Every first Sunday of the month, my church gathers in the evening for the “Concert of Prayer”. Instead of a sermon we all cluster together in 4-5 groups of 12 to pray for the various needs and praises we have. Topics include organizations and missionaries we support, government leaders, needs within the local church… and just about anything else you care to share in the group you’re in.
A couple months ago, our pastor lamented how few people in our church show up for the Concert of Prayer. He said the only reason people most people didn’t have time for it was because they didn’t make time for it. He said that principle of having time by making time applied to many things we put off in order to do something else.
This message was a kick in the pants for me. Time and time again, I have filled out my availability sheet at work in such a way that virtually guaranteed my working until 7pm on Sundays (the evening service starts at 6). If I had a girlfriend who wanted to hang out at 6 on Sunday evenings, you can be sure I wouldn’t have used that availability agreement as an excuse. I’d just change it.
So I did, a few weeks ago.
Although I’ve been to the Concert of Prayer before, the one we had tonight was the most powerful one I’ve ever attended. There are a few reasons for this:
1) It was the first time I specifically made time to do it, not just because I had the day off.
2) The Lord has done a lot to prepare my heart for it in the last few days.
3) I was exceedingly blessed not only by the chance to express my heart to God, but to hear the impassioned prayers of other pray-ers from my church.
Without a doubt, praying in a group like that is a stretch for me. Getting into a group of people who are mostly older than you, knowing you’re going to prayer for 20-25 minutes (I’m estimating) may seem relatively safe, but the expectation leading up to it feels a lot like getting ready to jump off the diving board for the first time. But I realized that it wasn’t just another “spiritual discipline” I had to prepare for. Right before we started, I remembered that prayer is God’s gift for us to express ourselves to Him, and that being anxious about praying is an absurd emotional state. So I just cooled my jets a bit.
Honestly, I don’t have the same grip on church needs that most of the older members of the church have. So, instead of trying to sound like I had a deep-seated prayer life for the hurting and needing members of the church (I don’t, I confess), I simply started by asking God that, for everything we pray for, we are thankful he answers our prayers according to his sovereign will…and that since he’s a loving and just God, we can fully trust him.
Now, at this point, I have to say, I usually expect people to pray opposite what I pray for. That is, if I point out one aspect of Christian thought, I expect the next pray-er to counterbalance my prayers. It goes like this,
Prayer 1: “Father, thank you so much that you have given us brothers and sisters with whom we can have fellowship. It is a blessing to be able to gather together freely in a country where we are not persecuted.”
Prayer 2 (The Counterbalance): “And Lord, should we lose that freedom one day, we ask that you keep us faithful, since we know we should expect persecution from the world when we truly exalt you above all else.”
I don’t like it at all when that happens to me, because I feel like my prayers need no counterbalance. Isn’t it a subtle way of correcting someone for not having a theologically complete prayer? But much to my surprise, all the rest of the people praying actually went further in their focus and reliance on God’s sovereign will. I felt like the little push I made to focus on that in the beginning was given more and more momentum. It was such an encouraging moment to listen to godly men and women who passionately and (much more) lovingly (than I) petitioned God according to his all-knowing, all-powerful will.
When you go to a church for a while, you start to develop ideas about the spiritual lives of those around you…at least that’s true for me. And, rightly or wrongly, you begin to imagine some people to be quite a bit more God-focused than others. Needless to say, your prejudices may be correct from time to time, but quite often they are mistaken. As I listened to the prayers of the others in my group, I was unexpectedly blessed by someone I had made wrong assumptions about. This was good because it helped me realize that a) I’m too cynical about many strong Christians and b) there are people who love me much more than I know or am willing to notice.
I was humbled especially by a man who probably ended up praying for my father’s salvation for a good 2 minutes in the course of his requests to God. It felt really awkward to hear someone else express such a profound desire for the salvation of someone they don’t know, but in a way more passionate and deliberate than my own prayers for him. No condescension, no speculation or undue expectation; but simply a sincere, well-intentioned, Christ-like plea for someone to know Him who does not at this point, someone who is most dear to my heart.
There is more I could say, but, for the sake of brevity, I will end here. I want to encourage you in 2 ways, though: 1) make time for your church’s non-Sunday-morning events and times of fellowship, and 2) engage regularly in focused, intentional prayer with other brothers and sisters in your church. God will bless you, and he himself is always blessed by our reliance on him.