A few weeks ago I was involved in a conversation about prayer that began by sharing about our own formation in prayer and praying.
The conversation turned from personal prayer to corporate (group) prayer, and our attention then became focused on our shared prayer life in our Salvation Army corps (church) settings. A statement dropped like a bombshell into the midst of this conversation: ‘I think Salvationists believe in prayer more than they actually practice it’.
Our discussion then revolved around dissatisfaction about the current corporate prayer experienced in some corps and centre settings, and a deep desire to explore ways in which this could change. Bill Hybels writes about the concept of ‘holy discontent’, and this is what characterized our conversation as we explored how to see the type of active, powerful and dynamic prayer many more of us want to be part of.
We agreed that there was no question that Salvationists (ourselves included) were generally not faithful in prayer as a devotional exercise. We acknowledged too our ready response in interceding prayer for known needs, especially those of our family, friends and neighbours. But clearly the Spirit of God was drawing us towards something more.
How do you feel when opportunities for corporate prayer open up? What might you say about your confidence in praying with others?
Participation doesn’t only mean praying aloud, of course, because being in agreement in the spoken prayer of others is still a powerful thing. And our prayers can take many forms, including the declaration of Scripture, singing in worship, or creating an art form.
What makes prayer meetings something not to be missed where you are? Or are they something you usually wouldn’t prioritise? What’s the current reality of prayer where you are? What excites you or concerns you?
You see, the statistics The Salvation Army collects about prayer meeting attendances don’t tell anything close to the full story. They cannot capture the life or the absence of life that is happening when we gather for prayer.
Some corps maintain regular prayer gatherings such as quarterly half nights of prayer. Others have active prayer rooms. There are weekly prayer meetings, perhaps as part of the General’s Worldwide Prayer Meeting. Sunday morning ‘kneedrill’ continues for a faithful few. And purposeful prayer in some youth gatherings encourages me to believe there’s a change happening in the next generation.
My overriding question is: to what measure are we a praying Army? Is it true that we profess belief in prayer more than we actually practice it? Is our current practice of prayer responsive to the world in which we live, and indicative of the urgency of the times we’re living in? What examples of prayer and praying are there for others to follow and learn by, and be involved in?
Internationally, The Salvation Army is preparing for a year of focused prayer under the banner ‘The Whole World Praying’. Our territory of New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga has been assigned the week of 5 to 11 July during which we will participate in non-stop 24/7 prayer. Sunday 6 July has been set aside as a Territorial Day of Prayer, with all our corps and centres asked to involve themselves in activities that demonstrate that we are indeed a praying Army. Of course, these efforts are intended only as a helpful springboard that leads to something far more sustained within our spiritual life together.
As Jesus prepared to leave this earth and ascend into Heaven, Luke records that this disciples were told to remain in the city and wait for the Holy Spirit to come and fill them with power (see Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4). We can only assume that in this waiting time they may have prayed, but we do know for certain that it was in the waiting together that the Spirit came, after which their lives were forever changed from that time onwards. Out of this, a new community was formed. Acts 2:42 tells is this was a community devoted to teaching, fellowship, sharing meals and to prayer. Let us as Salvationists be a people devoted to these same Spirit-led priorities.
Major Heather Rodwell
Territorial Secretary for Spiritual Life Development
New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory