A House of Prayer Experience (H.o.P.E.) for all people

A House of Prayer Experience (H.o.P.E.) for all people: How your midweek prayer service can be transformed

Midweek prayer meetings, as we once knew this gathering, could be described as dying, if not already dead. Many church doors are locked on Wednesday evenings. Even though some pastors may still open a small room for a few gray-haired saints to gather, the future looks bleak. . .

-pastor for discipleship at Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church and Adjunct Religion Professor for the Department of Health and Biomedical Sciences at Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences, Orlando, Florida, United States.

Midweek prayer meetings, as we once knew this gathering, could be described as dying, if not already dead. Many church doors are locked on Wednesday evenings. Even though some pastors may still open a small room for a few gray-haired saints to gather, the future looks bleak.

If you are longing to see your midweek prayer service resurrected or revived, check out the following seven strategies working wonders in our church where attendance at midweek prayer service has quadrupled and then quadrupled again in the past five years.

Strategy #1: Plan a Spirit-led service

Our House of Prayer Experience1 begins promptly at 7:00 p.m. every Wednesday evening and ends promptly at 8:00 p.m. Volunteer prayer ministries leaders and audiovisual team members arrive 15–30 minutes before the service begins. With the order of service carefully and prayerfully planned, each worship leader receives a printed copy of the evening’s schedule. However, we always intentionally give the Holy Spirit permission to direct and redirect the entire service. We know this to be His time, and we are honored to join Him in preparing the way of the Lord.

On one occasion, someone who was scheduled to give a testimony failed to show up, and we wondered if our careful planning had failed. However, we soon realized that the Holy Spirit had something else in mind.

Earlier that same day, a cocaine addict had visited our church. He clearly needed a miracle in his life so he was invited to come to the House of Prayer that evening. He agreed. As the service began, it became apparent that he was the one the Holy Spirit had chosen to give a testimony—not a testimony of victory but a testimony of failure. As this young man described the chaos of his life, tears rolled down his cheeks. He cried out to God for help and asked the people of God to pray for him. No one present will ever forget what happened next. People rose from their seats and swept toward the front of the church like a tsunami of love and intercession. That evening was a turning point in that young man’s life, as well as a turning point for our House of Prayer. We are reminded over and over again that in addition to careful and prayerful planning, we must always give the Holy Spirit full permission to direct and redirect the entire meeting.

Strategy #2: Enter into His courts with praise

The psalmist tells us it is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to His name (Ps. 92:1). If we simply come to our midweek prayer service with a “wish list” of prayer requests, we miss out on the great blessing that comes when we lift our hearts in praise to God. We can learn an important lesson from the brief glimpse into the prayer life of Jesus recorded in Luke 10:21. Jesus began His prayer with these words: “ ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.’ ”2

We begin our House of Prayer experience at Forest Lake church with songs and testimonies of praise and thanksgiving. Our praise team is intentional about the selection of songs, and provides a song sheet for each person attending. We often sing Scripture songs so we can hide God’s life-changing promises in our hearts. We sometimes sing 8–10 songs during our 60-minute service.

We also allocate time at the beginning for short testimonies of praise and thanks to God. These testimonies are brief and focused: one or two sentences where we give blessing and honor to our great and awesome God. We conclude our testimonies of praise by inviting everyone present at the House of Prayer to kneel and offer a personal prayer of praise and thanks to God either individually or in pairs.

Strategy #3: Spend more time praying

Have you ever noticed that many people spend more time sharing prayer requests than actually praying? Rather than spending excessive amounts of time listening to prayer requests, invite those who have gathered for prayer to do just that— pray. Invite prayer partners to agree in prayer with requests they hear either by saying “Amen” or restating their partner’s comments in their own prayers as they bring their own praises and petitions to God.3

One young professional attending our House of Prayer commented that she found prayer especially meaningful for her to pray in twos where she could pray a blessing of God over her prayer partner and receive a blessing in return. This young woman felt a special bonding as a result of that type of prayer encounter. Her testimony confirms the importance of allowing time for prayer in small groups of two or three.4

If you want to gather specific prayer requests for times of intercession, invite those in attendance to send requests via email or fill out a prayer request card. Develop an intercessory prayer list that can be distributed at the beginning of each prayer service or posted on your Web site.

