August 22, 2016

Has prayer fallen silent?

If prayer is the Christian’s phone line to Heaven, have we stopped calling?

Has prayer fallen silent?

I put it in the “About” section wherever I have an online presence though I speak rarely about it. I mention it in passing when context is needed but never expound on it. I am referencing my Christian faith. Posts on religious matters are rare for me, but it is something I should write on more. While that may or may not happen, this post is oriented around my faith and will be unlike my other posts.

Am I seeing things, or has prayer to God become silent? Have Christians begun praying more quietly or less altogether? Could this merely be a difference in what I saw as a child and now as an adult? This is an observation I have been thinking about for a few months now.

Growing up in church, being the pastor’s kid from three years old until I was a teenager, I gained a different perspective of how the church operates and ministers to people. As part of the pastor’s family I saw, knew, and understood things members and staff may not have. I firmly believe that once you become a PK, you stay a PK. The experience and perspective sticks even when you are no longer in that role. As I got older and sharpened my analytical, detailed thought process, this POV became even stronger, to the point I am often able to understand decisions and events from multiple sides, which can be beneficial but also detrimental (and sometimes hurtful, as was the case when a restriction was imposed on something that went against the vision). Thus when I began to notice a difference in the church’s prayer, I began to look into it.

As a small boy, the church was loud. Not loud as in our activities or in speaking, but in prayer. When it was time to pray, no matter if it was Sunday morning or Tuesday evening, the room was filled with voices. I recall being able to pick out the distinct voice of many members with my eyes closed. The people were unafraid to raise their voices and cry aloud to God with their thanks, praise, and petitions. I would occasionally look around and watch people pray, hands raised or in the hand of the person beside them, eyes closed, their faces possibly pointed to the ceiling, not being shy about praying or caring who heard them.

I have visited many churches in the decade since (I once counted at least fifteen) and more often than not I notice a common pattern: prayer is silent. When it is time to pray, most of the time most of the people pray quietly to themselves, and all I hear is the pastor’s voice and a few others who dare pray out-loud. Do not misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with quiet prayer. I myself am not vocal in my prayers, but there are times I am, and those time I am vocal are the times I experience God’s presence the most. No, what I have noticed is how so many churches are so silent in their prayers. Many times the Psalms speak of shouting and making a joyful noise unto the Lord.

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph! (Psalm 47:1, NKJV)
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. (Psalm 95:1–2, NKJV)
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. (Psalm 98:4, NKJV)

Notice the Psalms use the word “shout”, not “talk quietly” or “whisper”. Shouting is, by definition and nature, loud. The Psalms say to loudly worship the King. Yes, there is a time and place for everything, including quiet prayer and loud worship, but I find it interesting the Psalms, which are worship songs and prayers, speak of being bold in our worship and raising our voices unto Heaven.

We once had a missionary from South Africa speak at our church. During one service, he used an interesting example: he began to compare praying to God to talking to his wife.

“When I go to talk to my wife, I do not walk up to her with my head bowed and eyes closed and say in a solemn voice ‘Oh honey, honey, my honey, we need some milk, eggs, and bread from the store.’ No! I walk up to her, look her in the eyes and clearly say ‘We need to go to the store and get milk, eggs, and bread.’ So then, why do we talk to God like that? We should speak to Him as if we are talking to our friends, family, or spouse, in a clear voice with our eyes open!”

He continued this example and the larger point about prayer with an alter call. He had us stand up, keep our eyes open, and prayer loudly in our “every day” voice. This sermon illustration and participation struck me as strange. Despite my description of prayer time above, prayer was done a different voice and with eyes closed. After all, although we are to come boldly into the throne room of grace, we must also be respectful and humble ourselves before the Lord Almighty. Bowing our heads and closing our eyes is a demonstration of this respectfulness. This prayer style the missionary had us use was different than normal prayer.

When there are major differences in observations, one of the factors I take into account is culture. Church services are going to be different in the southern US vs. Washington state, Kansas, or Vermont. The music may be more traditional or contemporary, the preaching more topical than expository, or services may be held at different times (such as no traditional Sunday night service, oh my!). That said, there is yet another, more relevant, factor that has lead me to continue to ponder these differences and wonder if prayer has fallen silent: the lack of power within the church.

I hear a lot about how the church “used to be”, how the church was a mighty beacon in the world, effectively spreading the Gospel to all, a place communities wanted to be around, how people were healed and miracles occurred on the laying of hands, how the Holy Spirit moved mightily and changed lives all the time. This is contrasted to the current: the church is shunned, people reject the Gospel, miracles do not occur, the church is no longer the city on a hill, and the Spirit’s anointing is not as prevalent.

