In his book "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" Cymbala writes about a time when he made the conscious decision to make prayer the engine that drives the church he pastored (Brooklyn Tabernacle). He told his tiny little congregation that from that day forward they would measure the success of their church by their prayer times. He saw how we use so many other measurements for success; like attendance or money. But the church was born in a prayer meeting and he didn't see churches around him who put a priority on prayer. If you want to know what followed that decision, you have to read the book. In fact I'm challenging you to put "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" on your must read book list. Don't let 2017 end until you've read it. I read that book during the winter of 2007-2008 and God used it to set a passion in me for prayer and I really want prayer to be the engine that drives any church that I'm a part of.
The thing that I've discovered though, is that the pressure of doing church tends to drown out the call to be the church. In the process of planting Cornerstone Church, I've often found myself agonizing over the details of how we do church and feeling the pressure to get it right, but ignoring the one thing that God clearly asked us to do; and that's pray. I'm not talking about the quick little "bless my day" prayers. I'm talking about staying in communication with God and making it a priority that we schedule into our lives. God enjoys spending time with us, but we are so driven and performance oriented that we miss the rich times of being with our Father that we could have.
I was reminded of this on Monday evening by a text that I got from a friend who lives on the west coast. He has been an encourager via text messaging for the past several months as we plant this church but this time his text brought personal conviction. Here is the text that he sent: "What is the new church plant's engine? And how big of one was installed? And how good is that engine running and being maintained?" I read that and felt that gentle nudging from the Holy Spirit saying, "I told him to ask you that". I started thinking about how big the engine of prayer is at Cornerstone and realized that I really don't even know how we're doing with that. Just because we have a prayer time doesn't mean that we're really praying. We can close our eyes and say a quick little prayer and then just wait till the time is over. By the time our "prayer" time is over our minds are nowhere near to communicating with God. If we could see our prayer time from heaven's perspective, would it look like we are actually praying or would it look like a room full of people who have their heads bowed while they think about what they're planning to do when church is over?
My point here is not to heap guilt on us for not being better at praying. My goal is to stir something in us that begins to believe that we need these times of prayer. I know that we all have challenges and questions in our lives. It's amazing how much wrestling we do in our minds without taking those problems to our all powerful Father. But we weren't meant to figure out our life on our own. He wants to do life with you. When you're angry, you can tell Him. When you're disappointed, you can talk to Him about it. When you're unsure about the future, you can process with Him. When you've just had a success in your life, you can celebrate with Him... You get the idea. He wants to be involved in all of the stuff that is going on in our lives. As the lines of communication start to open up, we'll find a power to live life that we didn't know was possible. I can tell you from personal experience how much intimacy with God changes our ability to cope with the hard stuff. The darkest moments of my life have also been the times when I've experienced the deepest intimacy with God. So many times I've come to Him with a heavy heart and came away with an inner strength and a whole new perspective. He's usually not as interested in changing my circumstances as He is in changing me.
So how do we grow in our prayer times as a church? We don't need more noise or emotion, we need authenticity and a sense of our desperate need for God. So I challenge you to do this next Sunday. Open your Bible and read a passage or use the one that the leader provides. Look for two truths in the passage: Truth #1 God is worthy & Truth #2 We are needy. Spend some time praising God for the things that you see in the passage and then transition to admitting how much you need Him. Be specific and let Him into your deepest thoughts and feelings. You might be surprised how fast the prayer time goes and you'll know that something good is happening when you find yourself hungry for more prayer time.
So let's make this engine a God sized power source. There is no telling what He will do with a group of people who pray expectantly and let Him change them in the process.