Strategy #4: Invite people from your community

A vibrant midweek prayer service becomes a non-threatening environment to invite first-time visitors to your church. Often up to 30 percent of those attending our House of Prayer are visitors from the community. Some of them are invited by friends; others invite themselves because they have heard our church is a House of Prayer for all people. A large digital sign in front of our church reminds people about our midweek prayer services.

One effective way we have increased community participation comes through our Prayers and Squares quilting ministry. A team of about 50 volunteers create beautiful handcrafted prayer quilts that are specifically prayed over at the House of Prayer and then personally presented to people requesting special prayer. Over the past six years, we have given out more than 1,300 prayer quilts to church members and friends in our own community as well as around the world. That’s an average of about four quilts per week. On one occasion, a prayer quilt was presented to a young boy who was battling a terminal illness. His entire family came with him to the House of Prayer to give him support and to share in the blessing. This was their first time to step inside our church sanctuary, and they were blessed to learn that it is a House of Prayer for all people.

Several months ago, Reuben invited his neighbor, Joseph, to the House of Prayer experience. Joseph was also a first-time visitor to our church. He was impacted by the vibrant prayer experience and returned the following Wednesday evening. And the next. And the next. Joseph attended the House of Prayer even when his neighbor, Reuben, was absent. Soon Joseph was attending on Sabbath morning, the joy of the Lord radiating from his smiling face. Joseph recently announced that he has started Bible studies while preparing for baptism. The House of Prayer experience was a non-threatening introduction to a Christian community that welcomed Joseph and encouraged him to grow in his personal relationship with God.

On the first Wednesday evening of each month we video stream our House of Prayer experience at www.forestlakechurch.org. This provides an opportunity to invite family members and friends from around the world to join us for our Global House of Prayer. I recall an occasion when we received a phone call from Timothy who lives more than 250 miles from our church. He learned about our prayer ministry through our church Web site, and he requested a prayer quilt for his wife, Jill, whose mother was dying. When we presented the prayer quilt at our House of Prayer that same evening, 15–20 people came forward to tie knots in the prayer quilt and to pray a blessing for Jill and Timothy. We have never met this couple in person, and perhaps we never will, but we were all blessed to include them in our House of Prayer experience. We received the following email four days later: “My wife and I would like to extend to you and our long distance church family our deepest gratitude for the prayers on our behalf. Jill’s mom died on Thursday night with family at her side. Jill received the prayer quilt on that Sabbath morning just before the third service. She will find this precious for the rest of her life.”

Whether people live within walking distance of your church or hundreds of miles away, invite them all to be a part of your House of Prayer for all people.

Strategy #5: Provide concise Bible teaching

A time of relevant Bible teaching is an important component of a vibrant prayer service. Reading Scripture provides the opportunity to listen to God’s Word; then our natural response is prayer. The key is to be concise. A midweek service can easily become another preaching service or a lengthy teaching of Scripture that begins and ends with prayer. We plan approximately 8–10 minutes in the House of Prayer for concise Bible teaching. Workbooks and reading assignments can help to provide continuity from week to week.

As part of this concise Bible teaching, we find it appropriate to teach people how to pray. When the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” He did not rebuke them. Rather He instructed them in the basics of prayer. We are privileged to do the same. Open the truths of God’s Word in a clear and concise way. This portion of the service will add an important learning component to your House of Prayer experience.

Strategy #6: Allow time for special intercession

When you intentionally plan your midweek prayer service as a House of Prayer for all people, you can expect many to come with special needs. Allow time in your prayer service for special intercession.

