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More Prayer: Put the Power Train Back in Your Church

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What if I told you I wanted to give you a new car? It’s fully loaded with all the latest tech and autonomous driving features. The interior is spacious and comfortable, with luxurious napa leather seats and a beautiful panoramic sunroof. And you can choose any exterior color you like.

There’s only one catch: The car has no power train. No engine. No transmission. No driveshaft, axle, or differential. It won’t move unless you push it yourself. Would you take that car?

In A Praying Church: Becoming a People of Hope in a Discouraging World, Paul E. Miller is concerned that this is what many of us have settled for—not in our cars but in our churches. Miller, the best-selling author of A Praying Life and executive director of seeJesus, makes the sobering observation that in large measure, “the American church is functionally prayerless when it comes to corporate prayer” (14). And, he argues, a prayerless church is a church without a power train.

The central aim of the book is to pursue some answers to key questions. How did many churches become “functionally prayerless”? How can we return to this foundational priority (Acts 6:4)? In other words, Who killed the prayer meeting? And who can resurrect it once again?

Who Killed the Prayer Meeting?

In Ephesians 3, Paul prays for the Father to strengthen the church by the Spirit so they might know the love of Christ and glorify his name with the power he supplies (vv. 14–21). This, Miller argues, is the church’s power train: prayer → Spirit → Jesus → power (25). “Prayer, he writes, “is the crucial spark that brings this Spirit engine to life. Consequently, prayer is not one more activity of the church—it lies at the heart of all the church’s ministry” (26).

Praying together used to be a staple of American church life. My grandfather was a pastor from the 1950s into the 1990s. Like so many of his contemporaries, he prepared sermons for Sunday morning and Sunday evening, and he led a prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a weekly prayer meeting in many of our churches today. Why is that?

Miller argues that one key factor is the rise of secularism in the West, “which doesn’t just deny God’s existence but denies the existence of any spiritual world” (15). If what you see is all there is, why spend time talking to the invisible God?

By definition, no Christian denies the existence of God, let alone of any spiritual world. But increasingly, our friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers do. The winds of our culture aren’t pushing us to pray. Even though we may not jettison prayer from our lives, if we’re not careful, we’ll drift away from it.

Even though we may not jettison prayer from our lives, if we’re not careful, we’ll drift away from it.

I doubt there have been many church membership meetings over the years where a vote was passed to cancel the prayer meeting. More likely, attendance at prayer gatherings gradually waned and other good things filled in the space. Slowly, subtly, our churches started praying together less. But if we agree prayer should be a priority, and if we’re hungry for the power that prayer ignites, how do we return prayer to its proper place in the church?

Who Can Resurrect the Prayer Meeting?

In Ephesians 1:17–20, Paul prays that the Father would give the church the Spirit-enabled ability to see the immeasurable greatness of his power toward those who believe, the very power that raised Jesus from the dead. Reflecting on these verses, Miller writes, “The Spirit made Jesus’s body come alive, and now he continues to make Jesus’s body on earth (the church) come alive” (29).

We need to ask the Father to work through his Spirit to resurrect what has died. Ask him to begin this work in your own heart. But get ready, this will lead you into what Miller calls the “J-Curve”: “Like the letter J, Jesus’s life goes down into death and up into resurrection. . . . [And] the Spirit doesn’t bring the power of Jesus separately from the path of Jesus” (106).

Before we rise with Christ, we die with Christ (2 Tim. 2:11). Before God brings us into the fruitful harvest of answered prayers, he’ll often lead us into the humility of confession, the crucible of suffering, and seasons of waiting on him (Isa. 66:2; Rom. 5:3; Ps. 62:1). But in due season we’ll reap, if we don’t give up (Gal. 6:9).

Those in formal and informal leadership within a congregation need the habit of prayer. As Miller notes, “A praying church is difficult to create without a praying leader” (123). Pastors have a special responsibility to shepherd our people in this direction. We cannot lead our churches where we haven’t gone ourselves.

So Miller encourages pastors to “descend into the hidden room of prayer, to slow down [our] entire ministry and learn how to pray together” (122). Then, as we gather our people to pray, and teach them what we’re discovering, we’ll equip the saints (Eph. 4:11–12). We’ll help foster a “vast army of praying saints who, energized by faith, engage [an evil world] with love” (84).

Restore the Power Train

A prayerless church is like a fully loaded vehicle without a power train. Without a working engine, transmission, and driveshaft, the car can’t fulfill its purpose. Better an economy car with a functional power train than a luxury vehicle missing key parts.

A prayerless church is like a fully loaded vehicle without a power train. Without a working engine, transmission, and driveshaft, the car can’t fulfill its purpose.

A Praying Church will benefit pastors, church leaders, and faithful members seeking to ignite the engine of the Spirit’s power through the practice of prayer.

Miller balances his theory of prayer with practical suggestions for praying at regular meetings, small group gatherings, and times of one-on-one fellowship. He reminds readers that “all great movements of the kingdom begin low and slow, with hidden pray-ers who keep showing up to pray. Who pray when they don’t feel like it” (170). This is encouragement for what’s likely to be a challenging effort to change a congregation’s culture.

Miller’s methods flow out of his personality and context, so not every suggestion will work in every church. However, the case he makes will stir the heart, inspiring readers to slow down and seek the Lord with his people, entrusting all things “to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).

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