The chaplain of the Chicago Cubs recently contacted me to say that he had purchased 20 copies of my new book on prayer to study with members of the team.
Given the fact that the Cubbies haven’t won a pennant in over 100 years, it makes good sense from them to give prayer a try! If only more churches would give prayer a try!
Ask any congregation of Christ-followers if they think that prayer is important, and all heads will nod in unison. Ask that same group how many are committing daily time to prayer (i.e. in the “closet,” not just on the fly), and very few hands will go up.
Stop and think for a moment about what this prayerlessness means. It means that most believers are not praying for the salvation of their lost friends or for the spiritual protection of their children. It means that they’re allowing unconfessed sins to build up in their lives and that they’re cheating God of thanksgiving and praise. It means that they’re not interceding for pastors, missionaries, Christian leaders, government officials, schoolteachers and hurting friends.
What would it take to get the people in our churches off the bench and onto the praying field? Let me share what’s been working at Christ Community Church, where I am senior pastor.
1. Set a Good Example
I learned a long time ago that my number one job as a leader is to serve as a “poster child” for the biblical values and practices that I preach. When I speak on the topic of evangelism, for example, I’d better be able to illustrate my sermon with personal stories of recent conversations that I’ve had with unbelievers in my neighborhood and at Starbucks. Similarly, when the topic is prayer, I’d better have practical examples of what’s currently working in my life. If I’m not incarnating what I’m preaching, my sermons ring hollow and fail to impact others.
Are you known as a person who prays? According to Acts 6, prayer was one of only two activities for which the early church’s leaders insisted on protecting their time. You may never be able to lead like John Maxwell, speak like Andy Stanley, evangelize like Rick Warren or write like John Ortberg—but there’s nothing holding you back from praying like the best of them! Determine today that you are going to excel at praying.
2. Pray as a Staff
We have 30-40 ministry staff at Christ Community Church (about 100 staff overall). This group meets twice a week, first thing in the morning, for an hour of prayer. Our focus is usually on ministry concerns, although personal issues also surface. We try to keep the sharing of prayer requests to 20 minutes, so that the majority of our time is spent in actually praying.
And when we pray, we pray!! We break into groups of three or four and pour out our hearts to God. The room in which we meet rumbles with the sounds of intercession. I gently rebuke any groups that don’t get right to it, or that stop before the time is up to chit-chat. This is serious business!
Not too long ago, I overheard a new staff member being told by one of our veterans: “Get ready to pray—because that’s one thing we really do around here!” One of the side-benefits of all the hours we’ve logged together praying is that our staff has experienced an amazing unity over the past two decades—no major coups or huge defections. I guess the staff that prays together stays together.