A Bible class teacher asked her second grade class, “How many of you say your prayers every night?” Every student in the class raised their hands except one. The teacher asked the boy who didn’t raise his hand, “Tommy, why don’t you say your prayers every night?” He replied, “Some nights I don’t need anything.”
My research and personal observation is that Tommy is not alone in his understanding and practice of prayer. Many adults share his attitude. Prayer is an emergency hotline to heaven when a need arises. When researching for my book, Don’t Stop Praying; The Answer Is Coming, I discovered the average congregation prays approximately 15 minutes each week. This included the prayers in the assemblies, Bible classes and other times. This raises the question, whatever happened to prayer?
As we champion a plea to restore New Testament Christianity, based on the Scriptures, an interesting emphasis is missing. An emphasis that is referred to over 600 times in the Bible—Prayer! Bound to a one-hour block of time on Sunday morning we give preaching and the Lord’s Supper the majority of the hour. Announcements, singing and giving are given the next allotment of the hour with prayer receiving the least amount of time. Why?
When I was a boy, Wednesday night meetings were designated as mid-week prayer services. Now this practice is only a footnote in church history. I can remember with fondness when I was an undergraduate Bible student during lectureships on world missions and evangelism, assembling for all night prayer services. We prayed for the “Iron Curtain” to fall and for other obstacles to be removed that were hindering the spread of the Gospel. God answered those prayers.
In light of the fact that we have never had more books written on prayer, lectures, seminars, essays, magazine articles, and sermons on prayer, but, seriously, whatever happened to prayer? One is made to wonder with all these resources and so much teaching in the Bible on prayer, that it would be a MAJOR emphasis in the personal life of every Christian as well as the ministry of the local church. Sadly, all this hasn’t restored the dynamic prayer practices we see in the first century church.
Some form of prayer, prayed or pray is used approximately 165 time in the English version of the New Testament. Prayer is mentioned 16 times in the Book of Acts. It is mentioned 41 times in the Gospels. The prayer life and teachings of Jesus exemplify the importance He placed on prayer. He taught eight specific lessons on prayer and prayed thirteen specific times. In John 17 we have the record of one of Jesus’ long prayers, 26 verses.
Relative to the time allocated to prayer in today’s congregations, based on the references to the other practices we allocate time, here is a brief comparison. First, there is no reference to “making announcements.” Singing is mentioned 119 times in enter Bible, singer is mentioned 2 times in the Bible and singers is mentioned 38 times. In the Gospels there are two accounts (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26); there is one reference in Acts (Acts 16:25); one reference in Romans (Romans 15:9, two references in 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:15, 26) ; one reference in Colossians (Colossians 3:16) ; one reference in Ephesians (Ephesians 5:19); one reference in Hebrews (Hebrews 2:12), and three references in Revelation (Revelation 5:9, 14:3, 15:3). The Lord’s Supper is referenced three times in Acts, one of which is questioned (2:46), the other two are clear in Acts 20:7, 11. Preaching in one form or another (i.e. preach, preached) is used approximately 47 times in the New Testament, with 7 being used in the Book of Acts.
It should be easy to see that if we allocate our distribution of time based on the examples, or lack of examples, and frequencies of references to the practices in an assembly, prayer is lacking an equal share of time. Enough about prayer in the assemblies. Let’s move on to perhaps the most important area where prayer is lacking as a practice.
Each Christians is given 168 hours each week to manage anyway he or she chooses. If a Christian attends all the assemblies of a congregation where approximately 15-minutes is given each week to prayer, how about the other 167 ¾ hours during the rest of the week? Years ago I came across this wise observation by Andrew A. Bonar: “Oh brother, pray; in spite of Satan, pray; spend hours in prayer; rather neglect friend than not pray; rather fast, and lose breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper and sleep too, than not to pray. And we must not talk about prayer, we must pray in right earnest. The Lord is near” (Not sure of written source).
Again, whatever happened to prayer? Why do some many Christians neglect, as Paul commanded, to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)? Why don’t many who are sick “call for the elders to pray” (cf. James 5:13-18), instead of expecting them to show up? Why are meals eaten without prayers of thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4)? Why are trips and business ventures pursued without praying for God’s will to be done (James 4:13-17)? Why is when faced trials, setbacks, and with decisions, there aren’t prayers for wisdom (James 1:2-11)? Why in the midst of a missionary shortage, lack of preachers and leaders, don’t we pray about these needs (cf. Matthew 9:37, 38).
Whatever happened to prayer? I can only speak with authority relative to my own prayer life. I choose not to be accusatory relative to the prayer life of others. I do know however, that it is easy to document the frequency of prayer in a congregation. I also know from the statements and confessions of others, some reasons given for not being a perpetual prayer warrior. Some of these are: 1. I’m just too busy to pray. 2. I have good intentions but forget to pray as often as I should. 3. I’m not sure God hears me or answers my prayers? 4. I don’t know how to properly pray. 5. I’m not sure what to pray about. 6. I had rather ask others to pray for me. 7. I’m afraid of making a mistake. 8. I’m just too lazy; I know it’s wrong. 9. I’m not sure I believe God answers prayer. 10. I only pray when it is absolutely necessary. I don’t want to bug God.
In Mark 11:15-19, we have the account of Jesus driving out the money changers who were taking advantage of the poor. “Then He taught, saying to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it a den of thieves.’” I know the house of prayer is a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the church is referred to as house of the living God in 1 Timothy 3:15, we can draw a principle relative to the “called out” (ekklesia--church) people of God composing a “house of prayer.” There are numerous references to the identity of the church in the Bible, but how many times have you heard it referred to as “the house of prayer”? Isn’t it ironic that out of all the things members are involved in during the assemblies, prayer is the most neglected?
Whatever happened to prayer in your personal life? Whatever happened to prayer in your congregation? How can we restore the church to being a “house of prayer”?