Pastors, we have to remember that the first calling on our lives is not to preach. In Mark 3, Jesus went up on a mountain and called the disciples to himself. He called them by name. That they might be with him, Mark says, “That he might send them out to preach and that they would have authority over evil spirits.” Notice the first calling, not to preach. First calling is he called them that they might be with him.
So my first calling, your first calling, leader, pastor, is to be with Jesus. Which obviously involves prayer. But we want that to go beyond us as God helps us to spend more time with Him. Remember Luther said, “The one who prays well studies well.” Spending time alone with God and praying makes the scripture come alive.
But how do we see the church change? Well, it’s going to depend on us. If the pastor doesn’t lead the prayer meeting and attend, that sends a signal loud and clear. This isn’t important. Because if it was important, he’d be there.
If we were fundraising, he’d be there. If he wants to teach the book of James, he would do the teaching. Ah, it’s only prayer. You know, a couple of people gathered, let a deacon do it. Why? Because it ain’t all that. But it is all that. If we’re going to lead the way in prayer, it has to mean a lot to us and we have to lead the way.
What to do in a prayer meeting? How to have a prayer meeting? I get emails all the time saying Pastor Jim, I’ve read some of your books and could you please help me because I’ve never been in a prayer meeting. I went to seminary; have a degree, maybe two. But I’ve never been to a prayer meeting.
I’ll share with you some things that happened in my experience. Things I’ve learned, mistakes I’ve made. Hopefully leader, pastor, this will be a help to you.
Our prayer meetings right now are very unstructured. We begin with praise and worship usually because the people have been waiting, gathering. We have the lights dim to kill surface noise, coughing babies, whatever. And they can just gather and come to the altar. They can sit in their seats. They can just pray. But we have a sign up on the screen, let’s keep it quiet and let’s settle before God and ask him to help us to pray.
And then we sing, because I think it is a good rule, isn’t it? To enter his gates with thanksgiving? His courts with praise? Because, as we remember what God has already done, that will help build our faith to what new things he might do. And then, it’s unstructured enough where, for example, someone calls in and there’s a baby hanging between life and death belonging to one of the members of the church. And we gather and we tell the people about it and they gather to pray.
Sometimes someone leads out. Then we gather in twos or threes around the building. Women with women. Men with men. And people lead out in prayer. And it’s a beautiful noise. My favorite sound is hearing the sound of people’s voices going up in prayer.
And it’s very helpful, I’ve found, to encourage people as they did biblically. In the book of Acts when Peter came back from the first persecution in Acts chapter four. They lifted their voices together and they prayed. So, not noise for noise sake. Not emotion for emotion sake. But that people are natural. We should not encourage emotionalism but we should let people pray loud. Sometimes it’s as quiet as can be and you can hear a pin drop in the sanctuary. Because there’s those moments too. Meditative. Praying the things you couldn’t pray out loud.
So we gather and we pray for different needs. Sometimes there’s an exhortation for five or 10 or 15 minutes and then we pray some more. Maybe for ourselves. We also have a prayer band that meets in the building from the morning till the night. Praying. They’re praying for all the pastors, all the missionaries, all projects, all everything. They’re praying. And they give us cards that we hand out and now everyone has a card that they can pray for.
Now, that prayer meeting happened, and it’s no model of anything, the one I’m telling you about. But it began and has its own … the way it evolved. But one thing I found very helpful is to do series, led by God, on prayer. Great prayers of the Bible. What great prayers did Moses pray? How about David? How about the prophets? How about Joshua? How about any prayers that Paul prayed? How about the prayers of the early church? And study the prayers that are in the scripture so that now people begin to have faith built.
Oh, prayer is not just prayer. It’s like, wow, we can make contact with God in a real way and he hears and responds to our request.
Finally, at the end of the service, whether it’s the tradition of your denomination or whatever, it is a very wonderful thing, is it not, to invite people to come to the altar? As they have right here in this house of prayer that I’m recording this in? To gather with their needs and their burdens so that they can pray. Maybe with the leadership or with some of the deacons. The other people might want to leave. But what is an altar service, or an altar time, but a mini prayer meeting?
One final word. I’ve come into our church building over the years, many times hanging by a thread. Burnt out. Not even ready to preach. And I found out, it’s so wonderful, that I can ask the people to pray for me as I did last night in our prayer meeting. Asking the church to pray for us, I think, is a good thing. And praying with the people in our church is a good thing. God will direct any and all of us to follow his route to being a more prayerful church.
I don’t think there’s any paradigms that we’re supposed to mechanically follow. I don’t believe in that myself because every church is different. Every leader is different. The spiritual temperature of every church is different. But as we come to God in prayer … we, pastor and leaders, say, “God, show me the next step.” Maybe we’re in the second grade. Take us to the third grade in prayer. Maybe your church is in first year of college. Well, there’s still another place to go. From strength to strength. From glory to glory. But let’s give ourselves to God and to prayer so that we can lead people to the throne of grace and see our church accomplish things for Christ that, really, we never even dreamed possible. He does beyond what we could ask or think. May God bless you on your journey with the Lord.
– Jim Cymbala
Life-Changing Prayer, a six-session video-based Bible study by Pastor Jim Cymbala explores how God promises in his Word to always hear you, answer you, and extend his mercy when you come to him. Featuring teachings by Jim Cymbala and interviews with ordinary people who received extraordinary answers to their prayers, this study will show how prayer can completely transform your life. It includes video teaching notes, Bible exploration questions, and personal study and reflection materials for in-between sessions.