prayer

Why Praying With Others Works

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

In September, we spent some time learning about prayer and devotions as part of your “regular” Agenda at a Deacons’ Meeting. In our post “A Diaconate that Prays Together, Stays Together,” we laid out why prayer is a vital part of the ministry deacons do and how praying together can actually make a diaconate more effective. While it seems counterproductive to spend time praying instead of ‘working’, we discovered together that prayer IS work, and even better: PRAYER WORKS! Prayer helps us know God’s Will more clearly AND it increases our love – for God and for our world. (If you need a refresher or reminder of this point, take a look at our blog post from Sept. 13 before reading further!)

In our follow-up post, we talked about Praying with Expectation, aka faith. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, click here.

Prayer helps us know God’s Will more clearly and it increases our love – for God and for our world.

For our final post in this month’s theme, I want to look a little more closely at the importance of praying WITH OTHERS. Our hope at Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC) is that deacons will not only be a working group in our churches but will be a community of believers who love and care for one another, for the church AND for their community.

Corporate Prayer is Helpful

There’s a wonderful story in the Gospels which talks about a few friends coming together to help bring their friend to Jesus for healing. These friends were so convinced that Jesus could help their buddy out, they were going to get some face time with Rabbi if it was the last thing they did! Because of their sheer determination and faith, Jesus healed this paralyzed man – both physically AND spiritually! (See Luke 5:17-26 for the whole story.) There is something so beautiful about people coming before God in faith with a common purpose. While we are not able to physically bring our hurting friends before Christ to receive His healing touch, we can do so through PRAYER! And we know He will help them. “Prayer may be countercultural, invisible, and difficult. It’s also truly helpful.” (Megan Hill, Helped by Prayer)

Megan Hill, author of Praying Together, says it this way: “In prayer together, we join in the praises and laments and supplications of our neighbors, carrying their burdens and blessings to the throne, lending them a hand to lay them before the Lord.”

“Prayer may be countercultural, invisible, and difficult. It’s also truly helpful.”

Hill also points out, “It’s not only people who have had similar experiences who can love one another by prayer. Those who sit in comfortable pews in suburban American can pray for persecuted Christians on the other side of the world. And those who are in chains can pray for those who are free to proclaim Christ. The healthy can weep with the sick, and the sick can rejoice with the healthy. The lonely can rejoice with the married, and the married can weep with the widows. This is love.”

In his article “The Benefits of Praying Together”, Jonathan Graf reminds us that “churches that do not pray together still minister in whatever ways they can, given their resources, abilities, and sacrifices. But churches that pray together begin to see the miraculous power of God at work in their midst. It goes beyond what they can and should do into what God wants to do through them.” [emphasis mine]

“And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” 2 Corinthians 1:11 

Corporate Prayer Grows our Faith 

Jonathan Graf also reminds us that “faith grows as we pray together. Here’s how it works: Maybe I personally am going through a tough time. In the midst of it, I try to pray with trust and faith, but it is difficult because I only see the issue. If I go and pray with others, however, what happens? As I listen to others pray with more faith than I have, my faith grows.” He goes on to say that the more you pray together with others, the more your faith will increase as well as the amount of miracles in your church and ministry. Which in turn will increase your faith, which will likely result in more prayer!

Think back to the friends who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof. What faith they had initially! But imagine how their faith increased when Jesus did what they hoped for and knew he was able to do! What a celebration to experience that together as a group!

Corporate Prayer Brings Unity and Understanding 

What Megan Hill says above leads us to our next point. In Matthew 18:19-20 we read, “Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” While we may come to the table with different hopes, dreams, opinions, and ideas, what binds us together is that we approach Jesus together as His followers, under His lordship and in His strength, and we pray in His name alone. If Jesus is our focus when we pray, we are coming together in agreement and Jesus promises He will be there. The more we do this, the more we begin to let go of our own personal desires and dreams and start to open ourselves up to what God wants. Praying with others will always pull you away from personal preferences into what’s best for the entire body.

