A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss several of these.
People think of prayer as being for themselves (Matt. 6:5).
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” – Matthew 6:5
Recently I preached from Romans 12:1-3 and verse 12. There is a great need for prayer that is not self-centered, but sacrificial and “other” focused.
The Hypocrite Prayer
It should always be considered a great honor to be called upon to lead a congregational prayer. When this happens, what is not needed is a long, drawn-out speech meant to make everyone else think the one praying is practicing for an oral theological exam. However, there are those who use this opportunity to do almost that.
How many times have you been in a church service when some “godly” gentleman was asked to give the closing prayer, the result being you fell asleep and hit your head on the pew in front of you? Many times the reason for a prayer like that is simply to make the one praying sound righteous. Is that not what the Pharisee did (Luke 18:11)? His intent was to be heard of men, not God.
On the other hand, if the intent is for God to hear, do we think He is going to be impressed with our seminary-level language? More often than not, when somebody goes on and on in a public prayer, God is no more impressed than the people in the audience…nobody is fooled. Fancy words can never hide a faulty character.
The Selfish Prayer
What I believe is more dangerous than the hypocritical prayer is the prayer that focuses only on one’s personal needs, not the needs of others. The reason these prayers are dangerous is that they cause us to be narrow-minded and self-centered. They are the opposite of sacrificial prayer.
Does anyone seriously think that Christians pray as much as they should? And when we do pray, how often do you think we pray for the needs of our neighbors, our friends, or even our enemies before we “name-and-claim” our own desires? My friends, this is a barrier to church growth. The lack of prayer is far more deadly to the church than the few who “stand in the corner of the streets” to be heard.
In the first verse of Romans 12 the Apostle Paul begs us to “present [our] bodies” as living sacrifices. “Living sacrifices” don’t care about self, only the glory of the One to whom the sacrifice is made. And when we are transformed by “the renewing of [our] minds,” we have the mind of One who would lay down His own life for the sake of others.
When we look further down into this chapter it becomes obvious that we not to think of ourselves as better than others, but to minister to their needs as our own. With that in mind, when we come to verse 12, what kind of prayer should we be continuing in?
When we become more like Christ, our prayers become more like His. We don’t know every prayer Jesus prayed, but of the ones we have a record of, how many included requests for better jobs, a better car, a nicer home, better health, etc? More often than not, He prayed for the Church, for unity, for His Father to receive glory, for His Father’s will to be done.
How awesome it would be if we all spent more time on our knees in prayer? How powerful would it be if we sacrificed our time in prayer for self and focused on others within the body? What would happen if we would just spend time praying, not just for our own congregations, but for the Church, the body of Christ?