Two-thirds of pastors acknowledge that revival is the most pressing need of the American church. But prayer – the clearest and surest way to revival is consistently ignored. We will never preach our way to revival! Nor can we program revival. Revival comes on the wings of prayer.
Sadly, prayer is not a priority by congregations for their pastors. On the list of desirable attributes carried by many typical pastoral search teams, prayer does not even make the list. Pastors must learn not only the power of secret prayer, but also the power of prayer with other men of like heart and passion. Pastors should seek out others who are giving themselves to prayer and the Word, not only in behalf of their congregation, but in behalf of the city they are called to serve open to the gospel.
The era of the pastor as administrator-technician has failed. Spread over a dozen roles for which he was neither called nor equipped, the typical pastor has lost his way and his church is failing. His call was not primarily to the church office. His call was to Christ, to follow Him, walk with Him, learn from Him and teach others the ways of God. We need again, holy men of God who bury themselves in prayer and boldly preach a fresh Word from God. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Hannah, Samuel, David, Elijah, Daniel, Nehemiah and Ezra, Zechariah – were all devoted to prayer. Samuel declared, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you! (I Samuel 12:23).” The absence of prayer by leaders is not merely a weakness or a pastoral disadvantage, it is a sin!
“The prayer life of the church will seldom rise above the pastor’s personal example and commitment” to pray. There is no such thing as private prayer, only prayer in private. Prayer is a part of the public record in heaven. Prayer will never be a purely personal thing. The effect of personal prayer will spill out into the church and community. Pastors and people who pray at home, will get together – just to pray. The record of corporate prayer meetings decorate the book of Acts (1:14, 24; 2:1, 42; 3:1; 4:24-31; 6:4-6; 12:5-12; 13:1-3; 14:23; Acts 16:13, 16, 20:36; 21:5). New believers learned to pray by being in prayer meetings (Acts 2:42). Why would Luke document such an extensive record of corporate prayer? The Holy Spirit is showing us the connection between corporate prayer and explosive church growth. In Acts, prayer is not something done at meetings, before or after meetings, during meetings, for meetings, at the beginning or ending of meetings – prayer was the purpose of the meeting itself.
If the church is to be a praying church, the pastor must lead by calling the church to prayer – in public gatherings. There is no substitute for corporate prayer meetings.
The practice of corporate prayer should enrich personal, private, at-home, daily prayer. The more people are praying at home, the richer and deeper, the more powerful the ministry of corporate prayer will become when we gather together. Public praying must offer models that enrich and encourage personal prayer. Powerful public prayer meetings will take place, as people with a deepening personal prayer life, gather together to cry out to God. The public and personal-private are connected. You cannot have one without the other. They enrich and drive each other.
Caution! Make prayer simple. The resistance to pray by many American Christians is rooted in fear. They often feel they do not know how to pray. There is a reason! First, if the average Christian ducks into an evangelical-pentecostal gathering of intercessors, they may encounter a style of prayer that is bold and powerful, passionate and quite out-of-the-box. It is not a bad thing to be exposed to passionate intercession. But we should not exalt a style of prayer as either the goal for all or the optimum prayer style.
Second, public praying is sometimes flowery, loaded with theological terms and unfamiliar god-talk. Our liturgy and language is strange and unfamiliar to the routine of daily life. Richly articulated prayer – with the depth and breadth of good theology inspires. But we must not make the acquisition of theological language a prerequisite for prayer – or we will place a obstruction in the pathway of those beginning their prayer journeys. Neither intercessory expertise nor theological language should be precondition for a prayer life.
Publicly practice authentic prayer. Use ordinary conversational language aimed at the heart of God. People learn to pray by praying and by hearing others pray. Passion should not displace rational, Scripture based praying. Nor should Biblically-grounded prayers, leave out the heart. If we encourage prayer language which is little more than rhetoric, our people may learn to repeat religious phrases thinking they are praying. This is what Jesus condemned. A mouth full of words or sounds is not prayer. Model authentic praying.
The best prayer begins neither with self or the needs of self. It begins with God in all of his glory. It sees Him whose hand is not shortened, whose ear is not heavy (Isaiah 59:1). Our prayer times must begin with Him. Only when we climb the mountain and get a clear view of Him, will we have the faith to face life’s fears (Isaiah 40:9f). Start your prayer time with a celebration of who God is! Gratitude opens up the gateway to grace. Thank God. Worship Him. Sincerely – not as if you were attempting to prime Him for a gushing forth of power. Authentically – love Him. Remember the greatest answer to prayer is not the answer, but laying hold of the One who is the Answer. He is the place of lasting peace. Once people sense God’s presence, faith rises. There is assurance that whether He delivers us from or through, He is our deliverer. Only then should one move to petition and intercession.
