For its Bible study, my church is going through When God’s People Pray, by Jim Cymbala. Yesterday, we did Session 2, “The Amazing Power of Prayer.”
Here are some thoughts:
1. Recently, in the blogosphere, there have been mainline Protestants who have been pretty down on prayer. Or so it seems to me. They see a distinction between praying about a situation and actually doing something to fix that situation. Some commenters allege that prayer can be an excuse to avoid action: people can pray for people, without taking concrete steps to help them.
Jim Cymbala on the DVD that I watched last night, however, did not act as if prayer and actions were somehow at odds with each other. Rather, he said that prayer can empower people to act. And it can bless the actions. Dwight Moody preached, but the Holy Spirit, in answer to people’s prayers, made his words weighty and effective.
2. I was thinking overall about my church and whether it will practice the principles of the Bible study, or if this will just be another Bible study that we go through, in which we say the right things, but nothing really changes. I think that people in the group recognize the importance of prayer. One lady in the group, who is organizing the Vacation Bible School, says that this task needs prayer to succeed, for kids in the community have so many other things that they might want to do this summer than go to Vacation Bible School. But will our church have a prayer meeting, of the sort that we see on the Bible study DVD? I have my doubts. That’s not part of our tradition. Individuals in the church may value prayer. They may even have a heritage of prayer—-the pastor talks about how his Welsh grandfather was a prayer warrior. But will they gather together and deliver powerful, sermonic sorts of prayers? I can’t see it. It’s not due to a lack of commitment. There are many people who show up at church every single Sunday, and Bible study often draws ten people or more. But that’s gathering together to watch a program. Gathering together to pray, though? I have difficulty imagining that! But they probably will pray at the start and close of meetings about the Vacation Bible School.
3. Do I believe that prayer can grow a church? I don’t know. There are plenty of examples in which people in a church pray, and the church grows. I one time went to a church that seemed to value prayer, however, and it did not grow. Maybe the problem was that we did not stick with a prayer schedule. Or perhaps the deal was that prayer was not enough, but we needed to go out and witness, as well. The thing is, though, pastors guilt-tripping me into witnessing is a huge turn-off to me. My impression as I watch our Bible study’s DVD is that Jim Cymbala’s Brooklyn Tabernacle does not guilt people into witnessing. Still, people from that church do witness. Perhaps prayer creates an attitude of joyfully wanting to share God’s love with others.
4. On the DVD, Jim Cymbala was talking about a time when he had to speak in Indianapolis, and he was planning to give a message about God’s love. But the Holy Spirit instead wanted him to give a message about the importance of prayer—-about how church has become a place where people show off their talents, when it should be a house of prayer for all peoples. Jim wrestled the night before about giving that sermon. He feared that it would be controversial. His wife that night, who was in New York, woke up and called him, saying that she sensed that he needed prayer. Jim delivered his message the next day, and it was a huge hit. It has circulated around the world. You can watch it here.
I don’t entirely understand why Jim was afraid to deliver his message. Evangelical sermons often criticize how people do things. Still, his message resonated to me. Church should not be about showing off talent. Rather, it should focus on God. Yes, people have spiritual gifts and talents, and they should use those in church, but, ultimately, the focus should be on God.
5. On the DVD, Jim said that the problem is not that prayer isn’t in schools, but that prayer isn’t in churches. There were a couple of people who were not at the Bible study last night, and I wish that they had been there just to hear that. They complain about prayer not being in schools.