On various occasions, my wife has reminded me that I do not write letters nor pen words of poetry to her, as I regularly did while we were dating. She reminisces about the times I surprised her with rose petals and cards. She talks about the walks we took in the park and when we spent time on the phone until the wee hours of the morning. She transports my recollection to the moments that I entrusted her with my innermost secrets. We did not have a care in the world.
Without being obnoxious and blunt, her soul screams to me: Bring back the romance! Romance keeps the fire burning in relationships; it draws out the best in each individual and guards against insecure feelings. Romantic activities communicate to the love of your life that you are still acutely in tune with the essence of her or his soul. I have noticed that when I am aggressively letting my wife know that she is the most important thing to me in the world, there is nothing she will not do for me.
Might there be a spiritual lesson here for us as well?
Intimacy with God
When the wedding bells rang and Christ vowed to love us in sickness and in health, ecstatic emotions ran rampant as Christ made the church His bride. After the high of being in a saving relationship with God waned, the fire and the passion began to disintegrate into a flickering flame. God savors the moments when we talked to Him all night long and remembers when we gave Him the flowers of our prayers. He is now longing for His bride to bring back the romance.
Obviously, if there is a lack of communication in any relationship, the relationship will decompose. If absent discourse between God and His bride defines the talking points, if our souls fail to engage God on the hotline of heaven, and if prayer evaporates from our souls, the connection with God will cease to exist.
Prayer has fallen from grace in the eyes of the church, and prayer has become the least “erotic” thing that it does. The church engages in more planning than praying. E. M. Bounds relates the importance of prayer when he says, “The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.”* Prayer is the primary fuel that makes the church combustible. The church cannot run without prayer any more than a car can run without gasoline. I am talking not only about the importance of prayer but about the necessity of establishing the prayer assembly.
The high-octane church in the book of Acts understood the urgency of prayer. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8, KJV).
The word power in verse 8 is important. It comes from the Greek word dynamis, and from this we get the word dynamite. Jesus promised the church “dynamite” in order to carry out her high-octane commission. Notice what the assembly does after Christ gives this promise and ascends into heaven: “Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room. . . . These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:12–14, KJV).
Jesus promises perpetual power. The assembly does not wait by listening to the ticks of the clock counting down until Pentecost. Instead, they hibernated in the upper room and commenced a prayer meeting. For ten days, this group of people who had endured the trauma of their Savior being crucified, but were renewed with the delight of His resurrection, crammed into the prayer room, zealously supplicating the throne room of heaven, until they heard the sound of the mighty rushing wind and received the dynamite that came from heaven through the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2–4). Therefore, the prayer chamber became a waiting room where the prayer assembly gathered until the endowment of the Holy Spirit was manifested.
The power of prayer
From the inception of the new church that emerged from the day of Pentecost, prayer meeting was the cultural norm of the church. “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42, KJV). When the text mentions that they continued steadfastly, it means they were devoted to, among other things, prayer. The assembly continuously engaged in prayer.
It was no less than what Jesus did during His earthly ministry. Luke 6:12 tells us, “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (KJV). Since divinity ran through the veins of Christ and He saw the need to pray all night, how much more should we who are mere mortals, susceptible to sin, powerless to resist temptation, and prone to leave the God that we love, engage in ardent prayer sessions.
When Jesus ascended to heaven, He left behind a prayer assembly. No wonder. Consider the commission Jesus gives them in Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16; and Luke 24:46, 47. Jesus challenged this meager group of 120 people to go into all the world, without sophisticated forms of transportation or the novelty of the Internet. Going to familiar territory and pursuing the lost sheep of Israel in Matthew 10:5, 6 paled in comparison to the fact that they had to venture into unchartered territory. The disciples must have felt overwhelmed at what Christ was asking them to do.
But instead of allowing their sense of inadequacy to smother their calling, they were driven to their knees, understanding that only God could empower them to accomplish such a feat. The commission has not changed, nor the importunity to accomplish it, nor God’s need to have militant prayer warriors. Prayer remains the prerequisite of the Holy Spirit perching on our shoulders as He did on the day of Pentecost. There has yet to be a revival or a great awakening, in all the history of humanity, that was not initiated by corporate prayer.
