Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Weakest Link?

A situation that came up last week related to a local church "prayer chain" got me to thinking about this whole phenomena. I'm not going to go into the details of the specific event, but suffice it to say that due to poor communication between links in the chain, assumptions made that should not have been, lack of checking facts with someone who would know, etc - a rumor was started regarding a serious health issue affecting one of our pastors, from the prayer chain in another church. Now, the concept of a prayer chain or something like it has probably been around since there have been telephones or likely even before. There are always people in a local church that volunteer to pray for needs that arise within the body, usually emergencies or health situations or similar things. And various means have been set up to quickly communicate these prayer requests through a chain of said prayer volunteers. This is a relatively effective way to get a bunch of people praying in a short period of time when Aunt Betsy's gout flares up or cousin Jed loses his job or the Smith's baby gets the flu. You know what I mean. The usual stuff that prayer groups and the like have been praying about since the apostle John's mother-in-law came down with the croup. It's become just a part of the life of most churches. But I had to ask myself - is it Biblical?

No one would argue that praying for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ is not Biblical. We are commanded over and over to pray for one another. This is a key one-another command given to the church, that we all need to take seriously. And we see the early church in the book of Acts doing just that - gathering together continually to pray together for each other and for the gospel to be advanced and God to be glorified. So praying for one another, regardless of the specific need, is indeed Biblical and good and healthy for a local church to engage in. In fact, I would consider the quantity and quality of prayer among and for fellow Christians to be a major indicator of the health of a church.

But how does the "prayer chain" concept match with Biblical models of prayer for one another? Is this a legitimate Biblical model for prayer in the local church? At the risk of sounding anti-traditional, or even of offending some, I have to say that I am not sure it is. The model of praying for one another seen in the early accounts of the church in the NT seem to indicate a gathering together for prayer and sharing of life in Christ, not a dissemination of prayer needs to many people so they can pray on their own. And yes, modern advances in communications like the telephone or email can quickly get a large number of people praying about a given topic quickly. But is that the real objective – to get as many people praying about something as possible, so as to overwhelm God with the sheer volume of prayer? Again, this view is simply not Biblical. Prayer by its nature is not focused on changing God’s will, but instead on transforming our hearts and minds and attitudes to His. It also does not seem to be in the Biblical model of praying for one another to ask another person to pray for someone they don’t even know or have relationship with, as is often the case. And along those lines, it seems that the “prayer chain” often results in poorly communicated prayer needs at best, and mis-communicated needs at worst (as in the situation last week.) Frankly, in many cases the prayer chain is not much more than a formalized grapevine within the church that does more to spread gossip than meet the Lord’s command to pray for one another.

If you are a member of a prayer chain, please do not take offense at my comments here. I do believe that there are instances where it is right and proper to communicate specific needs in the body to a network of committed brothers and sisters to bring them before the Lord, and to facilitate engaging God’s people in the overall life of the body. If you are part of a prayer chain that does this, that’s great. My experience, however, tends to indicate that this is the exception and not the rule. We all should be developing close spiritual relationships with fellow believers that we can share our needs and prayer concerns with and pray together Biblically about, so that we don’t need to broadcast those needs to a broad group of loosely-connected people that can’t know enough specifics to pray appropriately. If we do that, we will be links in a truly Biblical and Christ-honoring prayer chain. For our good and His glory.

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