The church I grew up in didn't just meet on Sunday mornings. They met on Sunday nights. It seemed like every day there was something going on at the church building. They met every night at times too, for fall "revival services" for more than a week, and the same in the spring.
In the middle of it all the church would meet on Wednesday nights. This was different in many ways than all the other services and events. This was "prayer meeting."
These people were serious about the prayer time. My church had old wooden pews, and people would turn around and kneel, facing the pews. As they prayed their voices echoed off the wood and bounced around the sanctuary making them seem even more holy and God-like to me as a kid.
They had what I would call "fervent" prayer.
Fervent is one of those translated words used in the King James Bible a lot. You don't hear the word as much anymore. It means someone has a passionate intensity in what they are doing. It reminds me of the great verse you may have memorized this way:
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16 KJV).
I do remember that some of the healing asked for in those prayer meetings was a bit awkward. I know I had to ask my mother a few times what body parts people were talking about. Sometimes Mom would tell me, other times she'd say, "We'll talk later." (Which was something she said hoping I'd forget to ask.)
Their prayers were passionate, for sure, but I think there is more than passion in our cause; I think there is purpose as well. I think our prayers can not only be fervent but also focused. Global Partners, the missions arm of The Wesleyan Church, talks about this in their vision. Many missionary organizations ask people to "pray, give, and go." But Global Partners asks that we would "pray specifically, give generously, and go willingly."
I like the idea of praying specific prayers. While walking through your neighborhood, it might be a nice thing to say, "Hey Lisa, I've been praying for you guys." But it means much more to say, "Lisa, I've been praying for your husband since you told me he lost his job. I've been praying Jim would find something that fits him well. How is it going?" I think the conversation that comes with Lisa next is going to be much more powerful.
When you pray specifically God moves powerfully.
What does it mean to have focused prayer?
- 1.Pray like a "doer." I don't like to just sit around contemplating things, I like to get involved, take action. I am a "doer." Sometimes I wonder if that makes me less successful in prayer. But my life verse goes like this, "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do" (John 17:4). This is in the beautiful prayer Jesus prayed in John 17. Notice that he is praying but referencing work he's done. Jesus got stuff done. He had a work assigned to him, which he completed. And this work gave his Father in heaven glory. I pray the same. Sometimes reviewing in prayer the work that is happening and praying it gives God glory is a powerful way to pray. Other times praying about the work that must be done, the things that are on the "to do" list even, can be a way to live out focused prayer.
- 2.Pray on offense. We use the term "prayer warrior" to talk about people who pray a lot. But if you've noticed, if prayer was a sport, we play more defense than offense in the prayer game. We spend more time praying for the wounded than praying for the warriors on the offense. I wonder if we could be strategic in our focused prayers. Could we pray as much, or even more, for someone before they are sick or hurt or disadvantaged, and if this would help them get in the game at a whole new level. Focused prayer means praying on offense.
- 3.Pray for momentum. Sometimes our churches can feel stuck. Any number of big obstacles make us feel trapped. Focused prayer means praying your church would be on the move and achieving the mission God has for it.
- 4.Pray for faithfulness. Much of what we do in the kingdom of God isn't new but is just a matter of keeping on the regular tasks and habits of our spiritual walk and church ministry. Focused prayer means being a person that sticks with it in faithfulness.
- 5.Pray for new opportunities. Nothing helps prime the pump of your ideas for God like praying he would help you see them. If you are prayed up, you look up and see him moving, the lost to build relationship with, the discouraged to encourage, the new believer to disciple, and the ministry that can be multiplied. Focused prayer means asking that God would open the eyes of your heart to new opportunities.
- 6.Pray for leaders. I divide this into two sections: present leaders and potential leaders. Present leaders are those that I already know are in a role of influence or responsibility. They can be those who are nearby and far away. It includes my pastor, my district superintendent, and those that influence me. It also includes those I influence. But I also want to pray for the emerging leaders, the ones that don't yet have the position or responsibility, but someday will, or should. I'm amazed at how God works when I've prayed for these people faithfully. Focused prayer means praying well for leaders.
As you engage in focused prayer I think you'll find out what I have discovered. Often times I feel conviction that something should happen and that God wants it to happen. As a Wesleyan praying with this focus I often remind myself that if God wants it to happen, and it hasn't yet, then maybe it's because I haven't done my part yet? We have not because we ask not? Many people say prayer changes me more than it changes anything else. I would say that prayer motivates me more than it motivates God. He's already motivated to act. But I need the extra motivation to do what it takes. Perhaps you do too?
Dr. Wayne Schmidt serves as General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church.