When was the last time you participated in a faith-driven, expectation-filled prayer meeting that invited God to reveal His glory and show up in power at your church? Not where one or two people pray the will of God, but where everyone in the room is in passionate agreement that God will displace our desperation with a manifestation of Himself. In a prayer meeting like that, voices are raised, God’s will to save and heal and restore is confidently petitioned by faith as people cry out to the Lord with a palpable sense of determined persistence. Have you ever been part of a prayer meeting like that?
Sadly, so many Christians have never been part of a fervent, faith-filled prayer meeting. More than anything else, Harvest Bible Chapel is really a story of the prayers of God’s people. A church that is not praying like this is not Vertical no matter what else it may do. God must speak in the preaching, God must show up to receive our worship, God must ripen the hearts of people to the gospel, and all of that He will do if we pray biblically, but He will do none of it if we do not pray.
Prayer is the easiest thing to assume in church and the hardest thing to maintain. Prayer is the first thing our flesh stops when times get easy, and true prayer is the last thing we resort to when times get tough. Prayer has been the point of greatest victory in my walk with the Lord and the most persistent place of failure. I have prayed great prayers that literally shook the foundations of our church and led to an outpouring of God’s glory. I have laid out before God, pleading for miracles in my life and family when they seemed impossible, only to receive them against all odds in answer to prayer. Even now, revising these sentences in final edit, my eyes fill with tears at the memory of these monumental prayer moments. But I have also failed to pray and floundered as a leader, and falling into patterns of behavior that hurt the church and people. Where I have succeeded, it has flowed from the place of prayer; where I have failed, a more detailed analysis revealed a prior failure in prayer. In Vertical Church it all comes down to the praying. If you want to see a great outpouring of God’s presence upon your life and ministry, you must go much deeper into this matter of personal and corporate prayer.
In my experience, pastors and church leaders are not failing in prayer for lack of knowledge. It’s not that we don’t know about God’s promises or the way He prioritizes prayer; it’s that we don’t do it. Failing in prayer, we wander further and further from the Vertical Church vision. In our prayerlessness we seek to replicate Vertical results with weirder and increasingly fleshly horizontal methods. The story of my ministry and our church is really a chronicle of our prayers. My goal here is to challenge you to seek a new high water mark in personal prayer and in the prayer emphasis of your church. If you do, everything will change rapidly, Vertically.
Prayer in My Church of Origin
I grew up going to Central Baptist Church in London, Ontario. It’s the church my grandparents were married in, the church my mother was saved in, the church in which my mother-in-law, my wife, and I were baptized, the church I preached my first sermon in, and the church that welcomed worshippers to my grandmother’s and mother’s funerals. It was a large church, almost one thousand people during my teen years, and a church with a rich history of pastors, from its Scottish founder James McGinley to Franklin Logsdon, who went on to Moody Church, to Howard Sugden, a wonderful Bible teacher and confidant of Warren Wiersbe. Though the preaching was textual at best with frequent forays into “it seems to me,” and the worship was mostly shoulders up, people were regularly coming to Christ, and I was in a place where God was working. It was during the summer of 1981, while I worked as an intern in the church, that I discovered “the prayers of the saints,” which are fragrant “incense” to God (Revelation 8:4). After going evangelistically door to door each morning, we would visit senior church saints in the afternoons, and I had my first exposure to fervent prayer. I had often sat in a prayer meeting and heard a distant pray-er across the sanctuary, talking to God in hushed tones as every head was bowed. But to sit in the homes of these saints and hear them pray with passion and tears for the work of God in our church was truly life changing. Some prayers I heard were regular and formulaic, but a few were truly powerful with God. In those moments I instantly knew they were not posturing for the young pastors who came to visit, just humbly allowing us to walk by a river that ran deep and wide in their souls. Like discovering a secret factory manufacturing bombs for the war effort, I believe I had stumbled upon the true source of God’s work in our church. Far from the typically anemic prayers for minor health concerns so prevalent in poorly attended Protestant prayer meetings, these prayers were powerful, passionate, faith-filled petitions. After that summer I was never again comfortable with weak praying.
Excerpted from Vertical Church.