Scripture tells us that Paul “fought the good fight….finished the course… and kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7), a course whose starting line had begun on the Damascus Road years earlier. How then did the church at Ephesus fare years later as benefactors of Paul’s prayer? Revelation 2:1-7 gives us Jesus’ viewpoint on that question. “I know your deeds” He says, and that alone should help motivate us to be growing up as believers. Jesus details what He has observed about them, continuing, “and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” Note the words “not grown weary” and recall Paul’s prayer when he begged the Ephesians not to lose heart. It all sounded good… until Jesus drops the bad news on them… “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Some may debate over whom that “first love” represented, but this we do know for sure about Christ: “We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).
Talk about irony! The Ephesians kept their endurance but lost their first love in the process. If the Ephesians had reached such a low point despite all the agape love of Christ poured out for them—and all the phileo love shown to them by Paul—then are we any less vulnerable? What has Jesus observed about us? Has time lessened our passion for Jesus? His words, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandants.” (John 14:15) still apply! Keeping His commandments isn’t just a suggestion by Jesus but a goal He sets for every believer.
Prayer is a vital part of staying on the same page with Jesus as we listen to Him through His word. As a church, our prayers tend to emphasize the temporal needs of people more than their eternal/spiritual needs. Not always, of course, but the scales lean heavily in that direction. There’s nothing unusual about that. We are in tune with the rest of evangelical America when it comes to praying. But should that really be our goal as a local body of Christ? Can we do better or more importantly do so biblically? We could ask the Lord for His opinion….
We cannot simply rely on our “prayer chain” to fulfill the bulk of the church’s prayer needs and focus. There is, as Paul knew, too much at stake for eternity—a task requiring the entire body of Christ to be fully engaged in “As a covenant community” that “will individually and collectively glorify God by following Him in prayer….” If that sounds familiar, then you are recalling our church’s Vision Statement. And, if we are to take that call more earnestly, then we must set our priorities accordingly, both individually and collectively.
Some may complain that Paul was just too intense, that he should have dialed it back a few notches and lightened up, while asking the question, “Do we really have to take what Jesus, the apostles who learned from their Garden of Gethsemane experience, Paul himself and countless martyrs died for, so seriously?” After all, we are praying. Isn’t that good enough? Again, ask the Lord for His answer.
Our mission and vision at Grace are clearly stated. The word “prayer” is in the vision statement for a biblical reason. But if we opt to travel the well-worn prayer pathway of this century, then we will struggle to fully accomplish our mission and vision. Twenty centuries of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ has resulted in a vibrant, dynamic growth of Christianity around the world. Yet, just how does America stack up when it comes to praying, now that we’ve had nearly 400 years to practice? What does it bode for the local church and for us?
A recent survey conducted by the Barna Group about the prayer habits of Americans revealed some startling statistics. Responses to the question, “How do you most often pray?” indicated that 82% prayed Silently by myself; 13% Audibly by myself; 2% Audibly with another person or group and 2% Collectively with a church. In other words, 98% of responders are apparently not praying as a community. It’s important to note here that responders to this survey would not all be considered evangelical Christian believers. Yet, despite that fact—even if the entire 2% of those praying together were evangelicals—would that be acceptable?
Responses to the more in-depth question, “What does the content of your prayers most often pertain to?” were broken down into 15 categories and ranked by percentage. Gratitude and thanksgiving topped the list with 62%. The needs of my family and community finished second with 61%. From there, the percentages dropped off significantly. For example, Personal guidance in crises (49%) came next; then, My health and wellness (47%) and on down the list until it reached the two lowest categories: Reciting scripture passages, meditations or liturgies (8%) and finally, Other (8%).
There was a glaring lack of “Making disciples” or similar topics of eternal significance. Recall then, the question asked earlier in Part One of this series, “What is the primary direction and focus of your prayers?” Now is the time to answer. Our collective responses to this question could prove to be a telling measurement of our need for a Pauline prayer app to reawaken us to all that the Lord has made clear through His word and His Spirit. For you see, it’s not about percentages or numbers… but about believers who haven’t lost their first love for Jesus.
Jesus healed many people physically while He walked this earth. Yet, His primary mission was to provide the only way to complete spiritual healing, for all eternity. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). As followers of Christ, we should keep His words freshly in our minds. Paul provided numerous examples of praying from an eternal perspective without losing a heart for the present.
Finally, remember what Paul wrote about being the church: “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27). We’re all in this thing together, folks. That fact should stir a desire in us to pray together, as one in the Spirit, for all things encompassing today, tomorrow andforever.
“Amen” can become the prologue to an infinite love story: an opportunity to begin praying beyond all measure—when we hand the scales to Jesus.
All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Alan Summers, GBC Elder
 “Silent and Solo: How Americans Pray,” Barna Group, August 15, 2017,www.barna.com/research/silent-solo-americans-pray/