This comparison is not merely something I have heard, but have experienced first-hand. The church I grew up in, a church that prayed, I remember God’s power being displayed. More recently, in our previous pastoral role, we stopped Sunday School and replaced the half-hour before morning service with (quiet) prayer. Soon thereafter, things began to change. Our relationship with the parishioners grew closer, our relationship with God was strengthened, and the Spirit moved more mightily in services than ever before. This happened because we prayed fervently, sincerely, and with passion. Even more recently, God’s presence has been present in a mighty way, touching many lives (including my own) because we began to seek God more fervently through prayer. In both of these cases, the power of God was present in us and in the church.

This whole time I have been writing about the volume of our prayers, but it was merely figurative in an attempt to help you understand my perspective. I have been using the decibel level of prayer to symbolize the power in prayer. The church’s power lies not in the volume of prayer. A prayer spoken merely to be heard is nothing, so are many prayers exclaimed for the purpose of praying a lot. Recall the parable in Luke 18 of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10–14, NKJV)

Prayer in and of itself is not what invokes God’s power, but rather the heart-felt sincerity and humble attitude with which it is prayed. When we pray like we truly mean it, in all humility, honesty, and expectancy, then will the Lord hear our heart’s desires, grant us our petitions, and begin to work in mighty and powerful ways. There is great power in prayer through the name of Jesus Christ!

Yet for too long the church has pretended. The church has played “church” and rested on its great past. It has clung to “that old time religion” that was “good enough for our mothers”, that “saved our fathers”, and “will do when I am dying.” It has proudly proclaimed “like a tree that’s planted by the waters / I shall not be, I shall not be moved”, while not realizing the whole time that it has moved. It has not realized the world has changed and the church has lagged behind. The church, still, is so caught up in the past and how the way things used to be, that it has yet to figure out that what saved the world yesterday will not cause it to repent of sin today. Time and time again, the church has attempted to force the methods of yesteryear onto the current age and failed, yet it still wonders why nothing has changed, why the power it held, the authority it commanded, and the influence it made is missing.

Yet the church has failed to realize its hair has been cut.

Judges 16 recounts the story of Samson and Delilah, how three times Delilah attempted to learn Samson’s secret to his strength, and how each time she failed. Finally, on the fourth attempt, she learned the true secret of Samson’s power: God, symbolized by locks of hair.

[H]e told her all his heart, and said to her, “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.” (Judges 16:17, NJKV)

When Delilah realized Samson told her the truth, she was able to hand Samson over to the Philistines. Yet Samson did not realize things changed with this fourth attempt. As the Scripture sadly records (emphasis mine):

So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. (Judges 16:20, NJKV)

Prayer is the church’s symbol of God’s power and presence. It is in our trust in a Sovereign King that we bring our needs to a Savior who will provide. It is in our zeal for the Kingdom of God that we pray for unsaved souls. It is through the Spirit working in us that we are able to spread the Gospel and minister to those around us. It is from our earnest worship and humbleness of hearts does the Holy Spirit make Himself present in our midst. Everything we do should be governed by God’s Word, enacted in faith, and surrounded with prayer.

Yet the church has failed to realize it has stopped praying.

After much deduction, I have finally came to the conclusion that there is no power in the church because there is no prayer. In other words, prayer has fallen silent. It is not that we do not pray anymore and not use out phone line to Heaven, but, as someone told me, we make mostly spam and robocalls verses the genuine, heart-felt prayers of times past. We make petty prayers when it convenient or to “demonstrate” our faith out in public. There is no healing because there is unbelief. There is no growth because of complacency. There is no experience of God’s presence because there is no expectancy. We can talk a good game and brag like we are prayer warriors, but in the end, our prayer lives are as weak as someone pretending to be a Christian.

If there is one thing of the past church that needs to be reapplied to the current church, it is prayer. We the church will not be what God has called us to be until we again start to pray. The church will never be “what it used to be” until we get down on our knees and truly repent for not fulfilling our call. The power of God that we once had and so enriched out lives will not return until again submit our lives to God’s will and walk in obedience. The world will not be saved until we wake up and realize we need to adapt and change our methods of presenting the Gospel (not the Gospel itself, for the Word of God never changes, but the way we present it will). We need to have such a desire for God’s presence that we will spend our time in earnest prayer, whatever that looks like in this day and age. We need to be intercessors that will stand up and be the wall between light and dark, that will boldly proclaim God’s power over people’s lives, that, in Jesus’s name, will forbid the forces of hell from taking over.

The church will never be like the olden days. What happened and was experienced then was for that time. But I believe that if we will again pray, if we symbolically raise our voices and pray like we mean it, then true revival will break out, and the church will be greater than before. Only then will God’s power be displayed in a magnificent fashion like never before. Then will the world again know there is a God in Heaven who loves them and will return to Him.

We just have to pray.

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