Plenty of Seats at a Prayer Meeting

Last night, we had our first Wednesday night prayer meeting.  I was so excited about it. I had not put nearly as much thought into anything else (except my sermon) as I did about that prayer meeting.  It was so important to me that people “enjoy” it and not simply bear through it.  There was music, a short devotion, pastoral prayer, silent prayer with promptings, small group prayer, and a closing congregational prayer.  When the time came for everyone to be there, we had 7 adults show up.  I have to be honest, while I was and am so thankful for the 7 who showed up, I felt like a kid who invited all his friends to a birthday party and then very few show up.  We sang, studied, and prayed; overall, everything went well.  Some might say that I should be thankful for the 7, and I am (I really, really am; I am not discounting them at all), especially since we had prayer meetings on Mondays and only 3-5 of us showed up.  We doubled our numbers!  But, in being honest, I went home asking myself: Why do people not believe in and/or prioritize corporate prayer?  This is not just a question I have in regards to last night’s situation. This is a Church-wide systemic problem!

That being said, I do know that not everyone can make every prayer meeting that their church has.  Sometimes there are emergencies, sicknesses in families, previous plans, birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, etc.  I understand those things completely.  I went to bed last night more deflated than a New England Patriots’ football when the playoffs are on the line.  I woke up this morning in the same fashion.

As I wrestled through my feelings in prayer it dawned on me that so often we as pastors and churches emphasize prayer, but often in the private setting (i.e. prayer closets).  At the same time, we have a lot of people who do not pray aloud because there is this self-consciousness that others are judging their prayers.  Sister Betty was a 2 at best, but Brother Maxwell gave a solid 7 (because 7 is the number of perfection).

Quickly, let me say that no one has to pray aloud.  Corporate prayer is not about praying so others can hear you.  It is about joining together in one spirit to pray to our Father who hears us.  If you are afraid of public speaking or afraid of being judged, you don’t have to pray aloud.  Pray in your mind and heart.  On the same note, if you are praying aloud only to hear yourself speak, do everyone (especially yourself) a favor and keep your lips zipped. Pray in your heart and mind.

As for the emphasizing of private prayer: private prayer is huge.  Every Christian should be in prayer privately.  But every Christian should also be in prayer corporately.  The benefits of corporate prayer are astounding.  I began to look up in Acts the effects of corporate prayer.  Before I did though, I remember our Lord calling on Peter, James, and John to pray together.  “When He reached the place, He told them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation,’” (Luke 22:40, HCSB).  We of course know that these men decided to sleep rather than pray, and we know that they, in fact, fell deep into temptation.  A church that does not keep up with corporate prayer is a church that cannot stay pure and undefiled.  So often we quote 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray constantly,” as if Paul was writing to individuals.  He wasn’t.  He was writing to the church at Thessalonica.

If you took a brisk walk through Acts, you’d see that the results of corporate prayer were results that we as individuals and churches long to see.  Acts 1:14 had the apostles praying together, resulting in one to take up the mantle of Judas and the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in the salvation of thousands.  In Acts 2:42 we see that they devoted themselves to praying (along with other forms of worship) resulting in wonders being performed (not here to debate cessationism/continuationism; just giving the biblical result), favor with God and their community, and even more souls saved.  In Acts 4:24 they prayed together for boldness and strength and their prayers were answered.  In Acts 12:5, the people prayed together for Peter.  I love how this verse reads.  “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church,” (HCSB).  Prison versus prayer.  Iron bars and shackles are not as powerful as earnest prayer.  It wasn’t that individuals prayed in their homes or offices or riding their donkeys.  They purposefully came together to pray to God for him!  The church was in prayer and worship (Acts 13:23) when the Spirit led them to set Paul and Barnabas aside for missions, then they prayed and fasted before laying hands on them and sending them off.  Paul and Silas were in a Philippian jail, when they began to pray together.  The doors were opened, and they were free, but by prayer and providence they stayed, leading their own jailer and his household to Christ.

