I was at a church workers’ conference a couple weeks ago and wound up in a class called “The Restoration of Biblical Prayer.” To be honest, I didn’t know quite what to expect from this. We are given the Lord’s Prayer in scripture as Jesus told his disciples, “This, then, is how you should pray.” But apart from that example, there seems to be a wide variety of prayers offered in scripture – which God answered with power – and few of them actually resemble the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. I was, however, curious to find out what the instructors meant by their title.
What I found in this workshop was surprising. It had very little to do with a particular model for prayer (though they seemed to prefer the ACTS “method”), or any real liturgy regarding prayer – corporate or private. The focus was on what they called “getting on praying ground.” What they meant was that rather than focusing on our need and coming to God (and thus viewing God) through that need – skewing our view of God and his answer because of our expectation – that instead we come to God first – recognizing and praising who he is – and waiting for him to speak truth into our need. They led us to do this by reading Psalm 103 one verse at a time, and after each verse pausing to praise God for the attribute or work revealed in that verse. The result was that we spent far more time praising God than we did talking about our need. In other words, what they were teaching is that our deepest need is to get right with God before we ask him to meet our perceived need.
This is a huge problem in our culture. As a pastor, I’ve counseled, prayed with, served, and ministered beside people from all walks of life and in a wide variety of circumstances. What has perplexed me is people’s willingness to be ministered to (have their need met), and the resistance to surrendering their lives to the Gospel (getting right with God). We have people who come to church because it makes them feel good, but they aren’t giving their lives to Christ and walking with him. We have a homeless ministry that feeds and clothes hundreds of people each month, but we’ve seen little to no lasting fruit in all of those lives (many of whom we see month after month). In my times of prayer, I’ve asked God what he’s doing and how we can partner with him to reach our community and he showed me that we are a people who want to get our needs met without getting right with God. It’s no wonder “church isn’t working” for people. I can meet someone’s need, in my own strength, if it just means making them more comfortable in their lostness. What people really need is the freedom that comes from getting right with God. They need to see it my own life, and then experience it for themselves.
We need to stop praying for people. Did you have to go back and read that again? That may sound shocking that a pastor would say something like that, but let me restate it. We need to stop praying for people; we need to start praying with people. We need to get ourselves on praying ground, and we need to bring others into that place with us. When someone asks for prayer because they’re short on rent, need a ride, or are looking for a job, I’m sure they really do want prayer, but they are more so asking you/us to provide for their need. It’s less about being right with God, and more about just getting the superficial need met. Our deepest need is to get right with God. “Apart from [him] we can do nothing!” When someone comes to us and asks, “Will you pray for me, I need…” we need to say, “No, but I’ll pray with you,” and then lead them into the presence of God – focusing on the person and power of God more than the need itself. Bring them to praying ground with you, and see what God says and does from there.
A tragic loss in the body of Christ is that of powerful and effective prayer. We pray for safety, for provision, for blessing, for mercy… How weak! It’s not wrong, but if that’s it…that’s really weak prayer. The early church prayed for boldness (not safety), for God’s word to be proclaimed through them at any cost, for God to demonstrate his power to them and through them, and for the enemy to be crushed before them (before them…by God…not by them) as they committed to walk with God. If we are going to pray prayers like that – prayers that shake heaven and earth, then we need to bring ourselves to praying ground every time we come before God. Our deepest need, as his church, is to know God. Everything else flows from that. Therefore, we cannot spend more time dwelling on our needs, our fears, our hopes, or our desires than we do on the person of God revealed in Christ Jesus. Come to God for God, not for what he can give you.
If we are to experience renewal in our communities, then we need to experience revival in our own hearts. Revival begins with me, and happens when the person of God – the glory and majesty of Father, Son, and Spirit – come back into view and become the focus of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let’s get on praying ground together!