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The Prayers of the Faithful

July 18, 2014

Earlier this morning I went to the monthly prayer breakfast for the men of our church.  The fellow who coordinates this breakfast is always faithful to ask the entire congregation for things we can pray for.  Today he was a bit discouraged that so few give prayer requests each month.

This set off a lively discussion about prayer and how we go about corporate prayer in an American evangelical culture.  I’ve taken some if the discussion to heart and pondered this most of the morning and I think there are some things about prayer in church that may lead to the relatively light response that always seems to come.

One thing I am pretty sure is not the problem is the idea that nobody believes in prayer or wants people praying for them.  We are evangelicals, of course we believe in prayer.  In addition, I am pretty sure that there is nobody out there who feels they are overdoing it in the prayer department; that the reason they don’t share is that they already feel there is enough, or perhaps too much, prayer going on for them.

One non-theological issue that limits the requests is probably busyness.  The e-mail comes in and in the busyness of the day is soon overwhelmed by urgent matters and before you know it, the request is forgotten. 

There are personality issues too.  Public prayer, like evangelism, is one thing where extroverts seem to fit the model of what is required better than introverts.  Some people happily ask for prayer because they lost a sock in the wash while others are not comfortable speaking up in a large group setting.  We might say that the Bible commands us to pray for one another (or evangelize) but it seems unlikely that God continually makes millions of introverts and then insists they pretend to be extroverts at prayer time.

But I also feel there are other issues at play here.

–          Americans are culturally attuned to being self-reliant and independent.  This blogger calls this attitude a “false Gospel destroying American Christianity.”  She is probably right.

–          Another factor, and one that was mentioned this morning, is the idea (in my words) the institutionalizing of prayer that we have.  We have weekly or monthly prayer meetings with set structures and rules.  In our case, those who submit the prayer requests have no idea who will see them and if feels impersonal.  The introverts mentioned above may already have a select one or two praying for example.

–          There is sometimes a concern that our churches are not safe places to be vulnerable.  We end up sharing “safe” requests like illnesses, or “Pray that I get the new job.”  There are other issues though, particularly in large-group or impersonal situations, that are much more dangerous.  Ask for prayer for such things as marital difficulty or an urge for pornography, among others, and you might find yourself shunned or shamed.

–          Finally, I don’t think that our churches really do community well.  I read the “had all things together” passages in Acts and just can’t see us doing that well.  Perhaps organized, scheduled events like the monthly prayer breakfasts need to be reviewed from time to time.  Perhaps creating sharing communities in our churches needs a lot more thought than we give it.

What do you think?

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