This Week’s Beacon

Our minister writes a weekly column for our local newspaper, the Roanoke Beacon.  We’ve included the latest edition below.

I’m the preacher who doesn’t like prayer chains and prayer lists.

Part of my resentment comes because some people sign up to be part of a prayer chain out of curiosity.  They don’t really want to pray as much as they want to be “in” on the latest happening.  Some of my reticence comes from having been burned a time or two; when someone breaks the chain and doesn’t make the call they’re supposed to make to the next person in the chain, somehow that’s always the preacher’s fault!  I also wonder if God is impressed when people pray a generic, “Lord, heal all the people who are on our prayer list.”  I imagine God wants to respond: “Really, you aren’t even concerned enough to name them and pray specifically about their need, but you want Me to give them special attention?”

Most of my concern, however, centers on the really bad theology that often accompanies a prayer list. Too many times, I’ve heard people express confidence that their loved one will be fine because “They’re on prayer lists in a lot of churches all over the area. My cousin even put (my loved one) on their church’s prayer list over in Charlotte.”

Let’s think about that one a moment.  Do you think God is more impressed and more apt to respond just because a lot of people are praying?  Are we talking about the same God who warned in Matthew 6:7 (NIV), “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words”? And do you really want a god who is impressed by numbers, or who seems to take a vote on whether or not someone should be healed? By the way, how many people does it take?  If 100 people pray for healing, is that enough? Or does it take more?  500?  5000?  What’s the minimum number that earns God’s attention; how many prayer lists does one have to be on to reach God’s magic number?

Scripture contains the answer.  James 5:16 reads, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Note the singular: “righteous man.”  God isn’t as impressed by numbers as He is by the spirituality of the person praying.  The prayer of one person living in real obedience to God outweighs the words of thousands who merely give lip service to their faith.  James 5:14 highlights the role of the church elders, who ought to stand out among the most spiritually mature and Godly men in any congregation: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  In this instance the Elders, Godly men, would be praying specifically for the needs of one individual. God hears!

Don’t misunderstand; group prayer isn’t bad. The Bible tells of instances when groups pray about special needs, but there is no indication that God responds to these prayers simply because a number of people are praying; it is the nature of the need and the spiritual condition of the people that prompts God’s response.  For example, after Peter and John are released from jail by the Sanhedrin, they join the church in praying specifically for boldness in proclaiming the message about Jesus while facing persecution. They asked God to “heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:31 records God’s response: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

But in another instance (Acts 12), when Peter was in prison and faced imminent death, the church gathered to pray for him.  Ironically, the church that gathered to pray for Peter’s safe release didn’t believe it when it happened.  When Peter showed up at the door of the of the house where the church members were praying, they told the servant girl who reported that “Peter is at the door,” “You’re out of your mind.”  So much for group faith!

God stands ready to respond when Godly people pray specifically about the situations and needs that fill their hearts.  So keep your own personal “prayer list.”  Pray specifically about those circumstances and people.  Live a Godly life.  Then trust the God who loves you to do what is best in each situation.