Without having in prayer, the certain sense of His love, we are only making noises at our problems. And without praying for those who have never experienced His liberating love – we have shut up the Kingdom and make it about ourselves. Begin prayer with worship of Him. Intercede for others. Find a place for your needs in between. Prayer must be worshipful at its center and missional at its edge. Close prayer times with praise that anticipates an answer. Celebrate with heart-felt assurance that we have been heard as Jesus did (John 11:41-42).
When we are too busy to pray – we are too busy. Prayer is the great equalizer. It is a pacer for our lives. Without it we bog down in visionless routines or we spin out of control, our lives moving far too fast with too many programs and people to track. The central discipline of our lives is prayer. But if it is only a discipline – we will have a joyless ministry. The discipline of prayer must become the delight of our lives.
Be certain of this, no relationship with a Church – no matter how glorious the choir or how engaging the preacher – can take the place of a personal, intimate relationship with the living Christ. You cannot satisfy your relationship with Christ, by relating to His bride – the Church. Without realizing it, we have engaged in a style of Christianity in which the church has replaced personal intimacy with Christ. Loving the church is not the same as loving Christ. Going to church, even regularly, does not insure a vital connection to Christ. It is cultural Christianity at best. It is apostasy at worse. Our people must learn the presence and power of His presence. We cannot, with God’s help, allow them to live from Sunday to Sunday. Such a church will never change its world. Short prayer times engender shallow encounters with God. Arrange for extended seasons of prayer. Don’t fear quiet. Don’t quench passion. Dedicate whole services to prayer. Arrange for retreats which are modeled on prayer summits  – aimed at experiencing God’s presence personal and corporately.
What difference would it make to identify and mobilize intercessors, partnering them with specific people? Iverna Thompson developed a five-hour course to train intercessors, teaching them how to pray for pastors and ministry leaders. After the course, intercessors were given a one-year assignment to pray for some ministry leader. After that year, 89% of the 130 pastors, evangelists and missionaries that had been prayed for, indicated a positive change in ministry effectiveness. The intercessors had prayed for them only fifteen minutes a day.
Few congregations will make progress in prayer without identifying and training intercessors. What church can develop a choir without gathering their singers and musicians? It is impossible. No church can develop a serious prayer ministry without teaming those who have a special call to prayer – intercessors.
Peter declared that we were a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9). As priests, we pray. But what does it mean to be a royal priesthood? A kingly priesthood? Wesley declared, “God governs the world by the prayers of His people!” There is a kingly dimension to prayer that we have failed to use. On our knees, before the King of Glory, there and there alone, we call Him to His rightful place in our world. We rule by praying. And the very act of prayer, we invite the rule of Christ. Through prayer he asserts his rightful claim on our communities. And we become in that process alone, his ambassadors to a lost world. Andrew Murray says, “The power of the Church to truly bless rests on intercession – asking and receiving heavenly gifts to carry to men.” The obligation of the kingdom of priests is to daily invite God’s kingly rule into our time-space world, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in our city, Lord.” And of course, the greatest desire of God is that men should be saved, that they would come to know Him.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. II Peter 3:9
Every Christian should be praying regularly for friends and family, neighbors and workplace associates – that they come to know God. People of influence in the community should be adopted by congregations and intercessors for prayer. Every place of pain and promise in the community should be the focus of ongoing prayer. The harvest will not come in, unless it is first “prayed in!” Jesus called the Father “the Lord of the harvest” and commanded us “to pray” until we were thrust forth by the Lord, into the harvest field (Matthew 9:38). Prayer changes us – for the harvest. And prayer readies the harvest for reaping.
The longing of the disciples was to learn to pray! I believe that is the secret longing of every true believer. Luther warned, “He who does not pray – is no Christian!” Beware of the folks who want to hang out with the church group, be members of the board and leaders of ministries – but do not answer the call to prayer. Carnal Christians avoid prayer. Yet, prayer is the distinguishing mark of a true believer. Genuine Christians will want to live in unbroken fellowship with the Father. To walk “in the Spirit!” True believers want “Christ in us, the hope of glory” to break out through conversations, in life-decisions and reveal Himself alive in and through them. This is prayer!
 Daniel Henderson, Fresh Encounters (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), 46.
 Daniel Henderson, 55.
 Alvin J. Vander Griend, 14.
 Daniel Henderson, 55.
 Barna Research Group, “Seven Paradoxes Regarding America’s Faith,” December 17, 2000.
 A Prayer Summit is a 3-4 day, extended, agenda-free prayer encounter. It is often held for pastors of a city using outside facilitators! International Renewal Ministries has conducted more than a thousand of these summits around the world. P. Douglas Small serves as a member of the Board of Directors for IRM. For more information on prayer summits go to www.projectpray.org or www.prayersummits.net.
 Nancy Pfaff, “Christian Leadership Attributes Dynamic Increase in Effectiveness to the Work of Intercessors,” Church Growth Journal, 81 (Quoted by Chery Sacks, 125).
 Barna Research Group, “Seven Paradoxes Regarding America’s Faith,” December 17, 2000.
 Andrew Murray, The Ministry of Intercession.