by Samuel Mateer
We might as well not have church services on Ecuadorian holidays,” complained my friend, “because only gringos were there today.”
We might as well not have church services on Ecuadorian holidays," complained my friend, "because only gringos were there today."
Giving up is not an option. We had come to Quito to plant churches, not dismantle them. I recalled my days in Birmingham, Alabama, when I had prayed an hour a day for 10 families. Within a year all of them had become church members.
Now as a missionary, getting the time to pray wasn’t easy, but I decided to take three hours each Friday morning to pray for members and friends of the Quito church. Attendance grew to 60 and held there. Then came Mother’s Day, the biggest nonreligious holiday in Ecuador. If there ever was a day when no one would be in church, that would be it. On Friday I prayed, "Lord, if you will, show yourself in power and fill the church Sunday." He did, and it was. All 60 were there.
That year I was reading in Acts and noticed that the apostles wanted to devote themselves "to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (6:4). I looked at their prayer life and mine. Did they actually pray for half a day, as the record intimates? Was that one of the reasons that the early church grew so rapidly? I was doing administration, and ministering the word, but not much praying.
My home church had taught me to pray in daily devotions, but not much else. Missionaries surveyed in Quito said they spent about 20 minutes a day in prayer. Ministry prayer is something different. It is praying during the working day as part of your ministry. Prayer is not only for the work of the church, it is the work of the church.
The Bible emphasizes praying for fellow believers, not nonbelievers. Our usual prayer meeting topics-health and personal problems-don’t find much place in the Bible’s teaching about prayer. But other things do: that Christians should be strong, vibrant, faithful, loving, pure, sound, and sensitive to the Holy Spirit. (Kg., Col. 1:9-14; Eph. 1:15-23). Jesus prayed the same things for us and still does, as does the Holy Spirit (John 17; Rom. 8:34; Rom. 8:26).
Ministry prayer is extended prayer. Twenty minutes a day would have startled the apostles. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them a prayer that we can say in less than 15 seconds. Yet he himself spent nights in prayer, and he prayed often during the day (Lk. 5:16). So when the apostles in Acts asked to be relieved from waiting on tables in order to pray, they were following the example of Jesus. Paul told us to "pray constantly" (1 Thess. 5:17) and we don’t dare spiritualize that.
For a good part of my adult life I wrestled with the simple question, "Why pray?" After much work I have come up with the answer: because our Lord wants us to. In his sovereignty he has included prayer as part of his design to accomplish his will on earth.
I lost out for years because of my impatience. I wanted to see the bottom line. When I didn’t, I tended to revert to the devotional prayer a few minutes a day. But we fight a spiritual battle and don’t always see the results right away. We live in a frightful world where Satan could hold up Daniel’s answered prayer for 21 days (Dan. 10:12-13).
Ministry prayer keeps us on an even keel. Lack of ministry prayer no doubt contributes to missionary attrition. A short-term worker was expressing her frustration and lack of purpose when another said, "Remember when I was going through the same thing about three months ago? Sam suggested I spend at least an hour a day in prayer, and it has made all the difference. I suggest that to you." Checking with her later, I found that she was trying to pray for half an hour a day, but rarely made it.
Discouragment comes to drive us to pray for those things where we are most dissatisfied. Set goals in those areas- positive goals-and pray for them. Prayer is action, prayer is the ministry. We must not feel guilty about taking work hours to pray.
Part of our ministry is to encourage others to pray this way, too. When we challenge people in our churches to pray for an hour a day, we stretch them to goals beyond themselves. As they pray, they find a ministry, and this puts new meaning into their lives. Their worship and Bible study are enhanced because they see God answering their prayers.
Once when I focused my prayers on an elder-elect and his negative spirit, he began to change. But he really changed when he caught the vision that he could pray for the church rather than criticize it. Amazing growth through prayer.
While we devote much time, energy, and money to rallies and crusades, we have neglected the apostolic method of church growth: prayer and ministry of the word. Prayer seems like nothing compared to making it happen on the front lines. Prayer without ministry is the way of withdrawal of some religious orders, but it seems to me that ministry with little prayer is the norm of the Protestant missionary.
