Did You Think to Pray?
by Allen Webster
Scenario: The church I attend is losing members instead of gaining them. We are not meeting budget. We have too few children in Bible class and far too few members to return Sunday night. Instead of adding new programs and activities for next year, we are cutting back on what we did last year.
Reaction: We worry, but do we petition? We wring our hands, but do we bend our knees? We pinch our nickels, but do we bow our heads? We fret, but do we pray? We criticize and blame, but do we commune and beseech? We call emergency business meetings, but do we retreat to entreat? We see the problem, but are we blind to the "Solution"?
Discussion: In good times and bad, the greatest thing any member can do for the congregation is pray. The greatest favor any listener can do for the preacher is pray. The greatest thing all followers can do for their elders is pray. A bedfast Christian fervently praying with an open church bulletin in his lap does more for the church without ever leaving home than many able-bodied Christians do all week. Paul complimented the Corinthians for "helping" (sunupourgeo, "to be a co-auxiliary, assist." It comes from a root, ergon, that means, "to work; toil as an effort or occupation, labor." These Christians had been "working" for Paul but had not lifted an hand — only in prayer) when all they had done was pray (II Corinthians 1:11)! Somebody might say, "But I want to do more than pray." We should do more than pray, but no one can do more than pray until first he has prayed.
It is time for us to take prayer seriously. Before Jesus went home, He gave His disciples (us) direct access into the very control room of the Universe. "At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God" (John 16:26-27). What a privilege is prayer! It is not just an emergency ripcord for when we fall; it is the parachute. It is not an optional rider on an insurance plan; it is the policy. It is not leather seats and power steering; it is the steering wheel and the drive train. It is not plush carpet and chandeliers; it is the foundation and the roof. The God Who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18) has obligated Himself to heed our desires expressed in prayer (l Peter 3:12). He stands so ready to bless our prayers that He told Isaiah to write, "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (Isaiah 65:24; cf. Psalms 34:15).
It is time for us to take church building seriously. Our churches need to grow. It is not enough for us to sit still maintain the status quo, and baptize enough of our children to make up for those we bury. The church of the New Testament was a living body that grew up rapidly (e.g., Acts 2:41; 4:4). Why do we need to grow? We need more voices to praise God; He deserves better praise than we give Him — "let the whole earth be filled with his glory" (Psalms 72:19). We need more workers to visit the fatherless and widows — they need more attention and teaching than we provide (James 1:27). We need more encouragers to edify the body — too many are giving up (Hebrews 2:1). We need more money to take the Gospel to foreign lands — preachers are wasting time raising money when they could be saving souls (Mark 16:15). We need more workers to take the Gospel across the street and across town — people are dying lost just down theroad from us (Proverbs 11:30).
We all admit that the church is not growing in our generations as it could. Some churches have more empty pews than filled ones. In a generation when we have more Bibles and study tools in one house than were in a whole city at the close of the First Century, some congregations have trouble finding enough teachers to hold Bible classes. Now that there are more children than ever in the world's history, some churches have so few in Bible class that they group the preschoolers with the sixth graders. Some assemblies have had the same "faithful few" since Reagan's first term. Others had fewer last Sunday than they have had in the lifetime of their oldest member. Denominational churches in some towns mock (or, worse, ignore) God's true church when they grow by leaps and bounds and we stagnate and cut back.
In a day when the church has more money than Solomon, more education than Moses, and more resources than David, some churches have fewer responses than Noah (he did save his family). We have the best transportation since Elijah's chariot of fire, the best communication technology since Pentecost, the best visuals since those seen at Belshazzar's feast (Daniel 5), but in some places are having less success at church building than Sardis and Laodicea (Revelation 3).
To be a part of a growing church — seeing lost people saved — means more to a genuine Christian than a Lexus in his garage or a million in his bank. It means more than a college education for his children, or a getaway vacation for his family. It means more than a job promotion or an early retirement. It means more than a trophy buck on his wall or his team in the Super Bowl. It means more than a "big church wedding" for her daughter or a ring on her every finger.
What would Jesus think of our "growth strategies" and church activities nowadays? With many congregations, He would be as happy as with any since Philadelphia and Smyrna (Revelation 2:8; 3:7), but others might remind Him more of Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) and Corinth (I Corinthians). Congregations have tried many things to get the church to grow: fancier buildings; smoother-talking, better-looking preachers; Willow Creek strategies; shorter services and sermonettes; membership drives; campaigns; and a full slate of programs; mass mail; websites; and phone surveys; area-wide meetings; seminars, workshops, and retreats; small groups; marriage films and parenting videos; events for seniors, women, youth, parents, singles, couples, retirees, and any other special interest group someone could recognize and put together.
A few of these are good ideas. Others were simply the wisdom of men. Some are nothing more than the devil's devices (II Corinthians 2:11; 11:15). The questions to ponder in this study do not have to do with practical growth strategies but with our primary Resource. Have we remembered to save God a seat in our planning sessions? Have we charted our attendance without logging our prayer journals? Have we planted and watered while shading out God's life-giving sun (I Corinthians 3:6-9)? Have we had members to purpose their giving without encouraging them to practice their praying? Have we emphasized a day in the park more than a night in prayer (cf. Luke 6:12)? Have we spent more time in our prayer closets? Have we rolled up our sleeves without removing our shoes?