I’ve just finished preaching at the Mississippi Evangelism Conference. It has been my privilege to preach at this event on several occasions, and I always approach it seriously and ask God to show me the message I need to bring. This year I preached on the connection between prayer and evangelism. It is my fear that, in our desire to increase baptisms and see more people saved, we’ve eliminated, ignored, or trivialized prayer as a component for effective evangelism.
I’m not saying we don’t pray. I’m saying we don’t really pray. Oh, we pray a quick prayer before the visitation team goes out. We breathe a quick prayer as we engage in a gospel conversation (at least I hope we do). But do we really bombard heaven? Do we intercede for the lost? Are we bold in asking God for our neighbors? Our family members? The next one? The next generation?
When I was a student pastor, we had a “10 Most Wanted” list in every youth Bible Study class. These were the 10 students that each class most wanted to see come to Christ. It was amazing how many of those young people came to saving faith because we were praying intentionally for their salvation.
At the church I pastor, we begin the first Sunday of
every month with a call to prayer in our Connect Groups (Bible Study classes).
We have TVs in every classroom, and I’m able to record a video to be played at the
beginning of the hour with three specific things we want people to pray about.
Then classes reserve some time to actually pray over those things together. One
of my favorite memories of this monthly endeavor was seeing pictures of senior
adults praying for the next generation and kids in our children’s area praying
for our senior adults.
When we pray, we aren’t trying to change the mind of a reluctant God. We are simply taking Him at His Word. “It is not His will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus talked more about prayer than we may realize at a casual glance.
Yes, we pray for “those for whom it is our duty to pray” (I heard that phrase a lot growing up). But who are they? We are to pray for the lost and pray for God to strengthen the saved. E. M. Bounds said, “In reality, the denial of prayer is a denial of God himself.”
As I look back and read some of the prayers of pastors in the 19th century, it is obvious that they devoted much time and thought to public prayer. Not so today. Prayer is usually limited to an offering or to help the praise team get off the platform. But where is the time dedicated to prayer? Where is the evidence that we are united in prayer? We can’t expect God to show up when we already have a planned-out, prearranged schedule. Over the last few years, we’ve sought to be more intentional in prayer during our worship services. Typically, we are focused on something or someone specific. It can be a missionary, a mission trip, government officials, people who are hurting, people with cancer, or a hundred other subjects worthy of a dedicated time of united hearts in prayer.
As someone has said, “Our prayers must mean something to us if they are to mean anything to God.” No prayer = no power. Little prayer = little power. Much prayer = much power. Far too often we can say we are organized, but can we say we’ve agonized? When the church is playing defense instead of offense, it’s evidence of prayerlessness. When two minutes of silence for people to pray seems like an eternity, it’s evidence of prayerlessness. When a pastor asks people to cry out to God and you can barely hear a voice or a whisper in the room, it’s evidence of personal prayerlessness. John Bunyan said, “The best prayers have often more groans than words.”
We’ve confused talking about prayer with praying. We’ve confused listening to someone else pray with praying. We’ve relegated prayer to a secondary position when we make all our plans and then, at the end, ask God to bless them. Charles Finney said, “I am convinced that nothing in Christianity is so rarely attained as a praying heart.” Spurgeon said, “I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this: the measure of the intensity of your prayer.” How intense is our prayer time? Do we agonize when week after week, month after month, no one is at the altar? When no one is saved after a clear evangelistic message and invitation?
When I was growing up, the pastor would often call on a member to pray to close the morning service. More than once, I would hear the one called on say, “Beg to be excused.” Excused for praying? Seriously? A person who attends church can’t come up with a one-minute prayer of praise? A prayer of testimony? Nothing?
Let’s just confess now – we all talk about prayer more than we pray. It’s easier for me to write this blog on prayer than it is to pray. It’s easier to teach on prayer than to pray. The disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). That’s a good prayer. S. D. Gordon wrote, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” To pray or not to pray – that is the question.