AN HOUR A DAY
During the first years in my second church I suggested in a sermon that we all pray for five minutes for one another at 9 p.m. After the service an elder-elect asked, "Did you say an hour a night?" I set him straight, explaining why we couldn’t pray an hour a night. What a travesty! Why not pray an hour a day? Only my cultural upbringing held me back.
An hour frightens us. Jesus started with the brief "Lord’s Prayer." We can teach people how to use that prayer the way Jesus meant it to be used. He gave the prayer in response to, "Teach us to pray," not, "Teach us a prayer." Each phrase starts a theme to expand in prayer. The scope of the prayer is limitless. We can include other Christians and concerns.
You can divide an hour into 12 five-minute prayer segments. Dick Eastman of Change the World Ministries suggests this order: praise, waiting, confession, word reading, intercession, petition, word praise, thanksgiving, singing, meditation, listening, and praise.
The church ought to pray together for an hour or more each week. In such meetings I find it much better not to give prayer requests, or have a sermon or Bible study, but to pray conversationally from the beginning. This kind of praying can be taught and learned. It means listening to one another, praying short prayers of one topic, and pausing to see if anyone else wants to enter into the same idea.
When you focus on one topic, any number of people can pray about it. If you took four topics, for 15 minutes each, you could easily have an effective prayer time.
(Those just getting started with the idea of conversational prayer can learn how to do this by studying Let’s Pray Together, a series of eight Bible studies on prayer, by Margaret Fromer and Sharrel Keyes, published by Harold Shaw, Box 567, Wheaton, Ill. 60189. $2.95.-Eds.)
Fasting and prayer go together in Scripture. Jesus commended it and the apostles practiced it. It wasn’t part of my background, but I know that fasting gave the early church the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
We have to deal not only with our attitude but also our priorities. All of us find time to do what we consider important. Time can be scheduled for prayer, days can be set aside for fasting. If we’re really convinced that this is what God wants us to do, we’ll do it.
A PLAN TO REACH QUITO
What if all the Christians in Quito spent an hour a day praying for one another? What would happen to the churches? Would they not grow? We could train all the Christians to do this without adding any more programs to their already overloaded church schedules. The members would pray for the programs already in place and begin to see results.
I’ve mentioned this idea to a number of leaders in Quito who are concerned about reaching Ecuador by the year 2000. We would have to set aside a year to train Christians to pray at least an hour a day. This would not be a one-shot deal. It would establish lifetime prayer patterns.
Our own denomination has tried a similar idea for the last two years. We called for a special week of prayer for all our work. Others have planned days of prayer, nights of prayer, and special times of prayer with prayer partners.
Dwight L. Moody in 1886 called a conference of 250 students at Mount Hermon, Mass. "It was to last a month. In those days they had a lot more time for meetings. Only one meeting was planned each day, and it was held in the evening. The rest of the time was to be spent in prayer, walks in the woods, and in conversation." The result was the Student Volunteer Movement and thousands of new missionaries.
I’m not far enough along into this ministry of prayer to say for sure that it’s the way to plant churches. It certainly played a part in the success of the early church. Why wouldn’t it prove so again? I’ve told my supporters that this is the way I am going. I’ve asked permission of the Quito team. I’ve asked our committee back home to send me an administrator "to wait tables" for me.
History gives me hope. Cotton Mather prayed for revival several hours each day for 20 years. The Great Awakening began the year he died. Luther said, "Now is the time to pray with might against Satan. He is plotting an attack on Germany, and I feel God will permit him because I am so indolent in prayer."
Jeremiah Lanphier, a Dutch Reformed missionary told to evangelize New York City, started in 1857 by advertising a prayer meeting. Within six months, 10,000 businessmen were in prayer meetings in New York. Within two years, a million converts were added to American churches.
It’s risky, I know. It could come to nothing. Quito is known as the "Light of America" because the fight for independence from Spain began in Quito. I’m praying that God will make Quito the "Light of America" spiritually. If that is to be, more Christians will have to develop ministry prayer.
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