MANIFOLD EXPRESSIONS OF PRAYER
A. From the above we see that a deep commitment to prayer is part of New Testament Christianity. Every disciple Jesus is called to abide in Jesus through a lifestyle of constant prayer.
B. However, from the Scriptures we also learn that a commitment to prayer has manifold outward expressions in terms of prayer formats, group dynamics, and organization. Outward forms, formats, and expressions of prayer can vary according to calling (individual or corporate), divine mandates, circumstances, and culture.
C. King David, the Apostle Paul, and Anna were all deeply committed to prayer.
Psalms 17:6 (NIV)
I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Luke 2:36-37 (NIV)
36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
2 Timothy 1:3 (NIV)
I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
D. Question: Which of these three do you think was the most committed to prayer?
E. David, Paul, and Anna were and will always be part of the “house of prayer” in their identity. However, prayer found expression differently in their lives according to their different callings. From a foundation of prayer, David ruled a nation. From a foundation of prayer, Paul went to the nations. His prayer furnace was often a prison cell. Anna sat night and day at the Lord’s feet in the temple as her full-time calling. As part of their life of prayer David and Paul often visited and prayed in the temple, but then left and continued functioning as a house of prayer outside of the literal temple complex. But Anna was called in a full-time way to an actual place of prayer. Through her lifestyle of prayer and fasting, she built a sacred space where people could meet with God in fellowship and intimacy.
F. We should be careful not to judge others if their life of prayer finds expression through different means and venues than our own. Sometimes there can be unnecessary confusion, hurt, and misunderstanding caused when people confuse the value of and commitment to prayer (normal Christianity and applicable on a general basis) with a particular outward form of prayer (more diverse and calling-dependent). For example, I have observed a lot of hurt and misunderstanding between marketplace people, missions people, and house of prayer people (e.g. story of my friend – “Your purpose is to fund us.”) This often springs from a failure to trust the Spirit’s leadership in the lives of others as much as we trust His leadership in our own (loving our neighbors as ourselves). Sometimes it springs from pride, insecurities, defensiveness, and faulty paradigms. We need to trust Jesus’ leadership in the church.
Romans 14:4 (NIV)
4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (ESV)
17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
G. Having said this, there are also times and circumstances in which God wants all of His people – irrespective of what He calls Paul, David, or Anna to put their hands to outside of the “temple”– to stop everything they are doing in order to gather for corporate prayer with a solemn and sober spirit.
Joel 2:1-17 (NIV)
1Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. 3Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste— nothing escapes them. 4 They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. 5 With a noise like that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, like a mighty army drawn up for battle. 6At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. 7 They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course. 8They do not jostle each other; each marches straight ahead. They plunge through defenses without breaking ranks. 9They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows. 10Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. 11The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? 12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 13Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. 14Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. 15Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. 17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ”
H. On a group level, a commitment to prayer usually finds expression one of two ways: large group prayer meetings, or small group prayer meetings. Both are valuable and have their practical advantages and challenges. At the end of the age, persecution will increasingly drive us to small group prayer meetings. This is already true in many parts of the world. But the bigger prayer meetings are also valuable so long as we can conduct them.
I. One increasingly popular model and format of prayer is the “Harp and Bowl” model. This is what they use down at IHOP in Kansas City. This model mixes prayer, worship, and spontaneous with the intention of creating an atmosphere of enjoyable prayer. It is inspired by John’s description of worship and prayer as he saw it in his vision of the throne room in Revelation 5.
Revelation 5:8 (NIV)
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.