There are other times of corporate prayer that the Bible mentions as well, but my point has been made. There is something significant about corporate prayer.  It is not just something to do if we have nothing better to do.  It ought not be a drudgery and it ought not be boring.  Going back to Acts 12:5 for a moment: how did the church pray?  They prayed earnestly.  Can anything being done in earnest be boring?  The very definition and thought of earnestness defies the notion of boredom.  Perhaps if we are bored with prayer (corporate or private)  it is because we are not earnestly (passionately, zealously) coming before the Lord, but rather casually coming before Him.  John Piper wrote:

Prayer is the walkie-talkie on the battlefield of the world.  It calls on God for courage (Ephesians 6:19).  It calls in for troop deployment and target location (Acts 13:1-3).  It calls for protection and air cover (Matthew 6:13; Luke 21:36).  It calls in for firepower to blast open a way for the Word (Colossians 4:3).  it calls in for the miracle of healing for the wounded soldiers (James 5:16).  It calls in for supplies for the forces (Matthew 6:11; Philippians 4:6).  And it calls in for needed reinforcements (Matthew 9:38).  This is the place of prayer–on the battlefield of the world.  It is a wartime walkie-talkie for spiritual warfare, not a domestic intercom to increase the comforts of the saints.  And one of the reasons it malfunctions in the hands of so many Christian soldiers is that they have gone AWOL….

For I am more convinced than ever that this gift is no mere convenience with which we settle in more nicely to this world.  Rather, God has given us prayer because Jesus has given us a mission.  God’s pleasure in the prayers of his people is proportionate to his passion for world evangelization.  We are on this earth to press back the forces of darkness, and we are given access to Headquarters by prayer in order to advance the cause.  When we try to turn it into a civilian intercom to increase our material comforts, it malfunctions, and our faith begins to falter. (The Pleasures of God, Multnomah: 2012, pp. 214-215)

Can you imagine a radio operator on the battlefield casually calling in for an airstrike or reinforcements or a medic?  There’s a zeal, a passion, an earnestness that comes in the heat of battle.  However, pushing a button on an intercom is low-key and generally listless.  How do we ever possibly go to God passionless?  How can we describe prayer meeting as boring?  How can we view it as unimportant?

In last night’s meeting my pastoral prayer included these words,

We are so obsessed with trivial things, but we want to be captivated with things eternal.
So much of little worth gets our attention.
We confess inattention to your Word.
We confess fickleness of our affections,
and our unbelief limits our trust that you, O God are
able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.

We don’t see our prayers answered with such abundance, and so we doubt.
We know our problems are greater than we can solve.
But we are afraid to go out on a limb and really cast our care on you.
What if you don’t answer as we want?
What if family relationships don’t improve–but get worse?
What if loved ones remain disinterested in spiritual things?
What if my desperate heart’s cry goes unanswered?
(Wendell C. Hawley, A Pastor Prays for His People, Tyndale: 2010, p. 83.)

Have we become so jaded by unwanted answers to prayer or unanswered prayer that we simply don’t want to pray?  Let us never be disenfranchised with prayer or with the God who answers our prayers.  Let us persist in prayer together with passion for our God, His Word, our church, our community, our world, our persecuted brothers and sisters.  May we no longer pray passionless or disinterested prayers.  Let us make prayer (private and corporate) a priority.  It is not, “I have to go to prayer meeting, but I get to go to prayer meeting.”  May it become the highlight of our week!  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–dwell on these things,” (Phil 4:8, HCSB).

The Breakdown of Justice and the Gospel that Calls Us to Restore It: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Dallas Police Officers


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” (Gen 1.1, HCSB).  By the end of the six days this earth and all that was in it was perfect.  It was beautiful and delightful and safe.  “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good,” (Gen 1.31a, HCSB).  God had set up a family structure:

So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female. 

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth, (Gen 1.27-28, HCSB).

Man and woman, having children, governing the earth well.  That was what we were called to do.  All the while, glorifying God in every action.  There was no sin, no fear, no shame.  Today we can’t imagine such a life.  Every part of our lives is surrounded by sin, by fear, or by shame.

We know the story of the fall of Adam and Eve.  We know the results.  First was sin, then shame, then fear.  We know the curse of sin upon our land.  We know the result of such a curse.  Within a generation there was murder.  Because of God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering and the rejection of Cain’s, Cain was angry.  “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’  And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him,’” (Gen 4.8, HCSB).

One man, who should have been trusted, murdered the one he was supposed to care for.  He knew it.  He was not ignorant of his obligation.  When confronted by God about the whereabouts of Abel, “‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s guardian,’” (Gen 4.9b, HCSB)?  In this short sentence, we see a deep knowledge that he was indeed his brother’s guardian and a thinly veiled attempt at excusing his own sin.

Within four chapters of the Bible we see that life went from perfect to bad to worse.  The curse of the fall took both the family and the government structures into a downward spiral.  We have seen this same downward spiral throughout this week.  Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killed by police officers, five police officers killed and many more shot in Dallas by snipers during a protest, and as I am preparing Katie shared the news that an officer in Ballwin shot.