Most ministry leaders in America maintain a robust program to administer the Word, but they have a feeble, frail, and flimsy prayer meeting. Some churches have a prayer service during the week, but only a few attend. Others, on the other hand, do not have a prayer service at all. The churches that have a consistent prayer meeting do less praying in those services than they do preaching. This is something that I have encountered in my own pastorate. I found myself trying to pack prayer, testimonies, singing, and preaching into one program. I was always bothered by the fact that we describe our midweek service as prayer meeting, but when I tallied the total time that was spent on each segment of the program, approximately 5 minutes was spent engaged in prayer; I spent 30 minutes, at least, preaching.
In Acts 6, there arose a quarrel in the midst of the called-out assembly because the Hebrew widows were being served more favorably than the Greek widows. To meet this tension head on, the apostles decided to appoint deacons who would take care of the daily ministration.
In verse four, the apostles said, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and the ministry of the word.” The passage reads in the original Greek, “But we to the prayer and the ministry of the word.” I have read this passage many times, and I always assumed the apostles were referring to their own personal prayer life. I was shocked when I realized that the apostles were talking about prayer meeting. The apostles saw their main responsibility consisted of two things: (1) organizing prayer meeting and (2) ministering the Word.
Most preachers are prolific at ministering the Word, but the prayer assembly is in disarray. The dissemination of the Word and vibrant prayer assemblies are fraternal twins. Preaching and teaching only put us at a disadvantage because we find ourselves doing all the work, and the church becomes dependent on our charisma and adopts our personality. When prayer meetings saturate the life of the church and we allow the Holy Spirit to work, He dazzles the church with His glamour, and we adopt His sanctified personality, power, and purpose.
Another story powerfully makes my point.
Peter, James, and John descended a high mountain with Jesus after watching Him transfigured in their presence and witnessing Jesus’ grand display of glorious affirmation. Once they made their way back down to the foot of the mountain, a man who had a son with an evil spirit confronted Jesus with the reality of His disciples’ impotence. He explained to Jesus, “ ‘And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid; So I spoke to your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not’ ” (Mark 9:18, NKJV). Frustrated at the disciples’ incompetence to wage spiritual warfare, Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit. Jesus delivered training and mentorship to these disciples to steward one of His greatest technological advances, the church. Their training wilted in the face of this demonic threat. Obviously embarrassed, the disciples pulled Jesus aside privately, and asked Him, “ ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ ” (Mark 9:28, NKJV). Jesus answered in verse 29 that “ ‘this kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting’ ” (NKJV).
In chapter 6, Jesus gave them power over unclean spirits. What happened three chapters later? The disciples had neglected the cultivation of their prayer lives. They were ministry-driven, yes, but their ministry did not have the luster it needed nor the anointing to thrive once thrust into enemy strongholds. As a result of their sloppy prayer behavior, the disciples experienced defeat and humiliation.
The church battles constantly, but human ingenuity cannot supply her arsenal of weapons. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Cor. 10:4, KJV). We can craft extraordinary mission and vision statements, create exceptional programming, conjure best practices and an impeccable organizational machine, compensate the most experienced and qualified staff, claim that we have the best show in town, and compound our ministry with exponential membership growth. But, only ceaseless, combative, corporate prayer will act as a battle ram to destroy the walls of Jericho and put our churches on the right path to becoming high octane.
Focus on prayer meeting
Prayer does not seem as romantic as praise and worship, preaching, church conferences, or church socials, but the prayer meeting can be by far the first and most important step in becoming the church God envisioned. There will be pushback from your congregation, church leadership will disparage your efforts, and you will become discouraged because initially only a few will show up. The enemy will work overtime to plant problems in your church that did not previously exist.
Yet, I say: Put much of your energy into having high-octane prayer meetings—prayer meetings where the only thing taking place is prayer. Your closet prayer plays a major role in your spiritual development, but corporate prayer plays an enormous role in the church’s spiritual development. Teach your people how to pray, preach sermons on the importance of prayer, incorporate collective prayer in the worship services, implement seasons of prayer at staff meetings and all church functions, and take your church on prayer walks in the community. Do not allow anything or anyone to distract you from this most important step.
Serenade God with your earnest prayers and, indeed, bring back the romance!
* Edward M. Bounds, The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds (Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2008), 8.