No prayer, no point?

We asked Jonathan and Ruth - a couple at All Souls Langham Place - to share what they’ve learnt about the power of prayer during COVID and to give us an insight into their church’s prayer life.

Jonathan’s story

“What’s the point of praying? Particularly when God will do his will anyway?
What difference does it make?
Why are some prayers answered and others appear to be met with stunned silence?”

These were some of the questions I grappled with when I was sick during the first lockdown.

My wife’s answers that it was all about a relationship with God, were met with a disgruntled response – “That’s all jargon and what does that mean?”
Until one day she quoted James 5 v16 (KJV):

‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much‘

So prayer does make a difference – it says so in the Bible. But what does effectual and fervent mean? It comes for the Greek word ‘energeo’ meaning with energy. It suggests a prayer that is passionate, heartfelt, red hot, persistent, radical with everything you’ve got. Have you ever prayed like that? Or heard anyone pray like that?

passionate, heartfelt, red hot, persistent, radical with everything you’ve got

So I started praying with ‘energeo’ when a friend of mine, Amir who works amongst Muslims informed me his brother had been imprisoned for his faith in Iran. The timing seemed particularly apt given we were studying Acts and Peter’s escape in our fellowship group. I asked Amir constantly about the situation and he was very much in my thoughts on a daily basis. It really mattered to me what happened even though I’d never met his imprisoned brother. A couple of months later I read in Psalm 146 ‘The Lord sets the prisoners free’ and believing he would be set free, the praying continued as the trial began a week or so later.

Amir’s brother was found guilty and sentenced to nine months. I was gutted. However, in Iran the criminal justice system works differently and if you are found guilty you still go home and you are told to report at the relevant prison at some later stage. Amir’s brother reported to prison just as COVID started to explode. ‘Energeo’ praying continued. Unbelievably at the prison gates, Amir’s brother was told to go home and report back in a month’s time – COVID was rampant in the prisons. A month later he returned – same result. On his third visit Amir’s brother was told to no longer report to the prison and his sentence had been quashed. There was great rejoicing and I honestly wept. Amir told me this kind of thing simply doesn’t happen in Iran. So does God answer prayer? Absolutely! There is no other explanation.

God does answer our prayers but not necessarily how we think. I expected a ‘not guilty’ verdict at trial in December. God had other ideas, This way has been nerve-wracking, stressful, but also very exciting and has increased the faith of everyone concerned. I think that’s what God wants – for us to trust him, as often we do not see the bigger picture.

Over the last year, I’ve observed that my self-confidence and reliance have killed my prayer life – we end up going through the motions or praying urgently when we are in trouble and can’t fix it and then get confused when prayers are not answered according to our plans.
I believe if we are to see God do great things and have great answers we must be totally
dependent on him for everything – we cannot do it alone.

Ruth’s story

So has watching my husband grow in his confidence about the power of prayer, taught me anything about corporate prayer, and praying for the lost? Does it make any difference? Jonathan’s experience has shown me very clearly that many Christians trundle along in their faith and prayer life, never quite sure if they are heard. As a church we need to realise that God longs to hear his people cry out to Him, God longs for people to draw near to Him, God longs for people to be saved and if that is what we are praying he will surely answer our prayers

God longs to hear his people cry out to Him

Charles Spurgeon was a 19th-century preacher in London who regularly preached in front of 5,000 people, saw many thousands come to faith, set up and ran 66 charities as well as writing many articles and books. So what was at the heart of Spurgeon and all he did? This is what he said and I quote ‘The fact is, the secret of all ministerial success lies in prevalence at the mercy seat’ i.e. prayer.

In other quotes he stated “I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach”, and “a prayerful church is a powerful church”.

Prayer is where it is at. And as my husband would say, if Lewis Hamilton was teaching us to drive fast we’d be mad not to listen. Is it not the same with Spurgeon and our church?

Spurgeon really believed in the power of prayer and look what happened! Do we want our church to see many lives transformed as per Spurgeon? Then we have to pray – there is no other way.

How has this looked at our church?

Short daily prayer meetings – As part of the ministry team, it has been a real joy and encouragement to see church family members get involved in an 8am prayer meeting each weekday on Zoom for twenty minutes. It was set up as a result of COVID, the centralised prayer meeting had stopped and initially it was a great way to connect with church family, pray for our world, our nation, pray for the sick and those caring for them and for our church. This has evolved and it has been wonderful to pray for outreach, evangelism as well as spending time repenting and praising the Lord during these precious times. I think it has changed the way we pray as a church and I can’t imagine it stopping even when lockdown does.

Dedicated days of prayer and fasting – Before COVID the main church would be transformed several times a year into a reflective space with prayer points visible for anyone to wander in when they could. People could write on post-it notes, the first names of unbelievers they were hoping to come to Christ. We would meet together in the evening to break the fast and share pizza over fellowship and worship. In COVID times, these prayer days have included a Zoom gathering for 20 minutes on the hour, every hour to focus on different topics. We have seen God answer our prayers, especially in the appointment of our new Rector. People have been touched and moved and it is exciting to see God working through his people as we rejoice, repent, pray for revival and make our requests to Our Lord

Parallel prayer meetings during outreach events – When one of our ‘Pillar & Step’ outreach films (a conversation between John Lennox and John Wyatt about the pandemic) streamed live on YouTube, there was a group of people praying on a Zoom call for a list of names we’d gathered of non-Christians who had been invited to watch. (Just like Spurgeon’s boiler room!) Afterwards, it was so encouraging to hear stories of God working through the initiative.

Sharing testimonies about prayer – My husband Jonathan has told his prayer journey story on a Zoom Men’s breakfast. We all struggle with prayer and it’s good to share testimonies of what we’ve learnt in order to spur one another on and encourage one another.

Prayer walks and prayer warriors – Before the pandemic we had some organised prayer walks around the parish, praying particularly for unbelievers in the area to know Jesus. The team that coordinates our Christianity Explored courses also arranges for each group to have a dedicated prayer warrior from the church family to pray for the group’s leaders and guests.

As Spurgeon said ‘We shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general until the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians’. He put it more bluntly when he said ‘Believe me if a church does not pray it is dead. Instead of putting united prayer last, put it first. Everything will hinge upon the power of prayer in the church’.

if a church does not pray it is dead

So I do believe praying is vital. It is not just about praying that God will bless our plans, our meetings or ourselves, it says in the gospel of John without Him we can do nothing, do we truly believe that? My husband keeps telling me that Eddie Hearn, the boxing promoter, runs a podcast called, ‘No passion no point’. Our church equivalent ought to be ‘No prayer – no point’.

To join in prayer with brothers and sisters around the UK and Ireland, take a look here

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