How are we to think about these things?  How should we respond?  For the next few minutes I am hoping to present a biblical basis for having a godly, Christ-like mindset and response.  And my hope is that as you come into contact with others that you give them the same biblical, Christ-like mindset and response.

First, we need to regain the family structure.  The first thing to fall after Adam and Eve’s sin was the family.  Before the fall, “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame,” (Gen 2.25, HCSB).  After the fall, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves,” (Gen 3.7, HCSB).  Barriers were set up between man and wife.  Those barriers, as we saw, grew between brother and brother.  Those very same barriers continue to grow bigger and bigger.  Today the barriers divide us so completely that we have forgotten that we are brothers and sisters—that we are family.  I’m not talking about spiritual family; I’m talking about blood family.  We all descend from the same two people, Adam and Eve.  We all have the same ancestor with Noah and his wife.  The blood that ran through them, runs through us.

This is the concept of Israel’s relationship with many of the nations around them.  Jacob and Esau, Israel with Edom.  “Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, ‘This is what your brother Israel says’,” (Num 20.14, HCSB).  Esau was Jacob’s brother.  Jacob who was the ancestor of these people by more than 400 years!  Edom apparently had the same understanding that many of us have today.  There’s no longer any brotherhood between Edom and Israel.  But Israel, but God Himself, saw things differently.  The same could be shown for the Moabites and Amonites, and so forth.

We are called to love.  We are called to love our neighbors—to, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Lev 19.18, HCSB).  We love to quote the verse, but living it out is much harder than quoting it.  In fact, most of us know it as the second greatest command of Scripture, but few of us know its context.  It is part of the Holiness Code, which begins with, “Be holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy,” (Lev 19.1, HCSB).  Loving your neighbor as yourself shows your growth in holiness.  It shows that you are set apart and that you’re not like the rest of the world.  You’re not falling into the traps of racism and prejudicism and phobias.

By verse 9, God begins to deal directly with how one is to love his neighbor.  Verse 18 is just a summary of all that is said between 9 and 17.  Loving your neighbor means to feed them, provide for them, not steal from them, not deceive them or lie to them.  You must not bear false witness against them because it is profaning God’s name.  You must not oppress them or underpay them for their work.  You must not curse the deaf (because they can’t hear you) or stumble the blind (since they can’t see you).  In other words, it is our job to make sure that our neighbors are safe and secure.  It is our job to make sure that our neighbors receive justice.  Which is exactly what God said in verse 15,

You must not act unjustly when deciding a case.  Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly.  You must not go about spreading slander among your people; you must not jeopardize your neighbor’s life; I am Yahweh, (19.15-16, HCSB).

A lot of what I see on Facebook and Twitter and the news is directly in violation of these verses.  But what I cannot see is what is not written.  What I cannot hear is what is not spoken.  The question is what is in your heart and mine?  Many will hear that a black man was killed by a police officer and they will already prejudge that he must have deserved it.  They will slander his name within their hearts, and perhaps on social media, or to their family members or to their friends and coworkers.  So blaspheme the name of Yahweh.

On the other hand, many in the black community believe that they have been treated so unfairly, so unjustly that they harbor anger and hatred in their hearts.  They have a point. Sadly, they have been treated unfairly and unjustly over and over again.  I remember telling a story to a friend of mine about how I fixed my tail light that was out.  He asked, “how long was it out?”  I believe it was two months.  He laughed and told me he wouldn’t make it two days without being pulled over.

There is absolutely a reason to be angry.  We should join them in that anger.  We should not tolerate injustice. So, secondly we must seek justice.

Mankind, He has told you what is good
and what it is the LORD requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God
(Mic 6.8, HCSB).

We must act justly.  God is a God of justice and righteousness.  He despises the unjust and the unfair.  So should we.  But when we see it, so often we shrug our shoulders to it because it doesn’t involve us.  But we are not called to shrug our shoulders.  We are called to seek out justice.

Speak up for those who have no voice,
for the justice of all who are dispossessed.
Speak up, judge righteously,
and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy
(Prov 31.8-9, HCSB).

Let us not kid ourselves, justice is critical.  We must speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.  Those who are dead in the streets, whose blood stains the streets cannot speak up and cry out for justice, whether they are police officers or black men.  God hears their blood as surely as he heard the blood of Abel cry out, but our judges and our juries have no such ability.  We are to cry out for justice.

