Thursday, August 7, 2014

Prayer meeting

The church is big on meetings. Looking at some church calendars there are meetings scheduled every day of the week. Meetings to plan, to problem solve, meetings to fulfill a scheduled meeting. Meetings to plan another meeting. I am not saying meetings are unimportant. But, I do think some are unnecessary. We might need a meeting sometimes but we don't need to meet just to have a meeting. I don't recall Jesus scheduling a meeting. He met people over dinner and he met people who were traveling to the same place he was. He met people at worship. Other than that he didn't need a lot of meetings. He had times and places of prayer where he met people, too. This is what I want to focus on. Churches have a long history of prayer meetings although most have fallen off the church schedule due to a lack of attendance. "Prayer Meeting" unfortunately has a negative ring to it due to too many, long prayer meetings where a few people pray long, rambling prayers. Prayer meetings don't have to be this way. Prayer meetings should be exciting, perhaps a little noisy, and include everyone. I attended some prayer meetings in another country where concerns were lifted up and then people turned around, knelt at their seats and commenced to pray out loud, every one, all at the same time. Prayer is a community activity, of great significance.

Jesus shows us that as he regularly withdrew to pray and, especially at the main turning points of his life, we are told he took time to pray. He taught on prayer so we have a richly, nuanced prayer that teaches us how to pray all our lives.  In Luke 22 we have a detailed account of the last meal, Passover, Jesus had with his disciples. In painting the picture, Luke shows us a dysfunctional group of disciples sharing this meal with Jesus.  Jesus is getting ready for his walk to his cross and his faithful followers don't have their legs under them. They are comparing themselves to each other vying for the best positions in his kingdom. Jesus warns them of the tests to come even as he faces his biggest one. The devil had done all he could to throw Jesus off stride and he wasn't done yet. Peter, the captain of the group of disciples, comes in for a very specific alert. "Simon, stay on your toes! Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular not to give in or give out. When you come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start." (The Message) When you read on you see that Peter had not assessed his situation the same way.  Jesus knew what was coming so he bracketed the time of testing with a meal of forgiveness before and after (see John 21).

Fred Craddock observes in his commentary on this text."Christian leaders are not those exempt from fear, doubt, discouragement, and repeated testing but those who are supported by prayer and who, through repentance and forgiveness, find grace and strength to continue."

There are a number of cliches associated with prayer but prayer is not a cliche. It is what we do in the church. It is not a meeting, or a formula although prayer happens at meetings and we can use written prayers to guide us, especially the one Jesus taught us. We need to daily uphold our spiritual leaders in prayer for every one will go through times of testing. Each one of us needs to be alert, as well. I am reading a new book by J.R. Briggs entitled, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the midst of midst of ministry failure. Sensing a crisis among his brothers and sisters in ministry, he began a conference which was called, Epic Fail Pastors Conference: Where Pastors Put Their Worst Foot Forward. His first conference on failure was so successful he has put them on all over the country. His research and personal experience showed that 1500 pastors leave their pastoral vocation each month because of burnout or contention in their congregations.

If I were advising a young pastor today, I would tell him or her to pray. Make prayer the center of church life. Meet people to pray. Have prayer groups. Teach the Lord's Prayer to everyone. Make sure you pray it yourself. Use books like Eugene Peterson's Praying with Jesus in which I found this prayer today. "Dear Jesus, I see what you want me to become but I have no power in myself to produce it. I depend wholly on you to bring about the consecration you desire. Continue your prayers for me, O Christ."