The fourth component of discipleship is that of prayer. The early church continued in the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and in prayer. One of the least used resources of the local church today is the resource of prayer. The church lacks power because there is very little time spent on our knees. Souls go unreached and remain lost because there is very little praying for the lost. Our prayer meetings often consist of gossip sessions where we talk about all the woes and aches and pains of life. Prayer requests become ways to communicate information rather than sharing genuine heartfelt concern for one another. Even our prayers are sometimes used to communicate subtle messages to each other rather than pouring our hearts out to God. We entertain ourselves with our praying. We pray almost to the point of competition to see who can pray the best and the longest. Prayer is the lifeblood of the church, yet, it is seldom used. Even when we do pray, it often lacks power and passion and fervency. However, prayer is essential to the disciple making church. The church is powerless apart from prayer. When it comes to our praying in the context of the local church, there are several things to consider. Those things are as follows: private prayer, cooperate prayer, and continual prayer.
First of all, let’s examine private prayer. Matthew 6:6 says, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” This verse is in the context of the example given of the hypocrites who likes to pray on the street corners in order to be heard by other men. Jesus is not condemning the cooperate prayer of the church; however, He is emphasizing the need for personal private prayer. When we discussed the component of ‘breaking bread’, we mentioned that every believer should have a ‘Sabbath hour.’ There should be at least one hour that is set aside everyday for the purpose of prayer, Bible study, and meditation. This time of private prayer is essential to the spiritual growth of every believer. Our private prayer time also affects the life of the church. Our personal time with God will spill over into the life of the church as we grow closer to God and have a greater desire to serve Him and bring Him glory. There is something special about being alone with God in prayer. There are several things that private prayer will do for the believer. First, private prayer gives us a higher view of God. Having a high view of God is extremely important. God is our friend, but He is more than that. God is our helper, but He is more than that. We need to understand that God is God. He is above all things. He created all things, yet, is separate from His creation. In other words, He is not a created being. He always has existed and He always will exist. His various attributes such as: omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscience, and immutable; have always been a part of who He is. Yet, in all His power and glory, He has allowed us to have access into His throne through the blood of Jesus. All believers in Christ can openly and boldly come before Him in prayer and give Him our cares and concerns and seek His power and His plan. As we go before God in private prayer, we will begin to develop a real sense of who God is and the privilege that we have to come before Him. It is a humbling thing to realize that we can go to God in prayer. As we pray privately, we will develop a high view of God. Secondly, private prayer enhances our relationship with God. As we spend time with God in prayer, we will grow to love Him more. We will desire Him more. The times we spend with God will be precious to us. When something hinders us from that special time, we feel as if something is missing. Our entire day is out of sync when we miss time with God in private prayer. Our relationship with God becomes much more personal and special to us as we pray privately. A third thing that private prayer will do for the believer is that it will increase our faith. The more we spend time with God in prayer, the bolder our prayers become. As we see God work in our lives and answer our prayers, we will develop a greater faith and confidence that God will answer when we call. We will learn to trust Him more as we pray. He may not give us the answers that we personally desire, however, the more we pray, the more we understand God’s desires, and His desires then becomes our own. This will develop a greater confidence both in God and in our praying. Finally, the private prayer of believers will enhance our relationships with others. As mentioned earlier, the time we spend alone with God should spill over in our relationships with other believers. This actually makes a lot of practical sense. As one spends time with God in private prayer, attitudes begin to change. As your love for God increases, so will your love for others. Forgiving those who have wronged you also becomes much more possible and even easier when time is spent alone with God. Private prayer can reduce stress levels and cause you to react to others in more loving and encouraging ways. You can tell when someone has been with Jesus. A person who has a strong and intimate walk with God is easy to spot. When you spend time in private prayer, there will be a glow about you. People will see a difference in you and it will enhance your relationships with others.
Secondly, let’s consider cooperate prayer. Cooperate prayer is the coming together of believers to pray. The Bible clearly teaches us that we should pray together. The early church continued together in prayer. Matthew 18:19-20 says, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”When God’s people gather together in unity and in agreeing prayer, things begin to happen. God ‘inhabits the praise of His people.’ When we gather together as a church body, and we begin to worship and pray, God is in our midst. Every great revival in history began when God’s people joined together in prayer. When God’s people pray together, demons will flee. The greatest weapon in the arsenal of the church is prayer. Every local church should provide as many opportunities as possible for God’s people to gather together for the purpose of prayer. Cooperate praying is not a show. It is not simply part of the order of Sunday worship. Cooperate prayer should be genuine. It should be real. Real hearts that hunger for God, real burdens that we share, real desires and dreams that we agree on; cooperate prayer should be a time of great unity and coming together in agreement over the petitions that we are bringing before the throne of God. There is nothing more beautiful, more special than God’s people coming together to pray.
A final aspect of prayer in the context of the local church is that of continual prayer. The Bible tells us to ‘pray without ceasing.’ In other words, we are to have such a personal and intimate relationship with Christ that we have a continual attitude of prayer. We should be in a state of constant prayer. This does not mean that we must be on our knees 24/7. However, we should continue in prayer. I look at it as having an ongoing conversation with God throughout the day. In this age of technology, this 24 hour connection is easy to understand. I personally have three devices: a laptop in my office, a tablet in my brief case, and a smart phone in my pocket. Each of those devices is synced together. I have instant access to my day planner, calendar, and to people. With instant messaging and facebook, I can have an ongoing connection with my wife no matter where I am. Apply that 24 hour connection that we have with each other through amazing technology to the connection we have with God. As believers, we have an ongoing 24/7 connection with Jesus and we don’t need a smart phone to make it happen. Through the blood of Jesus, we have constant and instant access into the very throne of God. We talk to God about anything and everything in any place and everywhere that we are. You and I can talk to God continual as we go about our daily task. Do you have such a relationship with God? Do you talk to Him throughout your day no matter where you are? Are you connected 24/7 with Jesus?
Prayer is a powerful thing. Through prayer, anything can happen. Through prayer, anything is possible. In order for a church to be a disciple making church, it must also be a praying church. It must be a church where its people gather together for cooperate prayer, but also, where its people spend quality time alone with God everyday and also continues in prayer throughout their day. The prayers of a disciple making church never cease.