If this happens, faith AND ministry can truly grow!

Praying with others will always pull you away from personal preferences into what’s best for the entire body. 

Pray Without Ceasing 

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 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. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:13-16

If you haven’t done so already, we encourage diaconates to begin incorporating prayer into their monthly meetings. As we said above, diaconates will find a greater level of effectiveness when their purposes are centered more on God than on themselves and their tasks. Jessie Schut acknowledges this in her book, “Beyond the Agenda”: “We recognize that your group has an agenda to follow and tasks to accomplish. We propose that these tasks will be done more joyfully, with a greater sense of purpose, and with more satisfying results if your working group is a community of caring people who support each other. And in the process, your group will move beyond the agenda to become a model of Christ’s body here on earth.” (pg. 7)

DMC has a couple of great resources to help you incorporate prayer and scripture into your monthly meetings, even for those who feel uncomfortable or uneasy about praying in groups. Check out our Devotions in Your Diaconate handout and our Growing as a Community of Deacons brochure.

“If we are no longer centered by Jesus in prayer, it becomes harder and harder to experience Him in the people we work with. … If you want to do it long term and remain faithful in it, I think it is very important that you ‘spoil’ yourself—spend some good time with Jesus and Him alone. This is the way to prevent burn-out and to remain joyful even when you see so much suffering and pain.” Henri Nouwen

Written by: Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator


Love our resources? Want to see more? DMC is an organization that was created by deacons, for deacons and we work hard to provide timely and relevant resources so deacons can be at their best. While we are primarily funded through Diaconal Ministry Shares that churches across Canada contribute, this income alone does not cover our entire budget or allow us to expand our ministry and increase our impact.

Will you help us so we can continue to provide training and resources to deacons? 

Donate today! Every gift helps and will impact diaconates and churches across Canada as we work together to transform communities with Christ’s love!

Prayer/Good Meetings: Praying with Expectation

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, resources, Uncategorized | No Comments

Psalm 5:3: “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” 

In September, we spent some time learning about prayer and devotions as part of your “regular” Agenda at a Deacons’ Meeting. In our post “A Diaconate that Prays Together, Stays Together,” we laid out why prayer is a vital part of the ministry deacons do and how praying together can actually make a diaconate more effective. While it seems counterproductive to spend time praying instead of ‘working’, we discovered together that prayer IS work, and even better: prayer WORKS! 

As I sit at my desk and look outside at a dreary, rainy fall day, I am also reminded of something else deacons (and perhaps all Christians) struggle with: HOW to pray. We’re not referring to the words we choose or the items we pray about, but about with what POSTURE we pray. In that verse above from Psalm 53, it would appear that the author knew exactly what attitude we should have when we pray—one of eager expectation. When we come before God in prayer, we are to believe God will hear our prayers and, once offered, that all we need to do afterwards is wait patiently for Him to act.

Well! That sounds pretty easy, right? We pray and God will act. Period. And yet, why do so many of us struggle with this? When we pray, “Thy will be done”, are we giving God an ‘out’? Are we giving OURSELVES an out!? ‘Well, God, this is what we want and what we think needs to happen in this or that situation, but hey, you know best so we’ll let you take care of it, hopefully sooner than later.’ Does that sound familiar, if we’re being honest?

In the ever-popular verse Jeremiah chapter 29:11, we read that God remembers us and He has very good things planned for us to enjoy. But if we keep reading, we see in verses 12 and 13 something that is perhaps even MORE important, and hopeful: if we take the initiative to call upon Him, pray, and seek His presence with all of our heart, He will listen and be found. There in these verses we are reminded of what our part is: to trust and expect Him to act.

