The "Quote/Unquote" Interview
Phil Miglioratti Interviewed Chuck Lawless, Author of "The Potential and Power of Prayer"
"How To Unleash The Praying Church"
PHIL @ The Reimagine.Nertwork>>>The subtitle of your book caught my attention. What could you foresee taking place if congregations large and small became vibrant praying churches?
CHUCK>>> We know that the early church had prayer in its DNA. We also know there are pockets of believers around the world where prayer is central to all they are and do. Meanwhile, too many churches today tend to operate in their own strength, turning to God only when they cannot fix problems or accomplish goals on their own. I honestly wonder what the church would be like if we prayed in such a way that the power of God shook our buildings, as in Acts 4:31. That was a unique moment in time, but God’s power is still available to praying people. The world would see something different if we were fervently praying churches.
"Why No Power?"
PHIL>>> How important is it to analyze our real status as a praying church before we strategize with new ideas?
CHUCK>>> Our churches are so accustomed to praying only superficially in most cases that I’m not sure we recognize our prayer deficiencies. Many of us do not have powerful prayer role models. Many churches tell people to pray, but don’t teach them how to pray through training and modeling. Prayer has become more ritual than routine for many believers. Somewhere, someone in our congregations must humbly admit that we have a long way to go in making prayer critical to all we do. While I would not want us to get so bogged down in analyzing our congregation’s prayer that we slow our praying in the meantime, we simply will not address these needs if we don’t recognize and admit them in the first place.
"Why Is It A Struggle To Pray, When Prayer Has So Much Potential?"
PHIL>>> How does our definition of prayer determine (even inhibit) our practice of prayer?
CHUCK>>> I suspect we sometimes overcomplicate our definition of prayer because we don’t want to minimize this spiritual discipline (and, I fear, we professors are sometimes most guilty). In other cases, we speak the right language but have lost our wonder over the truth that God allows us to listen to Him through His Word and speak to Him through prayer. Neither approach is helpful if we want to strengthen prayer in our relationship with God. Prayer is a mystery in the sense that we are privileged to speak with our Creator, but it’s also as simple as talking to God. When we get back to this kind of ongoing conversation with Him, we will have taken steps in the right direction.
"Who Are The Prayer Role Models In Your Life?"
PHIL>>> Scripture not only affirms we must pray but it presents role models for how to pray. How can the stories of biblical persons help us reimagine real prayer?
CHUCK>>> There’s a reason Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. They had likely learned prayer as religious ritual (almost as if to say, “Pray this way, at this time”), but they saw something so different in Jesus. They saw not ritual, but relationship and results. They wanted to learn from Him something they had never quite seen in others. When we read in the scriptures of folks like Abraham, Moses, Hannah, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Paul praying, we recognize that (1) we don’t usually pray like they did, and (2) what praying we do doesn’t always seem as life-giving and natural as prayer did for these others. These stories convict and challenge us not only to pray more, but to pray more out of our personal walk with the Father.
"Prayer has become more about ritual than relationship."
PHIL>>> Living a biblical life is a spiritual battle. For individuals, families, even congregations. The apostle Paul admonishes us to "put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes...and pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayer, always praying for others" (see Ephesians 6). How do we recognize then replace lifeless ritualistic praying?
CHUCK>>> I have noted in a previous response that simply studying the prayers of God’s people in the Scriptures can help us recognize that our prayers have become more ritualistic than relational. At the same time, here are some ways I know when my prayer life is going in the wrong direction.
- First, I find myself praying in order to “check the box,” not just to commune with God. My conversational style of prayer weakens.
- Second, my prayers become routine, general, almost forced even. I pray because I know I’m supposed to more than because I want to.
- Third, I have no sense of God’s responding to my prayers in any specific way; in fact, I might even forget to look for His answer when my prayers are only ritual. Fourth, I just know when my prayers lack the life I’ve previously experienced when I could not wait to meet with God. Ritualistic prayer leaves us wanting more than rejoicing.
"Praying Leaders Are Best At Casting A Vision For Prayer."
PHIL>>> Agree/Disagree ... Prayer ministry needs a leader, someone to coordinate, provide training and resources. But for the ministry to flourish congregation-wide, the pastor must cast the vision and lead by example.
CHUCK>>> I absolutely agree. On one hand, I have never seen a strongly praying church that is not led by a strongly praying pastor. When the congregation, though, recognizes the power of their pastor’s prayer, some of them will want what the pastor has. Their pastor may, in fact, be the first role model of prayer they’ve ever seen—and they long for more in their own lives. At the same time, a pastor who is not passionate about and committed to prayer isn’t likely to teach much about it. Only sporadically will the church hear about prayer with any intentionality, and seldom will the church have any strategy in place to equip believers to pray. In fact—to be honest—some of the most frustrated folks I’ve seen are prayer warriors trying to lead the way to prayer in a church where their pastor doesn’t share the same passion.
"Getting Started: Praying Together"
PHIL>>> What does it take to begin praying together in a way that is not merely taking turns reciting requests? How do we replace listing with listening? Responding to the leading of the Spirit?
CHUCK>>> My first suggestion is that we leaders worry less about getting the entire church on board with strong praying. That’s a good goal, but we’ll continually fret if we can rejoice only when everyone is a prayer warrior. Instead, let’s focus on a few people, model prayer for them, pray with them, and help them pray—not unlike what Jesus did when He took Peter, John, and James to the Mt. of Transfiguration to pray (Luke 9:28). While we’re taking that step, though, we also need to learn to do our devotions dialogically. That is, praying the Scriptures and responding verbally to what God shows us as we read the Bible will slow us down and focus our hearts on listening more. I am convinced that a “growing” prayer life doesn’t last long if it's separated from growing times in the Word. Finally, it’s just good to meditate silently on the Word at times. We can turn our hearts to God without speaking aloud—and just listening would do most of us some good.
PHIL>>> One more thing we should think about...
CHUCK>>> I go back to something I mentioned only briefly in a previous response. One of our problems is that we tell believers they need to pray, but we don’t teach them how to do it. The almost inevitable result then is that we get frustrated with them because they don’t respond to our telling. Teaching and modeling are essential if we want our church members to pray passionately and effectively.
PHIL>>> Chuck, please give us a prayer we can pray with you the Lord can use to unleash us as a praying church.
CHUCK>>>. “Father, make me first a praying leader. Let my prayers be evidence of a relationship with You. Grant me favor with a few believers who might join me in praying. Then, God, teach us to pray both individually and corporately. Amen.”
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