Taking the power of prayer seriously
Published: July 5, 2006 | 4401st good news item since 2003
Dutch Sheets has seen the power of prayer. Whether he is praying on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, in airports, or at his church, he has witnessed his prayers make a difference.
“When I came to a revelation and believed deep in my heart that my prayers could make a difference and mattered, it changed my world,” says the author of the new book, “Authority in Prayer.”
That is the revelation Sheets is looking to pass on to other church leaders who offer only a quick “thank you, Lord” before passing the offering plate, and do not engage their churches in serious prayer.
The Colorado Springs minister says many pastors fail to guide their congregations into ongoing intercession because they don’t believe it works. Sheets thinks the idea that God is sovereign can be taken to such a theological extreme that some people reason that God will act regardless of prayer.
“Now, I’ll travel to (Washington) D.C. for a day because I feel like God has assigned me to go stand in front of the Supreme Court and decree five sentences. I do it because I believe wholeheartedly that God works through us and through our prayers.”
Believing prayer matters
Sheets is passionate about prayer, citing Ezekiel 22:30-31, where God says he is looking for a person to stand in the gap so he won’t have to pour out his wrath on his people.
“That just blew me away,” Sheets says. “I began to realize this is not just a religious exercise to make me feel good about myself.”
Not only do Americans need to pray more fervently, according to Sheets, the responsibility for more prayer falls on the shoulders of the nation’s pastors. “I think individuals will follow us wherever we take them,” says Sheets, whose book, “Intercessory Prayer,” was a bestseller. “So many times, the leaders don’t get it. Therefore, they don’t lead the congregation there.”
Obstacles to prayer
Others who work in and write about prayer ministry agree with Sheets. Jonathan Graf, president of the Church Prayer Leaders Network, estimates only two percent of churches maintain active prayer ministries.
The former editor of Pray magazine says not only is prayer hard work, it may make a pastor’s work harder. Graf says that when churches get serious about prayer, negative circumstances often appear. Affairs involving leaders may surface, serious family situations come to light and “things get messy.”
Not only does Satan want to thwart what’s happening, but when people desire to walk closely with God they must deal with hidden or unconfessed sin, Graf says.
“Because it’s difficult for churches, I know a number who haven’t moved forward after an initial thrust,” says Graf, whose network has about 1,300 congregational members. “The status quo can be comfortable.”
Another obstacle may be church leadership—deacons or elders who are indifferent, don’t want to yield control, or don’t expect prayer will make a difference.
Another leader told Graf once that when she compiled a list of intercessors she recognized the huge attrition rate over the years. Because prayer is such hard work and so few join in, Graf says frustration yields high turnover among lay leaders.
Graf says this is why a pastor’s involvement is key. “In churches where prayer is the strongest they haven’t let go of the leadership.”
Dr. Chuck Lawless agrees. The dean of the evangelism school at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and co-author of “Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry,” says that unless the pastor clearly supports prayer volunteers by praying in the pulpit, participating in prayer events and keeping a spotlight on the issue, lay leaders will feel abandoned.
“There’s a need to know the pastor prays, they hear him praying in the pulpit and see him on his knees with some people,” says Lawless.
More prayer can begin with Sunday worship prayer. Sheets says the No. 1 thing a pastor can do to improve the church’s prayer life is to bring prayer time into corporate worship. For him, that means anywhere from five to 20 minutes of prayer during a Sunday morning service.
His church divides its prayers into three primary areas, praying for the nation and its government, those who don’t follow Christ, and congregational needs. As they move through the list, pictures of people affected flash on an overhead screen.
Sheets and Lawless are both believers in using prayer guides, saying they can help provide direction and assistance for daily intercession at home.
When it comes to authoritative prayers, though, Sheets says there is nothing better than praying the Scriptures. Ephesians calls the Bible “our sword,” which means when Christians pray it they know they are praying God’s will, he says.
“I feel like you go to another level of God honoring it when it’s His Word,” Sheets says. “I don’t think there is anything more powerful.”