As I sit here and ponder what it means to pray with expectation, I am reminded of a story I read a few years back that’s been shared in various places. (I happened to read it in a Back to God Ministries Daytimer!) It goes like this:

There was a small farming community that had been experiencing a terrible drought. The crops were dying in the fields and everyone was very worried because this was how they made their living. The pastor of the local church called a special prayer service for all the people of the town. He asked them to gather in front of the church and spend some time praying in faith that God would send some rain. Many people arrived and the pastor was encouraged by that. As the pastor was getting ready to begin the meeting, he noticed a young girl standing quietly in the front. Her face was beaming with excitement and then he saw beside her, open and ready for use, was a large, colourful umbrella. 

As he stared at the umbrella, he felt a bit of shame, but was then filled with hope and encouragement. This little girl’s childlike innocence warmed his heart as he realized how much faith she possessed. Everyone had come to pray for rain, but only the little girl believed enough to bring an umbrella. 

“Prayer is asking for rain. Faith is bringing an umbrella.”

Help Us Overcome our Unbelief!

How often are we like the crowd, who pray earnestly for God to act, but don’t fully believe He will or in the way we desire? If you are like this little girl, then God bless you! What would it look like if our diaconate – our churches! – were filled with “little girls” with colourful umbrellas?! That when we pray, we would believe that nothing is too difficult for God and that all things are possible with Him!

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

In Mark 9, we read a story about a man who asked Jesus to heal his son who was demon possessed. The man asks Jesus to take pity on them and heal his son, “if you can.” (Mark 9:22b) Whoa. Who talks to Jesus like that??!! If you can… !!!! Jesus (of course) replied, “If I can? Anything is possible to him who believes.” (vs. 23) Verse 24 says, “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark‬ ‭9:24‬ ‭NIV)

Can you identify with that man? If we look at the entire story, we see that this man had brought his son to Jesus’ disciples and they were not able to heal him. So can you blame a guy for being a bit skeptical? Perhaps he didn’t think it was “God’s Will” to heal his son. Or perhaps he was just being realistic, not wanting to get his hopes up. The fact that he brought his son to the disciples shows us that he initially believed they could do something about it, but upon their failure, his trust was waning. He no longer came with ‘eager expectation.’ What redeems this father’s unbelief is his honesty and his humble request to Jesus: “Help me overcome my unbelief!” (vs. 24). He DID believe Jesus could heal his son and he desperately WANTED Jesus to heal his son. All he needed was eager expectation; that Jesus would hear him, and act. Perhaps there are times your faith, my faith, needs to be stronger. And this, too, is something we can ask God for help with, with great expectation that He WILL answer our prayer.

Don’t Delay – Just PRAY!

Something else the ‘umbrella’ exposes is our lack of trust and/or doubt, or dare we say, arrogance and self-reliance? Why do we wait until the “drought” has begun killing our “crops” – our very livelihood – and our hopes along with it, and then pray for God’s help? We take our problems, we do everything we can to fix them and then, when things look overwhelming and beyond our abilities, we call on God to help us.

While this story has been used over and over again in various articles, sermons, and memes, it is a good reminder to grab our umbrella – our faith, hope & trust – when we pray. We are asked to pray with expectation, rather than suspicion or doubt. To pray in faith rather than in desperation and despair. If we are in a right relationship with God and we have the Holy Spirit living in us – guiding us, leading us, convicting us – then we will know God better and trust in Him to provide what we need, when we need it. Psalm 34:15 reminds us: “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.” And in James 5:16 we read: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” These verses tell us that God hears the prayers of those who put their trust in Him and who have a right relationship with Him and God will use your prayers to accomplish His good work. And not because of how we pray or how often, but because of His great mercy and love! (Daniel 9:18)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15

So next time you pray for rain, don’t forget to grab your umbrella!


HOW ABOUT YOU?

How is your personal prayer life? Do you come before God with an umbrella in your hand when you pray?

What about your diaconate? Could you pray with more eager expectation? Have you done so in the past and seen God move in a big way? Share your story with us!

