"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." [Col 4:2]
Sometime ago, I drove past a church in my neighborhood which boasted of 50 different ministries available for the people from which to choose. In fact, a quick glance at the Yellow Pages in the phone book will reveal that almost all churches have programs and activities available for people. The list is endless: small groups, craft classes, exercise classes, children’s activities, women’s activities, men’s activities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
We have churches on almost every street corner in the United States of America - churches which are bustling with activity all being carried out in the name of Jesus. And yet, when it comes to making a genuine impact for the Lord Jesus Christ in this land, very little, if anything, is being accomplished. Thousands of dollars get dumped into church programs and activities every year in typical U.S. churches. Newer and bigger buildings go up every year, gymnasiums and ‘family centers’ are annexed to church buildings, and more and more staff members are hired. And yet, when we look at where the U.S. is spiritually and morally, we see that very little impact is being made for Christ in spite of these measures.
Whenever I read the New Testament, I can’t help but notice that people’s lives back then were not centered around bustling church activities, but around prayer. Not only did Jesus teach that we were to pray often, but the Apostle Paul’s letters are also filled with instructions concerning this. Because the people’s lives were centered around prayer, much was accomplished for the Kingdom of God, for the work was being done by God’s Spirit. There were no programs. And yet, thousands came to Christ in one day when Peter preached. There were no activities, clubs, or bulging church bank accounts. And yet, "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." [Ac 2:47].
In Zechariah 4:6, we read as follows: "'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the Lord.' While we in the 21st century Church like to read Zechariah 4:6, quote Zechariah 4:6, preach Zechariah 4:6, or engrave Zechariah 4:6 on church doors, walls, or plaques, the early church members lived it and stood upon it. Their lives were centered around prayer because they truly believed it. They believed that apart from the Spirit of the living God, nothing would ever be accomplished in the lives of their loved ones or the world around them.
So much of the world has crept into the Church today that many aren’t even able to discern how much we are relying upon worldly tactics and methods to advance the cause of Christ instead of relying upon His Spirit.
More and more churches are bypassing the Spirit and are relying upon programs, activities, skits, concerts, plays, book reading clubs, and coffee shops annexed to church buildings in order to persuade men for Christ. The lives of many church members have now become centered around church programs and activities instead of prayer and the Word, and this has cost the Church dearly in terms of men and women truly coming to Christ.
Christians who lived long ago did not have the worldly distractions that we have today, and it was much easier for them to devote themselves to prayer. But if we want God to move in the lives of our loved ones and communities, as He did in their day, then we are going to have to do as they did. We are going to have to devote ourselves to prayer. For many of us, this will require radical changes to be made in our lives. Centering our lives around prayer, and devoting our lives to it, is going to take extreme discipline and commitment.
There was a time in my life when I was involved in every church activity under the sun. If it was available, I was there. If it needed to get done, I did it. If I wasn’t teaching a bible study, I was heading up a church play, organizing a banquet, creating children’s ministries, or planning church hayrides. My life was consumed - utterly consumed - with church ‘busyness.’ In those days, I had absolutely no prayer life. I was so busy for Jesus that I had no time for Him.
I wanted to be a light for Jesus. I wanted to be used by Him to reach out to others, but I went about this incorrectly. I would invite co-workers or friends to church banquets, picnics, plays, concerts, or carnivals, and then get frustrated when they were not ‘impacted for Christ’. I don’t know what I was thinking at that time. I really don’t. To believe that a drug addict would be set free from the power of Satan, sin, and darkness simply by eating hotdogs at my church or attending one of its many concerts or plays was ludicrous. And yet, that is how I believed, and that is how many still believe today. Come to my church program! Get saved!
It’s a lot easier to dump money into programs than it is to commit ourselves to prayer and fasting, isn’t it? It’s a lot easier to rely on worldly activities and programs to advance the cause of Christ than it is to do it the old-fashioned way by devoting ourselves to prayer, isn’t it?
Several years ago, my husband and I came to the realization that unless we returned to the old-fashioned way of centering our lives around prayer, as the early church members did, we would never see the Spirit of God move in the lives of our children, loved ones, churches, and communities. Because we desired to commit ourselves to this way of life, radical changes had to take place in our lives. First, we canceled our cable television. While television is not a sin in and of itself, we observed that it keeps more Christians out of prayer than anything else does. It certainly was keeping us out of prayer, so we canceled the cable service. Occasionally, we might rent a DVD, but television is pretty much a thing of the past for us. We simply don’t have the time to devote ourselves to it.
