The One Essential

Jonathan Shaw is a lay leader and elder at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Parry Sound, Ontario, and serves as Chairperson of the Prayer Committee.

As I slowly worked my way up the narrow winding path of the gentle mountain slope, I could sense an almost tangible presence of the Holy Spirit. There was a peace and calm and awareness of the Spirit of the Lord like I had seldom experienced.

As I walked, I happened upon a small concrete bunker to the side of the trail, reminiscent of something seen in an old war movie. There were no windows, just a tiny door. From within could be heard what I can only describe, even though in a foreign language, as the "fervent, effectual prayer of a righteous man." Inside, I was told, was an individual who was spending the entire day on his knees in his "prayer bunker." For anyone who has heard of the phenomenal growth of the evangelical church in South Korea, it is obvious that this and many other prayers like it, have clearly "availed much."

What I experienced that day was a journey to the Prayer Mountain of — imagine this — a Presbyterian church just outside Seoul, Korea. If there has ever been any doubt about the ultimate effectiveness of prayer, the evangelical church in Korea has proven that prayer is indeed powerful.

It marked the beginning of a journey, which I daresay has taken too long, that brought me face-to-face with the issue of prayer within my own life, the life of my church, and indeed the life of any Christian and congregation.

During that visit I also had the privilege to hear Jack Taylor, a pastor from Texas, who presented a series on prayer called, "The Seven Laws of Prayer." If you ever want a wake-up call for your spiritual life, especially your prayer life, then try and wrestle with what he has defined as the first law of prayer:

"No believer's spiritual life will rise to stay above the level of his/her praying."

I tried to dispute this premise over and over, but the bottom line is: it's true. In fact, the more I researched this statement, I found it in a similar form in many other books on prayer. Charles Cook says it this way: "The prayer life of the Christian is the true gauge of all the rest of his life. As the water in the gauge glass and in the boiler always remain at the same level, the water in the one never rising higher than the water in the other, so no man's outer life of activity ever rises above his inner prayer life."

Leonard Ravenhill, in his classic, Why Revival Tarries states, "No man is greater than his prayer life." And the great preacher Charles Spurgeon, in his book The Power of Prayer in a Believer's Life says, "Prayer is the true gauge of spiritual power. To restrain prayer is a dangerous and deadly tendency. This is a faithful saying: what you are upon your knees, you are really before your God."

And if Taylor's first law didn't set you to thinking then try his second law:

"No church's ultimate effectiveness will rise to stay above the level of its corporate prayer life."

Wow! What does that say about the importance of corporate prayer within a congregation? While these two laws are intertwined, it was the second law, as it dealt with the ultimate effectiveness of the ministry and mission of any church, that led a number of members at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Parry Sound, Ontario, to launch, in February 1993, a Prayer Committee.

Now it could be said that the death of many good ideas has been to strike a committee, but we trust this has not been the case in this instance.

After the "OK" from Session, a group of men and women committed to prayer began to meet, and to pray. Our mandate was to promote, encourage and try to stimulate a greater participation in, and awareness of, prayer within our congregation. While it was generally accepted that our church had always been a church of prayer, we realized that to truly ensure that prayer is the very foundation of all other activities and ministry efforts within a church, it does take a specific and concerted effort.

As we met and asked the Lord, through our prayers, to show us ways to fulfill our mandate, we implemented some programs that we trust have been successful.

C.O.P.E. (Challenge to Offer Prayer Evening)

What better name for a new approach to a traditional idea, the mid-week prayer meeting? This may represent one of the poorest attended and least interesting programs in your church calendar, but it doesn't have to. Every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., for 2-3 hours, a group of faithful pray-ers have turned this meeting into the most exciting corporate prayer time many of us have ever experienced. With a drop-in format, people are invited to come for as long as they want, with a break each half hour for coffee and fellowship. A large blackboard is filled each week with prayer and praise requests, and we have truly seen God answer prayer. The small, cozy nook in the basement that is our prayer corner has truly come to be "hallowed ground." Over the years there have been many smiles and many tears. But as our congregation has gone through struggles and trials we know it is the hundreds of hours of prayer that have truly held our church together.

Prayer Retreats

Twice each year, in the Spring and Fall, we plan a Prayer Retreat at a Muskoka camp. We invite members and families to join for us for a weekend of prayer, but also for praise, fellowship and a time of getting to know one another better. These weekends have come to be very special times in the life of our church. Truly we have discovered that as people meet, in small groups or in two's and three's and pray, we draw close to each other in a very special way.

Prayer Focus Evenings (Coffee House style)

Every second month or so, we set aside a Sunday evening service for a Prayer Focus evening. Using a very informal, 1960s style Coffee House format, complete with checkered tablecloths and candles, we meet for praise and small group prayer around our tables. We usually choose a theme in advance for a focus of our prayers. The prayer theme might be missionaries, evangelism or congregational needs. Our pastor — or someone on the Prayer Committee — leads the service. We get started with a time of praise and then break into small group prayer around the tables. We break every 5-10 minutes for a few more choruses and then more prayer. The sound of many prayers rising simultaneously from the tables is a real joy and inspiration.

Year Of Prayer

We determined to identify 1996 as a Year of Prayer at St. Andrew's. This doesn't mean there should be less prayer in 1997 of course, but our attempt was through education, programs and various special activities, to really commit ourselves to prayer. We began with a series of messages from Rev. Jack Archibald (our pastor) and then had a service where we encouraged members to make a written Prayer Commitment for the year ahead.

Prayer Calendar

Each month, a prayer calendar is included in our bulletin, indicating not just the activities of our church, but encouragement to pray for all the ministries of our church, both local and overseas.

So, what has it all meant? To be honest, there have been times as our committee met and planned events that we wondered if it was making any difference. Jack Taylor believes that Satan's singlemost important strategy to eliminate the effectiveness of the Christian and the church is to stop people from praying, and I believe this to be true. It is easier to get Christians involved in just about anything else, except prayer.

But we have persevered, and as we now look back, I believe that God has answered prayers, especially in regard to our church. St. Andrew's has had its fair share of crises and struggles in the last 2-3 years, but we stand today a church that is stronger and with a real growing sense of love and unity within our fellowship. To quote our pastor who said recently, "our church is on the verge of true spiritual renewal like it has never been in my ministry." We are all absolutely convinced this is because of prayer and God's answers to those prayers.

Without fail, true renewal and revival only comes after God's people show a willingness to fall on their knees and pray. Are you looking for renewal in your life and your church? There is only one true answer — Prayer!

Seven Laws Of Prayer

  1. No believer's spiritual life will rise to stay above the level of his/her praying.

  2. No church's ultimate effectiveness will rise to stay above the level of its corporate prayer life.
  3. No church's corporate prayer life will rise to be greater than the quality of the prayer lives of those who make up its membership.
  4. No believer's prayer life will rise in quality to stay above the level of his/her regular, daily, quiet time alone with God.
  5. No believer's practice of prayer will be greater than his/her own view of prayer.
  6. Praise is an indispensable factor in the prayer life, both individual and corporate.
  7. The only way to learn to pray, is to pray.