What about your church? Have you prayed for “rain” and yet, left your “umbrellas” at home? How could your diaconate, and church leadership, equip and empower your members to pray with eager expectation? Again, perhaps you have a story to share where you DID do this and God heard your prayer and acted in His great mercy and love. Let us know! We’d love to encourage other diaconates and churches 🙂

Listening to Our Communities

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons, resources, Uncategorized | No Comments

As mentioned in our previous blog post, New Month… Same Theme!, we’ll continue looking at listening this month, and in particular, listening to our COMMUNITIES. But perhaps we need to first name what we envision when we hear those words. What does listening to our community LOOK like? Sitting in the mall food court and eavesdropping to the table next to you? Listening to the local radio station while you cook dinner at home? Following your mayor’s or local MPP’s Twitter feed? Spying on your neighbours?

While these may be good suggestions and may prove helpful (well, all except the last one!!!), this likely isn’t going to help you get to know your city or the neighbourhoods within it. In our last blog post, we posed a few questions we hope you’ve had some time to ponder:

  • What are ways your diaconate actively listens to your community?
  • How does your church engage with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them better?
  • How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ?

Hmmm, what was that last one? How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ? There is a lot in there so let’s pick that one apart for a minute.

TAKE TIME – This means intentionally setting time aside to listen and learn.

DISCOVER – This means acknowledging you likely don’t know the whole story! Remember how we said listening can lead to understanding? Why not re-read our post on why listening is so important and our Top 10 Things to Know in Order to Listen Well for a minute before you move on 😉

WHERE GOD IS AT WORK – Perhaps you thought this was all about YOU! Well, it ain’t. All of what you do as deacons is about seeing where God is at work and joining HIM! Perhaps you’ve never heard that before. Perhaps you find that a bit freeing! Takes the pressure off a bit, eh?

Yes folks, God is, and always has been, moving and working in your community. The beautiful part is that we get to JOIN HIM! So now if that’s true, how do we know what He’s up to?

Discovering Where God is at Already at Work

Let’s touch on some of the best ways to discern and discover where God is moving and working:

  1. Prayer-Walking: In his book “Why Pray”, Dr. John DeVries reminds believers that prayer is an exciting and powerful privilege! He shows us that prayer is simply talking with God and it can lead to a deepened relationship of greater love and trust with our Heavenly Father. In his explanation of prayer, he compares it to a young boy riding on his grandfather’s lap as they ride the tractor around his grandparent’s farm. He says, “Prayer is the dependent relationship in which I sit on the lap of my heavenly Father and put my hand on His as He steers the tractor. After all, He not only owns and drives the tractor, but He also owns the farm!” Prayer Walking can be an important part of joining God on His mission. As one author put it, it’s taking the church to people, not taking people to the church. Prayer walking is a way we put feet to our prayers, or as some will say, praying on-site with insight. It can help us pray with open eyes, literally! In order to equip you and your churches, check out this valuable resource for your diaconates on what Prayer-Walking is – and isn’t! As Dr. DeVries continues, he reminds us: The fields that are ripe for harvest are God’s. He owns the tractor, and He knows where to plow. Only when we, like little children, climb into God’s lap in prayer, feel His arms of love around us, and experience the security of having our hands on His while He guides the steering wheel—only then will missions move!” [emphasis mine] Prayer-Walking is a beautiful and powerful way we can pray with hope for our cities!
  2. Attend or Host a Community Prayer Meeting: Gathering a group of people from inside and outside your church who all want to build up and bless their city has tremendous power! (Proverbs 11:11) What a wonderful way to celebrate unity among believers and non-believers, especially in these times when divisions seem to creep in so easily and quickly. Not only is it a chance to learn more about your community but you will also experience growth, both spiritually and personally. “While you are investing in God’s work, you are enlisting others to advance God’s work on earth” (Corinne Gatti). Imagine that! God will bless those efforts to do even more than we can imagine!
  3. Get Involved and Stay Informed: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13–16) “Sociologist James Hunter…writes: ‘Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.’ As followers of Jesus, we are called to a mission of engagement in, not withdrawal from, the broader world. To faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it” (Tom Nelson, article: “To Engage the World Means Being Present in It”). So start reading your local newspaper in order to follow municipal and regional affairs. Or why not volunteer/get involved in a local non-profit. It won’t take long before you discover where God is opening up doors for you and your church.
  4. Conduct a Community Opportunity Scan! For churches that are ready to see their relationship with their neighbours in a new way, DMC has developed a Community Opportunity Scan (COS). A COS is a comprehensive process of discovery which can lead to exciting possibilities! Churches can get to know the people, organizations, resources and needs of their community first-hand and more importantly, they can see where God is already at work!

