A Praying Church, Part 3
March 23, 2023 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
In this series of articles, I seek to unpack the teaching of Paul Miller’s new book, A Praying Church, and apply the principles to our church. As we grow in our prayer habits, may we become people of hope in a discouraging world.
Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Church, is broken into five parts with four to six chapters in each part. Part 1, which I covered in my first two articles, addressed the question, “Why Pray Together?” In a nutshell, Miller answers that question by stating, “Prayer accesses the Spirit of Jesus” (p. 30). The Spirit of Jesus brings the power of the gospel to bear on the church and the saints. In Part 2 Miller addresses the question, “What is the Church?” He contends that the church’s “current way of functioning makes it prayer resistant” (p. 47). He explains that when we think of the church more in its institutional nature, rather than its organic nature, we diminish the value of prayer.
Miller writes, “So, what is the church? What’s the point of contact of the Spirit’s power with reality? Paul’s answer: the saints!... When the church’s power train (prayer -> Spirit -> Jesus -> power) empowers the saints, the whole church comes alive. People experience a reality of the risen Christ that kills unbelief and cynicism. The Spirit’s energy empowers the little people, allowing the kingdom to come in real time. Jesus is enfleshed” (p. 52-53).
When we think of the church as a building and institution, we tend to think of ministry only happening through the weekly worship gathering and its programs. By placing the saints at the center of our answer to the question, what is the church, we begin to elevate the ministry of individual believers taking place in the normal activities of life. Ministry happens when we take time to listen to a neighbor, comfort a hurting coworker, read the Bible with our children, cook a meal for a family recovering from a hardship, share the gospel with a friend, pray for a fellow church member, etc. This cultivates the praying church. “When we see and celebrate saints at work, praying together comes alive in vibrant and fresh ways. Prayers are enlarged from purely personal needs (health, safety, success) to tuning into what the Spirit is doing in multiple lives” (p. 52).
This vision of the church impacts our expectations for and relationship with the church. We don’t come to church to be entertained or consume its latest products (e.g. a good sermon, solid theology, friendships, etc.). The gathering of the church institutional is for the feeding and equipping of the church organic so that the saints will do the work of ministry throughout their lives, wherever God places them. Miller unpacks this concept by walking the reader through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He summarizes by stating, “Strikingly, Paul’s opus on the church [his letter to the Ephesians] centers not on the church but on Christ. We do church best when we don’t look at church but gaze at Christ. Nor does Paul center on prayer. He centers on Jesus and all he is for us. Prayer is the church’s lifeblood because it’s the conduit to the Spirit continually renewing in us Jesus’s resurrection life…Prayer merely accesses the Spirit, who makes Jesus present. That’s why we go to church. To eat Christ. He's the center. He’s everything” (p. 70).
This is an important topic for us at Oak Hills to consider. Our understanding of what the church is will not only impact our understanding of what faithful and fruitful ministry is, but also our eagerness to be a praying church. I pray that God would open our eyes to see the ministry he has for each one of us to do each day. May such awareness drive us to our knees, seeking the empowerment of Christ for his work in and through us.