segment of local church that some participate in, into being the centerpiece of local church life that fuels every aspect of local church life. This transition is happening around the world as leaders find themselves burning to know Jesus more, and as their identity in Christ becomes more eternal and less temporal.
Simultaneously there are many leaders experiencing the pain of calling others to a deeper walk with Christ and not seeing the traction they had hoped for. And the truth is that many leaders in the local church are burdened for the lack of praying that seems to exist in our congregations. When asked, pastors clearly say that the number one issue in the local church is the need for on-going prayer (lifeway.com/top10). When Millennials are asked about what makes their faith grow they respond by saying that prayer grows their life in God more than anything else (barna.org/millennials). Many of God’s people are looking for a greater praying expression in the local church.
Over the past few years as we have started to explore having a culture of prayer as the center-piece of local church life at Destiny, and there have been other believers in our region that have begun to identify us as the “praying church”. Is it really supposed to stick out as something unique? According to scripture, “praying church” is really a linguistic redundancy as Jesus sees His church as a people of continual prayer and communion. “My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations.” Local church = culture of prayer.
So what does a culture of prayer look like? I believe that it could look 1,000 different ways, and I believe it should look 1,000 different ways because the local church was created to be a grand reflection of God’s amazing diversity and unbelievable creativity. One thing that we can be sure of is that culture is created when certain realities and values become pervasive throughout every aspect of the environment. Every church has a culture right now, the question is, what kind of culture is it? Many times a prayer-less culture is created by some of the most kind-hearted and well-intentioned people who in trying to do a good job for Jesus simply filled all of the space for Jesus’ people to meet with Jesus face to face.
The local church will have a culture of prayer when every leader in the church sees encountering God not as a program some people are doing, but as the identity of who they are and the value system they are leading out of. While every part of the body is so essential to the Lord, the centrality of communion with the Head Christ Jesus is the fuel that helps “every joint to supply” in the body, and the strength for the Bride of Christ to walk out who she is in the earth.
Prayer is not the only thing that the local church should be doing, but it is the main thing the local church should be doing. E.M. Bounds described prayer as an “evident and controlling force” that steers the church into her ultimate destiny of partnership and intimacy with Jesus. I believe that Jesus is dreaming of a people with desire to be near to His heart, and who create environments that center around communing with Him, loving Him, and moving with Him through agreement in intercession. A praying church is a church that’s pressing into the Head. A prayer-less church is a headless body. A prayer-less church is literally a body that’s lost its mind.
Back to the history for one last second…the Church leaves Jesus by leaving prayer. And at the same time, the Church rediscovers Jesus by rediscovering prayer. There have been many chapters throughout the human story where God’s people do return to their First Love and once again find great joy in a culture of prayer and worship. In other words, “praying church” becomes the normal expression of the Jesus’ body once again and every part flourishes as a result. If it’s happened before it can happen again, and I believe it is happening in our day and in our time. Let’s embrace with boldness what God is doing in this hour and grow-up into the Head Christ Jesus!