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