This is how we show love for our neighbors, for our brothers.  We do not seek vengeance.  We are not called to take matters into our own hands.  We stand for justice.  We demand justice, but we do not take matters into our own hands and return vengeance for a wrong.  Vengeance belongs to the LORD, but we do seek for justice.  Justice is working within the law to make things right and fair for all persons no matter who they are.  For the Christian it is done in such a way that will glorify God.  Vengeance is not concerned with God’s glory, but only a person’s feelings.  We don’t want to make things right; we want to feel better.  We seek justice, not vengeance.

No one is above the law.  If a police officer murdered a man, we should seek justice for that man.  If a man murdered an officer, we should seek justice for that officer.  And I am speaking of murder, not justifiable killings. No one is to be beyond justice. Moses was not allowed in the Promised Land because of his sin.  David was not allowed to build the temple and had family problems throughout his life because of his sin.  Ahab and Jezebel both died horrible deaths because of their sin.  Ananias and Sapphira were struck down because of their sin.  King or peasant, it matters not, ought to receive justice, and we should seek it.

Injustice should concern us. Continued injustice should bring a righteous indignation.  But never should any sin bring hatred.  “You must not harbor hatred against your brother.  Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him.  Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh,” (Lev 19.17-18, HCSB).  To fall into the trap of harboring hatred is to fall into a trap of sin, which will lead you to places you must not go.  It will cause you to live prejudicially, whether against authority or against a race or against simply one who has been made in the image of God.  It will make you guilty before God.

Believe it or not the gospel does not dismiss justice on account of its being given by grace.  In fact, it enhances it.  When Paul was arrested, he sought justice.  He first wanted justice for his being arrested and beaten in public.  They did it to him in public and they should acknowledge their wrongs in public.  When arrested he appealed to be taken to Caesar because he believed he would not receive a fair hearing.

We also know that God is still a God of justice.  He disciplines us with merciful justice as his children.  “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it,” (Heb 12.11, HCSB).  Our justice system is broken, and we see evidence of it in the very fact that there is no fruit of peace and righteousness in this nation.  The God who loves His children disciplines them justly.  It is not wrong for His children to also seek justice for the wrongs against our brothers, our neighbors.

James wrote, “Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.  But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors,” (2.8-9, HCSB).  Loving neighbors gospelly-speaking, means favoring no one over another.  We do not favor police over black men or black men over police.  If we are more outraged over one than the other, we should examine our hearts to see where this spirit of favoritism comes from.

See, there is no favoritism with God.  We tend to see people as better because of their looks, their job, their wealth, etc.  God doesn’t.

But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets—that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction.  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Rom 3.21-23, HCSB).

In our world today, including much of the time in our churches, we find distinctions.  Would that we be more like God and see that every man is capable of sin, of heinous sin.  Neither the color of their skin, nor the color of their uniform is an indictment against them, but neither is it their exoneration.  We are all held guilty before our Creator, before the Law-giver.  He knows exactly who we are inside and out.  There is no hiding or pretending with Him.  Yet He loves us.  “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom 5.8, HCSB)!

Justice was mediated in love.  God did not overlook the justice required.  He poured it all upon His Son, Jesus.  We shall not suffer eternally due to our sins.  We shall be disciplined under God’s Fatherly justice meted out by grace.

The question is: have we such love?  Will we seek to imitate God’s love?  To love impartially and unconditionally?  Are we willing to not harbor hatred and seek out vengeance, even in the minimalist of ways?  Are we willing to seek justice for everyone equally? Because if we aren’t, then we really aren’t seeking justice.  Are we willing to set aside favoritism and prejudices (whether for or against)?  Are we willing to love our neighbor as ourselves?  So that if a person in our family was killed, how would we respond?  Are we willing to weep with those who weep?  While these responses are not the gospel, they are gospel-produced responses.

To seek justice glorifies God.  To ignore justice profanes Him.  To seek vengeance profanes Him.  The gospel calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and so we seek to laugh when they laugh and grieve when they grieve.  We seek to find justice when injustice is what is given.  We seek to love and not hate, give and not take, pour out kindness and not harbor bitterness and hatred.  We seek to repent of our wrongs and seek reconciliation and forgiveness from those we’ve wronged.

So let us go out and show love for our police officers.  Take them a fruit basket or donuts.  But don’t ignore our neighbors (by that I mean our coworkers, fellow students, next door neighbors, etc.) who are hurting and afraid just as much.  Love them too.  May God be glorified, and Christ be proclaimed.