‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’ Acts 2:42
I was brought up in a traditional Christian home. I attended Sunday school every week and once a month I accompanied my parents to take communion in the main sanctuary of the church building. The wooden pews were arranged facing the front of the building which was dominated by a large raised pulpit and an impressively solid rectangular communion table. Both of these were set apart from the people attending the service by a communion rail. The internal architecture sent out some strong messages. Message One: preaching is important; especially the robed man who ascended the pulpit stairs to reign above the congregation at least three meters above contradiction. Message Two: the ‘body and blood’ of the Lord Jesus is available on a sort of holy altar and may only be approached by the same robed gentleman. Message Three: “Stay at a distance, my child; your place is ‘that side’ of the communion rail.”
It is very sad that the means of grace that Jesus left with us to remember Him by has become, in so many churches, not so much a means of grace as a means of religious observance. The communion table that is supposed to remind us of the Last Supper looks like an altar of sacrifice and the man officiating looks more like a high priest than a loving pastor.
|LA Times, 1906|
Equally sad is how prayer has been denigrated from a means of communicating with God, to either a religious ritual or a supposed release of power. In many churches the minister says, “Let us pray” and then he, and he alone, proceeds to run through a formal litany of thanksgiving, intercession, and petition. When he is finished the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer with horrible speed and mindlessness. And how many times have we all heard the mantra ‘there is power in prayer’, as if praying releases some impersonal energy to our advantage. There is power in God, and when we speak to God, he hears us, and sometimes he responds with a release of Holy Spirit power – but there is no power in prayer itself!
The Lord’s Table, Eucharist, or whatever your denomination calls it, is meant to be a means of communing with God. Prayer is meant to be a means of communing with God. Through both means we speak to our Heavenly Father, we tell him how we feel about him and about our circumstances. We confess things to him and we share with him our hearts – we commune with him.
In times of revival prayer plays a major role. Before revival comes people start to pray, earnestly and regularly, asking God to come in power. During revival prayer often is the catalyst for bringing people to salvation. In the revivals in both China and India the services consisted mainly of corporate prayer and during those times people got healed and people got saved.
Now, of course, I have to end by asking some questions. What is your prayer life like – are you devoted to communion with God? Does prayer characterise your church? What role does it play in the gathered congregational life of your church?
I have to confess that in my church we are still failing in this regard but I am encouraged by the fact that more and more people are coming to the early morning prayer meetings. I am also encouraged, in a perverse sort of way, with how the Holy Spirit is chastising me in this area of my life.