So let’s get back to our original questions… What are ways your diaconate is actively listening to your community? How is your church intentionally engaging with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them? How are you, as deacons, taking time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ??

Churches and diaconates across Canada are in different stages of this “listening” journey. We at DMC are excited to hear their stories and we’ll be sharing a few in the weeks to come. Some are beginning to practice Prayer-Walking in various neighbourhoods in their city; some are clearly listening and paying close attention to where God is at work and what is happening in and around their church and then DOING SOMETHING about it through advocacy; some are beginning the COS process; and others are now moving on to see if an Operation Manna partnership will help them either start or grow a ministry in order to reach out into their community with the love of Christ!

No matter where your church/diaconate is in their journey, if you have any questions or need further guidance, we encourage you to get in touch with one of our Regional Ministry Developers and they’d love to speak with you! You can also check out our resources and tools online.


But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:57-58


 

Too Busy to Pray? Not Necessarily…

Posted by | Equipping Deacons | No Comments

A few years ago, Willow Creek Church pastor and author Bill Hybels released a cleverly-titled book: Too Busy Not to Pray.  In my mind I know it is true: so many things need to be prayed about, with so much happening in my life and so many needs in the church.  But, in my life, when I am honest, I acknowledge that–too often–I am indeed “too busy to pray.” What to do?

How can we, whatever our role, be a bigger blessing to the people we serve as we strive to deepen our prayer life?  Here is something that has helped me, and I hope (and pray) that it will help you, too: take advantage of moments when you sing, and use a simple song as a framework for prayer.

These moments may include commuting in your car, folding laundry…or my favourite: power-walking on a treadmill.  A simple song that can work is, “In Our Lives, Lord, Be Glorified” (Lift Up Your Hearts #861 or “Lord, Be Glorified” in Sing! A New Creation #43).

The first verse goes like this:

          In our lives, Lord, be glorified, be glorified; In our lives, Lord, be glorified today.

Other verses mention, “In our homes, Lord…” “In your church, Lord…” and “In your world, Lord…”

The verses are easily adaptable to any ministry you would like to pray about.  So, let’s say you are a deacon commuting to work…your singing-prayer could go like this…

          In First CRC, Lord, be glorified, be glorified;

          In First CRC, Lord, be glorified today.

Then, the following verses could go like this…

          Through the deacons, Lord, be glorified…(etc.)

          Through the elders and other leaders, Lord…

          Through our pastor, Lord…

          Through our general membership, Lord…

          As we serve the community, Lord…

With some creativity (and flexibility with the syllables!) you can make the prayer especially relevant to any ministry situation…some examples:

          As I finish my workplan, Lord…

          As we develop our COS, Lord…

Of course, these song-prayers don’t have to be “solo-only.”  Why not sing this prayer at your next meeting?  As the Spirit leads, you can ask for suggestions for each of the verses, up-front or in-between verses: “In the foodbank, Lord!” “Through our small groups, Lord!” and so on.

Yes, we are busy.  But we are too busy not to pray.  May the Lord be glorified (and the people you serve be blessed) as you take advantage of singing-moments as opportunities for prayer.

 

Doug VandeKamp is a Diaconal Ministry Developer for Classis Toronto, and also a Pastor available for a call in the Christian Reformed Church.

Click here for more information on Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMD) or to find the DMD for your Classis.