We think prayer is something we know about. But do we? It is probably best to not enter into this worship time assuming everyone has a firm grasp on what prayer is and how to do it. This could be an important teaching time for many in the congregation who struggle to pray in meaningful and life-changing ways. The worship team should consider follow-up sessions on prayer stemming from this service, because there will no doubt be questions and concerns that arise.
Yet, even during the worship time, there is an opportunity to provide help to those who struggle with their prayer lives. It would also be helpful to address those who want to pray but don’t feel like they know how and those who don’t think prayer is worth their time. There are many who hear the common “sending our thoughts and prayers” and believe that it is a way of avoiding taking a stand and making the changes that need to be made. How do we redeem the idea of prayer from those who have presented it as ineffectual and easy?
James doesn’t believe it is ineffectual. This epistle of doing, of putting your faith to work in the world, of living out salvation in ways that impact the world around you, also believes that prayer is a power we need to use. Find the prayer servants in the congregation and give them space to talk about what happens when they pray. They can talk about what happens to them and what happens in the situations for which they pray. Find stories of the power of prayer in the lives of individuals, but also stories of communities of prayer and how they grew as disciples because of their disciplined approach to praying. Prayer and action are not opposites but complements in the spectrum of responding in faith. Prayer can be a launching pad to action and then a reflection on the action done, and through it all, prayer is a way of being reminded of the presence of the Spirit in what we do.
Worship can offer forms for prayer, prayers that show how prayer is shaped. That way worshipers can use the prayers provided but can also craft their own prayers following the form or shape of prayer. It gives a running start to those who may feel that they don’t know what to say.
Prayer stations could be set up through the sanctuary or even throughout the church as an interactive moment to go and seek out space to pray and to find more information about prayer. One could invite prayers of petition; another might have prayers of intercession; yet another could focus on prayers of praise. Incorporate movement or art in these stations or prayer moments throughout the worship experience. Let there be a rhythm to prayer in the life of the church as a whole.
Dedicate the church to being or continuing as a place of prayer. Don’t let any meetings happen without prayer, for example. Establish prayer chains or lift up those that exist already. Tell people how to share their prayer concerns. James says go get the elders and have them pray. We are to be a praying church and leaders are available for the task of praying.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.