By Will Baud
I first became curious about prayer when I realized that it was the most neglected spiritual practice in my life. I was a junior in college and was actively seeking to grow in my faith. I attended church regularly and was very involved in a campus ministry. My list of Christian activities was long: Sunday services, campus gatherings, dormitory Bible studies, ministry planning meetings, initiative evangelism, discipleship relationships, personal quiet times. Yet, the length of the list did not seem to correlate with my intimacy with God.
In the busyness of it all, I noticed a strange pattern in my routine faith involvements. From church services to Bible studies to personal Scripture readings, nothing I did ever focused on prayer. The activities I participated in only featured prayer as bookends for time dedicated to other things—prayer to open the Sunday service and to close it, prayer to start Bible study and end it, a one-minute prayer before ten minutes of reading Scripture on my own. When I gathered with campus ministry leaders to strategize about our efforts to be effective for God, we would pray before we planned, but we would never plan to pray. Prayer appeared to be a perfunctory religious signal used to initiate and conclude all of our sermons, discussions, and reading times. We never demanded that prayer receive our main focus and attention.
I realized that I did not have a good understanding of prayer and its purpose. If I was only using prayer as a warm-up and cool-down for the truly important parts of my Christian faith, why bother with it at all? I decided that I wanted to learn more about prayer instead of just continuing to go through the motions and never really get the point of it. So, I turned first to the Bible. I recalled that Jesus had a few things to say about prayer, and I figured I would go through the four Gospels and closely examine every mention of prayer that I could find. Not having a particularly high view of prayer at this time in my life, I assumed that I would not find too much in the Gospels on it and that I could wrap up my study in a month or two.
I was not at all prepared for how much God had to say about prayer in His Word. I ended up spending nearly half a year of my personal quiet times studying the topic of prayer as it is revealed in the four Gospel accounts. One of the most important things about prayer that I began to see was that prayer fueled all of Jesus’s ministry and walk with God. Prayer was the backbone of our Savior’s life, his direct connection to the presence of his Father.
Prayer is what grounded Jesus in obedience and faithful relationship with the Father. The Gospels portray Jesus as continually withdrawing to pray alone, giving many teachings on prayer, encouraging others to consistently pray, and relying on prayer in the hardest moments and final hours of his earthly life. I remember being impacted not just by the large passages on prayer, but by the many subtle, short sections of the Gospels that speak just as profoundly about prayer. Here are a few of the less frequently visited prayer scenes that I discovered in that time I spent searching through the Gospels:
Upon receiving the heavy news that John the Baptist had been killed, Jesus immediately went to process the situation in prayer (Matt 14:12-13, 23).
Instead of getting a good night’s sleep and eating a balanced breakfast (like I was always taught to do before a big day), Jesus pulls prayer all-nighters before he chooses the twelve apostles (Luke 6:12-13) and before he goes to the cross (Mark 14:32-42).
It is when Christ is praying that heaven is opened (Luke 3:21-22) and that he becomes transfigured and meets with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28-31), suggesting that prayer plays a powerful role in connecting us to spiritual reality.
Jesus is confident that Peter will endure in the faith because he has prayed for him and thwarted Satan’s schemes by his prayer (Luke 22:31-32).
I could go on and on about how much there is to learn about prayer in just these four books of the Bible! But to summarize, it was now clear to me that prayer was critically important to my individual walk with God. If prayer was so integral to Jesus’s life, it needed to be prioritized in mine if I ever hoped to become like Christ.
It just so happened that as I was rounding out the end of my study of prayer in the Gospels (and my junior year of college), I ended up in Southern California for a summer internship. I quickly got involved in a local family of churches called Reality (specifically, Reality Carpinteria and Reality Ventura). Just like how God had blown up my low expectations for prayer by teaching me from His Word, he blasted my low view of prayer in the church through this new Christian community.
Reality was a church that prayed unlike anything I had ever experienced before. They literally held prayer meetings for their prayer meetings. That is, they had small groups of people gathering to pray for the big prayer settings when whole congregations would come together in concerted efforts of corporate prayer. The concept of a prayer meeting was itself wholly new to me. Until going to Reality, I could not recall a single time I had gathered with fellow Christian brothers and sisters for the sole purpose of prayer.
At Reality, every major operational effort of the church—from Sunday services to planting new churches to all of the specific ministry groups inside the church—was supported by dedicated times of prayer. It was here that I first saw something as simple as a pre-service prayer meeting in practice. What was the effect of so much prayer? More stories than I have space to tell. But as prayer is communion with the presence of God Himself, one result was consistent: I always perceived the presence of God strongly during my several months at Reality.
I came to find that Reality is not unique in its use of God’s gift of prayer for His people. This gift is not just for us individually, but particularly for the church communally. For example, it is common for churches in Korea to host daily prayer meetings early in the morning. The most dramatic instances of this are when Koreans will gather in stadium-sized venues before sunrise and cry out in audible prayer all together, thousands of people at once.
Another modern example is the church, The Brooklyn Tabernacle, based in New York City. In his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Senior Pastor Jim Cymbala records the incredible journey of The Brooklyn Tabernacle over the past several decades as he has witnessed massive revival in the church and its local community, all driven by the prayer gatherings of God’s people. Today, the church’s website states, “We consider our Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting to be the most important service of the week at The Brooklyn Tabernacle.” This church actually considers the prayer gathering to be of greater significance than the traditional Sunday service.
In somewhat less recent history, a small church in Germany began a prayer watch in the early 1700’s. They committed to continuous prayer and had church members sign up for shifts at every hour of the day, every day of the week. That commitment to prayer ended up lasting over one hundred years as one faithful volunteer after another kept the stream of prayer unbroken for more than a century in what came to be known as “the Moravian Prayer Watch.”
Lest we think that these astounding prayer movements should be attributed to stylistic or denominational preferences of practicing the faith, the Lord shows us in His Word that these examples are exactly what we should expect as the church. As I continued to explore prayer in God’s Word, I moved into the book of Acts, and there saw quickly that prayer was the lifeblood of the early church (Acts 1:14). Along with the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, and the breaking of bread, prayer was one of the four pillars of the group practices of the church at its inception (Acts 2:42). All throughout the story of the church growing, every step was marked by effective prayer that aligned God’s people with His will and filled them with His Spirit (Acts 4:23-31).
Through His Word and His people, God totally transformed my understanding of prayer in my late college years. I was convicted to seek the Lord in earnest, private prayer, and convinced that the church must pray together in order to be the body of Christ as we are meant to be. In various readings, I have come across this quote from C.H. Spurgeon several times, and it sticks with me to this day:
“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!”
I am excited to have recently started a pre-service prayer meeting at Soma Midtown as one small space where we can regularly practice corporate prayer. My wife Becky and I lead the group every Sunday morning from 8:40 to 8:55, and we hope that every member of the congregation can get a chance to take part in the joy and necessity of praying together as a church body! We hope that our Soma body will become a people driven to pray because we know how desperately we need God’s Spirit to invade every corner of our church. There will be no presence of the Kingdom without the presence of the King Himself.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” -Psalm 127:1