Because we committed ourselves to centering our lives around prayer, we’ve also had to learn how to say "No" to many things that would have been used by the enemy to take us away from prayer. I will not give up prayer for anything. Many times I have received invitations in the past to attend different women’s gatherings, but I have had to say "No" to them because to attend them would have kept me out of prayer. I have also had to say "No" to many church activities as well in order to devote myself to prayer.
I have come to realize that my prayers will make an impact for Christ and His Kingdom more than anything else I can do or participate in. And because I have come to realize this, I refuse to devote myself to anything that will keep me from those prayers.
Do you hear laughter, brothers and sisters? Are you able to hear laughter coming up from the bowels of Hell as the Prince of Darkness and his minions behold the spectacle of Christians substituting church "busyness" and worldly methods for prayer in order to advance the cause of Christ? Have we been deceived?
Hell does not tremble at the sight of a woman selling cookies after Mass on Sunday morning or a man organizing "Movie Night" at the church. I will show you the one whom Satan fears. It is the woman who enters a room, closes the door behind her, reaches for her prayer covering, and cries out to her Heavenly Husband the very words which Rachel cried out to Jacob long, long ago: "Give me children, or I’ll die!" It is the man who shuns the golf course and thrusts the mystery novel behind his back because he wants to shut himself in with God. Like Jacob, he is the man who wants to be left alone, that he might wrestle with Christ until daybreak and not let go until he has received the blessing of God. My brothers and sisters, these are the individuals whom Satan fears! Not only this, but these are the individuals for whom Heaven will move!
God’s Spirit moved mightily in the days of the early church because those men and women lived lives that were devoted to prayer and centered around prayer. For too many people in our day, prayer has been reduced to nothing more than a few words quickly mumbled before hopping into bed for the night. For others, it is only something that you do when you go to church. According to Jesus and the Apostles, prayer is to be a way of life. Our lives are to be devoted to it and centered around it. It is not something that we do for 5 minutes on Monday and perhaps 10 minutes on Tuesday.
Do we understand what it means to love the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength? If we love Him in this way, it goes without saying that we will want to spend as much of our time with Him as possible. To the extent that we desire Him is to the extent that we will spend time with Him in prayer. Anything less than this is deception. We can profess to love the Lord Jesus Christ all we want, but the depth of our hunger, love, yearning, affection, and desire for Him will be exposed and revealed by the amount of time we spend in prayer with Him. He who loves little prays little, and herein lies the problem.
It’s easier to give Jesus our checkbook and church attendance than it is to give Him all that is within us, isn’t it? He doesn’t want our "busyness"; He wants our hearts. He doesn’t want our money, concerts, bake sales, banquets or pancake breakfasts; He wants our love. He wants us to spend time with Him. Do we understand His jealousy for those whom He loves? What woman would be satisfied in a marital relationship in which her husband spent no time with her whatsoever in order to devote himself to work? We apply these things to our earthly relationships, but not to our relationship with Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church.
We must listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Christ is calling us to pursue lives of prayer, not seasons of prayer. If we want to see His Spirit move in the same way in which He moved in the days of the early church, then we are going to have to devote ourselves to prayer, as they did. Our lives, like those of the early disciples, are going to have to be centered around prayer. Our lives cannot be centered around the things of this world with a little bit of prayer on the Sunday morning side, as many are today.
Do we understand what spiritual warfare is? God has given to us the supernatural weapons of prayer and His Word for the pulling down of Satanic strongholds in our world. The 21st century American church has ditched these weapons in order to put on plays, perform concerts, provide Jazzercize and pottery classes to local communities, build gymnasiums, sell burritos, books, and CDs, give seminars, throw carnivals, raise funds, and erect palatial edifices in order to win the lost for Christ.
Against the backdrop of church hustle and bustle, and beneath the shadow of our beautiful church buildings, people all around us continue to suffer against the tyranny, oppression, and strangulation of Hell and all its forces. We are fighting this war with the wrong weapons! If the battle is spiritual, then it goes without saying that the weapons we fight with must be spiritual as well.
Let’s get back to the old-fashioned way of living lives that are centered around prayer and devoted to prayer, for it is to this way of life that we in Christ have been called. Let us heed the voice of the Spirit in regard to this truth, brothers and sisters, for it is not by man’s might, nor by man’s power...
... but only by the Spirit that anything of lasting value will be accomplished for the Kingdom of our God.
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|Published by: Simon Whitney|
|Date: 2010-06-04 06:46:59|
I can't begin to describe how wonderful your article is. I have skim read it and will read it in more depth later.
However, everyone I know will be getting a copy!
I especially loved the bit about the early Church not having programs but having lots of prayer.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
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