In his book, Word Centered Church: How Scripture Brings Life and Growth to God’s People, author Jonathan Leeman includes a chapter, “The Church Prays.” He opens the chapter with a rather convicting (and accurate) observation.
A church’s prayer list will tell you a lot about that church and its members. Many church prayer lists that I’ve seen look like this:
Don’t forget to pray for… The Mason twins’ laryngitis … The senior ladies’ Sunday school bake sale … The Thomases’ sale of their home … The youth group’s car wash … The Robinsons, our missionaries in Ecuador … Summer jobs for our high school students … Bill’s pneumonia … Bill’s aunt’s double-pneumonia … Unspoken requests
When I first arrived in Kentucky for seminary, I joined a small Baptist church that had a prayer list much like this one. The vast majority of items were health requests (I’ve underrepresented the percentage here). Few of the items were relevant to the church as a whole, except for one of two “ministry” requests, like a missionary known only to the one member of the missions’ committee. And the person who read the list in our church’s Wednesday night prayer services never failed to have us raise our hands for “unspoken requests.”
This last category amazed me. If you’re not going to share the request, so that the church can own it with you, what good is acknowledging an “unspoken request”?
In fact, I think this category reveals something about how many churches and Christians view prayer. Prayer is a mechanism for inducing the Almighty to do what you want, and it’s essentially a private exercise.
J. I. Packer is surely right when he says that “prayer is the measure of a man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is.” Our prayers reveal what our hearts want. They reveal how we regard God, His glory, and His power. And they reveal the quality and measure of faith—do we pray often and carefully, or not much at all?
The same must be true of a church’s prayers. They reveal what a church truly values, and where it places its hope.
Ouch! As uncomfortable as it may be to admit it, I think he has touched on a truth. As individuals and as a corporate body, we need to reexamine what we pray for and how we pray.