Thursday, May 10, 2007

Is a National Day of Prayer really helpful?

The National Day of Prayer for this year has come and gone. It is time we investigated the whole concept a bit further.

I don’t have anything against such a “National Day…” Anytime God’s people get together to praise and thank, to confess and intercede, all the better. But the issue, which is addressed precious little these days, lies further on.

E. Stanley Jones, the late Methodist missionary to India, once said that “Where there is no effective prayer life, the heart of religion has ceased to beat and…becomes a dead body of forms and customs and dogmas.” And yet the vast majority of lay and clergy alike don’t practice a consistent and daily practice of prayer and thus fall as casualties before the admonition of James: “The prayers of a righteous man availeth much.” Righteousness is a matter of God’s grace and prayer is one of the chief means of that grace.

Jones continues: “If I were to put my finger on the greatest lack in American Christianity, I would unhesitantly point to the need for an effective prayer life among laity and ministers.” And then Kagawa is quoted. To second-generation Japanese Christians in America he said “Your greatest lack is that you do not know how to pray.” Christianity becomes anemic and feckless without personal prayer lives. (E. Stanley Jones, How to Pray)

And what has happened to the church prayer meeting? Once this nation was known for Wednesday night prayer gatherings where people labored in getting through to God. Now, if there is a prayer meeting at all, it is too often the most boring meeting of the week, little attended and the hour is crammed with singing, preaching and requests more than fervent prayer.

Pastor Jim Cymbala swears that Brooklyn Tabernacle went from “doomed” to dynamic after he sensed God speaking to him: “If you and your wife will lead my people to pray and call upon my name, you will never lack for something fresh to preach. I will supply all the money that’s needed, both for the church and for your family, and you will never have a building large enough to contain the crowds I will send in response.”

“Lead to pray.” In Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire Cymbala then quotes that great Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.

All of this to ask: What use is a National Day of Prayer if no one has a prayer life, and local churches aren’t passionately interceding?

We need the following:

  • Pastors who spend at least an hour a day in personal prayer thus leading by example in this most consequential church dynamic.

  • Churches who reclaim a time for fervent intercession either during the Sunday service or at something like a Wednesday prayer meeting or both.

  • We need pastors to begin beckoning their people to consistent and ardent prayer and fasting as a local church standard.

  • We need seasons of prayer where pastors and laity alike are honing in on the life of holiness God desires for all of us.

  • Then…we need to participate in the bigger vision of “National Days of Prayer.”

I just have this funny feeling that doing the last without the former won’t mean much to God. And that all of these together in abundant fashion across the nation will likely mean revival.

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At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an excellent perspective on Prayer. We as Christians need to take to heart this advice.

At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Pastor Chris McCall said...

I applaud your willingness to speak the truth to the body of Christ. What good is a National Day of Prayer if it is not first a way of life.
I have repented for any neglect in my life as a pastor who has a heart for our nation.
I pray that everyone heeds the call to pray you have placed before us. Next year our pastors to lead the people to the National Day of Prayer. But the lifestyle must start NOW!
Thank you again Matt for your heart!

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Matt Friedeman said...

Thanks, guys.

I want my church to always be figuring how we can do better at prayer.

I want to always be wrestling with the issue in my personal life, too.

Bless you!


At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really appreciated your article on the National Day of Prayer. I've had similar thoughts but never expected to see an article like this one. I'm not able to attend church now but quite possibly my most effective service to the Lord may be the prayer time I've scheduled nightly, usually between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. With no interruptions, I can often pray the most effective prayers. I'm convinced that it is of utmost importance that Christians be called to Intercessory Prayer. Please keep urging the church to do so.
May God Bless you and your ministry.

At 8:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. You have spoken the truth in love. The Lord has for some time convicted me regarding our Wednesday night "prayer service." We do everything but pray. I'll keep harping on the point until something changes.

At 3:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GOD said "If MY people will humble themselves and pray and seek MY face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and heal their land." II Chron 7:14. We prayed, HE heard and the USA is changing. In Temple, TX, we have a citywide prayer meeting every Monday night and seek HIS face. We know GOD answers prayers.
We have an area wide prayer chain. There were 50,000 different NDP events recorded and probably many more that were not. I would say HIS people pray. IF they are not praying in your area then start a prayer group. JESUS will show up.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Greg said...

It's probably better that the NDOP exists than that it doesn't (Mark 9:40).

However, only the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).

Many prayers in many contexts come short of these requirements. This is the love of God that we keep His commandments - 1 John 5:3. Many transgress the commandments of God.

Prayer on the "street corners" at NDOP events needs to be greatly exceeded by prayers in the closet, in families, and local congregations (Matt 6:5-6; Jer 10:25; Acts 12:5)

Rev 7:15 describes they that are before the throne of God as serving Him day and night. They before the throne are active day and night and prayer requires a similar vigilance. As we seek to do His Will on earth as it is in heaven, an area of service for every Christian is persistent, God-honoring prayer that every nation (and not just the USA) would fully become the inheritance of the LORD Jesus Christ (Psalm 2:8)

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Ms.Green said...

Good post! I think part of the problem is Christians who think prayer is something to be reserved for emergencies and Sunday mornings. Until we are spending regular, dedicated time on our knees each day, along with personal reading and study time of the Scriptures, we won't truly experience God and all He has planned for us. God is not a genie in a bottle. He is a God to be worshipped and glorified daily. Pray without ceasing!

At 2:55 PM, Blogger WRHalverson said...

According to an article in Wikipedia, the original purpose for the National Day of Prayer was for all citizens to pray as their congressional leaders were in the process of forming our new nation back in 1775.

President Ronald Reagan chose the first Thursday in the month of May for our nation to officially recognize this day for our country.

Our government certainly does not hold the nation or church accountable for missing or forgetting this day.

There are no police standing at our doors making sure we are on our needs praying for our leaders.

In fact its more fun to be critical than to be in prayer.

Perhaps if we could be reminded of what it was like back in 1775, then we might begin to see how much we've taken for granted.

At that time, our countrymen died so that we as a nation might be free.

The Messiah died so that we as lost souls might be free.

Both knew what salvation meant.

Even though we have a supposed separation of church and state, God has made it possible that our government should grant us one day to be on ours knees in prayer to our God.

There may come a day when we are forced to bow to a political leader instead.



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