“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1).
Imagine what it was like for the disciples to be with Jesus those three and a half years. In the end they worshiped him as God. In the beginning they idolized him like we idolize heroes today. His every word was memorized, every movement scrutinized, and in all ways they wanted to copy him. Oh, and the way he prayed—how they desired the life he had in prayer. The fervency he showed in prayer. The ease with which he prayed all night. The communion he demonstrated with God. And to be renewed in prayer as he was renewed—the power he received in prayer! What would it be like to pray as Jesus prayed? It’s no wonder the anonymous disciple in Luke’s gospel asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. It would be wonderful to pray as Jesus prayed. But what would it be like to be a church that prays like Jesus prayed . . . to be the praying church?
Praying Like Our Leader
It seems every generation of Christians has produced an enormous amount of material regarding prayer. As I was seeking to answer the question, “How can the local church help its members make prayer a priority in their lives?” Luke’s version of the Model Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer) came to mind. In just one verse we know that an anonymous disciple, after witnessing Jesus in prayer, requested Jesus teach about prayer “as John taught his disciples.” Could it be this disciple had been a disciple of John the Baptist and of Christ? And if he had been taught by John, what more did he need to know about prayer? Let’s stop there; the questions could continue.
Even now, more than 2,000 years later, we’re still curious about prayer. Why? And why do we struggle so with maintaining a culture of prayer in the local church? As I was writing this article, ensconced in my favorite writing spot—a quiet table in a coffee shop—a local youth group arrived. The youth minister is a personal friend. We greeted one another and bantered as friends often do. I returned to my writing and an idea soon came to mind.
I decided to poll the youth group about their thoughts on prayer. I love the unadulterated insights from teens. In a safe environment they’re not afraid to admit their failings, fears, or foibles. What started as a poll grew into an impromptu lesson. The disciples and the youth group shared a common desire—they wanted to pray like their leader. One 14-year-old girl in the youth group provided this jewel: “Well, you think you should pray like the pastor prays.” As a pastor and student of God’s Word, I too want to pray like my pastor—like Jesus. This is a tall order. We know from the biblical record that Jesus prayed often, he prayed for long periods of time, and his prayer time seemed to be a period of refreshing for him—a chance to recharge his emotional and spiritual batteries, so to speak. We talked about Jesus’ long encounters with God in prayer and the question arose about how that would be possible for the average believer. It is one thing to pray for five minutes, but how do you pray for five hours? Their insights reminded me of another lesson from young people.
Prayer in Action
Some years ago, while serving as director at a junior high camp in Montana, I wanted to fill the week with something new, something different from what we had done in the past. The kids were pretty much the same kids from year to year. After much prayer, I decided to add a prayer walk to our camp week. It had worked well in churches I had served in the past, but how would it work with teenagers? To say I was skeptical would be an understatement, but I was running out of ideas. So, we set up a 12-station prayer walk. I wanted to plan a walk that would slowly build in spiritual intensity throughout the journey. This would include stations for foot washing and communion. The camp had a special location for campfire devotions. A large cross dominated the stage area and benches circled the fire pit. This would be our twelfth station. The campers traveled through the walk by cabins, accompanied by their counselor. Each cabin, or counselor group, had unique instructions, allowing for a staggered migration so that no more than two or three groups were at a station at the same time. We began our prayer walk after dinner. As the evening unfolded, I realized that I had been wrong about what God could do through this event and what the young people were capable of in their spiritual walk.
As darkness descended on the camp, the groups were still engaged in the prayer walk. The sun sets late in northern Montana in the summer—even in early June. The groups hadn’t progressed very far, perhaps halfway through the stations. The 12 stations were unique in theme, form, and instructions. We anticipated that the prayer walk would take two hours to complete. Despite the differences in gender, spiritual and physical maturity, background, and a thousand other markers, all groups took approximately the same amount of time to complete the walk. The average amount of time to reach station 12? A bit over six hours. At first, I thought the pace may have been set by the adult counselors—until I interviewed them. The teens set the pace. Everyone was moved emotionally and spiritually. We agreed that the Holy Spirit touched lives that evening. When I finally reached my cabin late that night I collapsed, weeping and grateful for what I witnessed.
Prayer in the Church
Teaching about prayer in the church is but part of the task at hand. The old axiom bears repeating: “More lessons are caught than taught.” Those we shepherd should witness in us a healthy prayer life. The nature of the ministry assumes that we will be watched. Our walk is as important as our talk. So pray when the church assembles, pray in private, be practiced in prayer, and pray often. A friend of mine was confronted by a church member who observed that a recent service was completely devoid of prayer. They had forgotten to include prayer (their typical order of service included four public prayers) into the schedule that Lord’s Day. Consider adding prayer events to your church calendar. Healthy churches promote events to spark interaction between the churched and the unchurched, so why not promote events to spark interaction between Christ-followers and God? Prayer mazes, prayer meetings, prayer walks, and concerts of prayer are all great ways to promote prayer. Be creative. Look for innovative ideas from others. Don’t be afraid to look at other traditions. Prayer walks and mazes have been around for a long time. Learn from the ancients. Finally, stand back and watch what the Holy Spirit can do.
The year after we introduced the prayer walk at camp, the returning teens asked if we were going to do it again that year. That was the year we established permanent prayer stations at the camp.
Rick Page currently serves as the lead minister at Plateau Christian Church in Crossville, Tennessee. Previously, he served churches in Florida, Georgia, and Montana.