Prayer. Is any other practice so universally extolled yet so often left undone by Christians? And in an age when true followers of Christ increasingly are marginalized, mocked and despised, can we continue to act as if we don’t need to cry out for God’s help?
Erwin Lutzer, longtime pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church, observes: “I find it very interesting that even though as a church generally we complain about the present darkness, we still are not desperate enough to sincerely pray and call congregations to pray. If the darkness is as bad as we believe it is morally and spiritually, why is it that we still do not pray?”
Although he has not conducted a formal survey on the issue, Lutzer has asked other evangelical pastors whether or not their church still holds regular prayer meetings, and he is surprised at the number who say no.
Thom Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, has noticed this lack of prayer too. Noting on his blog that the decline in American churches has been commensurate with the decline in corporate prayer, Rainer asks, “Where have all the praying churches gone?”
Lutzer suggests that some prayer meetings have fallen victim to entertainment. Whether it’s television or the Internet, it seems harder today than in past generations to get people to go back out in the evening for a church meeting. Other prayer meetings, lacking strong leadership, have degenerated into gossip sessions, or one person has dominated the meeting with long prayers seemingly designed more to impress others than to plead for God’s help.
So how can we recapture the kind of prayer that makes a difference? Anne Graham Lotz offers advice gleaned from her study of Scripture and her own years of participation in prayer efforts. Her forthcoming book The Daniel Prayer: Prayer that Moves Heaven and Changes Nations is scheduled for release May 5.
“First, a person needs to be right with God,” Lotz says, “meaning you need to be in a right relationship with Him because you’ve been to the cross and you are in that covenant relationship, which of course Daniel had. And as much as possible, we need to be right with others as well.”
A significant part of Daniel’s prayer, as recorded in Daniel 9:1-23, was confession of sin. “That’s one thing I think is lacking in prayers within the church or in prayer groups,” Lotz noted. “I think it’s difficult to do as Daniel did in such a humble way, because he identified with the sin of his nation to the point that he could confess it as his own. My tendency, when I am aware of the sin of our nation, is to want to lower the boom on them. [We need] to have a broken heart and come before God and confess the sin of our nation as though it’s our own. They’re sinners. But we are, too.”
Lutzer concurs: “Prayer in the New Testament often represented such a dependence on God,” he said. “It was a sense of utter helplessness apart from God’s intervention. I think that’s connected to repentance, where we acknowledge our sin in a serious way, and we don’t just come to God with requests. We begin with a sense of repentance, which then leads to serious intercessory prayer.”
Another crucial aspect, Lotz says, is to pray God’s Word back to Him. “So often our prayers are what we want, what we wish, what we hope, what we’re trying to tell God to do, and they just fall flat,” she said. “No wonder God doesn’t answer them.”
By contrast, Daniel read what God had said in Scripture, and he brought those truths and prophecies before the Lord. “It’s what Eugene Peterson calls reversed thunder,” Lotz said. “To take God at His Word. God honors that.”
Lutzer and Lotz both see some bright spots when it comes to prayer. Lotz notes that some churches in her city of Raleigh, N.C., have 24-hour prayer rooms. And Lutzer points to PRAYChicago, a city-wide movement that is drawing as many as 2,000 people at a time across racial, social, economic and geographic lines to pray for all 77 of Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Like many prayer movements, PRAYChicago was born partially out of a sense of desperation, as the murder rate in Chicago has soared in recent years. John Fuder, a former professor at Moody Bible Institute, is helping to lead the movement.
“There has been this sobering sense of, ‘God, our city is in need—deep need,’” Fuder said. “Our city had more than 100 murders in February—twice the number of a year ago.”
Although the city continues to be broken, Fuder and Lutzer are encouraged by what God is doing in Chicago.
“My heart is overflowing with the sense of what a privilege we have,” Fuder said. “What a moment for God’s people right now. We want to say to pastors and leaders, ‘We’ve got to do this. This has got to be priority.’” ©2016 BGEA