At a recent House of Prayer, we were impressed to invite those who needed special prayer to come forward. We were deeply moved as we witnessed a stream of 30–40 people make their way to the front of the sanctuary. Prayer leaders also came forward to pray for each individual by name. One of our leaders had the opportunity to pray with a young man named David who had come for the first time to our church. By his own confession, he had not stepped foot in any church for the past ten years. David shared with his prayer partner that he needed a miracle. His life was going nowhere, and he was desperate. That time of special intercession was a turning point for David. He came to church the following Sabbath and attended the House of Prayer the following Wednesday evening. At the end of the prayer service, David came to the front of the church. He was holding a Bible in his hand and smiling as he said, “I’m starting Bible studies!” We gave thanks to God for David.

We include prayer for the sick as part of our House of Prayer experience. On one occasion, a couple flew down from Canada and requested an anointing service at our House of Prayer. The wife was facing some major health challenges and wanted to follow the teaching of God’s Word in James 5:14–16. At the time of her anointing, many participants at the House of Prayer gathered around her like a blanket of blessing. Her silent testimony, as she humbled herself under the mighty hand of God, gave encouragement to many others who were participating in the House of Prayer. We have witnessed many miracles at our House of Prayer as God has brought the healing blessing in accordance with His perfect will.

Strategy #7: Nurture loving relationships

The book of Acts records that the early followers of Jesus “all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14). They did not simply pray as isolated units, but they “all joined together.” Nurturing loving relationships is an important part of our House of Prayer experience.5 People should not come and leave as anonymous strangers. In fact, if they do not experience any loving relationships during the House of Prayer experience, they will probably not return.

One way we nurture loving relationships is by providing a name tag for each person in attendance. We want each person to feel like an active participant rather than a passive observer. With name tags, prayer ministries leaders are able to greet everyone by name, including first-time attendees. When participants pray in small groups, they are able to pray for each other by name. At the end of each House of Prayer, we encourage people to walk up to others in attendance and say, “I’m glad you came to the House of Prayer this evening.” Informal sharing time continues for up to 30 minutes after the close of the prayer service. Often, small prayer groups spontaneously form and people are able to continue earnestly in prayer for each other.

Chuck had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He came to the House of Prayer for the purpose of pleasing his mother. But something happened in Chuck’s heart. He found a community that surrounded him with love, and was moved by their prayers on his behalf. When Chuck returned to the House of Prayer several weeks later, he was shocked to hear people asking him how his chemo treatments were going. People really cared about him. Before long, Chuck requested Bible studies, for he wanted to know more about the God the people at the House of Prayer love and serve. He requested that his baptism take place on Wednesday evening at the House of Prayer because that was where he first felt at home. What a testimony about the impact of loving relationships!

We also encourage those attending our House of Prayer to stay connected during the week via our House of Prayer Experience (H.o.P.E.) page on Facebook. If you visit our Facebook page, you’ll find pictures, weekly updates, special calls for prayer, and a place to nurture loving relationships.

Do you long to see spiritual revival in your church and community? It will only happen in connection with a prayer revival. Scripture records that “after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). May that be our experience for the honor of our great God and the blessing of all of His children.6


REFERENCES

1. House of Prayer Experience (H.o.P.E.) is the name we have chosen for our Wednesday evening prayer service at Forest Lake church. We have two other prayer services: one Wednesday mornings at 11:00 a.m. and one Sabbath mornings at 8:00 a.m.

2. All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version® of the Bible.

3. Distributing a prayer guide before the meeting has proved helpful for those not accustomed to praying in public. One attendee commented that she learned how to pray with others at the House of Prayer experience and now felt a freedom to pray with others in a variety of settings.

4. Small groups of two or three help foster a sense of intimacy and allow opportunity for each group member to actively participate.

5. One of our prayer ministries leaders gave this testimony: “On Wednesday night, I come to show love to people by praying for them.”

6. To share your thoughts about prayer ministries in the local church or to learn more about the Forest Lake Church House of Prayer Experience, email Sabine Vatel at [email protected]


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-pastor for discipleship at Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church and Adjunct Religion Professor for the Department of Health and Biomedical Sciences at Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences, Orlando, Florida, United States.

July 2011

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