So is group church prayer out of date? Does prayer make a difference for God? Or, can we change an infinite God's mind?
1. Is the traditional group prayer meeting out of date?
Maybe! In our little Brazilian congregation on Wednesday nights we have a short devotional Bible study and a time for spoken praises and prayer requests, then we divide into small groups for a period of joint prayer. Sometimes the praises are old news and the requests are long accounts of the details of some unknown to anyone's cousin's disease. Sometimes the small groups are too big and sometimes there's more chit-chat than actual prayer. How do you fix that? You could just cut out the prayer time. Or, you could train the people involved to do their job more efficiently. Yeah, it takes some work and there will be "off task" moments, but the rewards of sharing praise and problems with the church family are worth it. Set some rules for requests. Repeat them frequently. Let people know that if their request goes on for more than so many minutes the leader might say "Thank you, very much" and move along. But think about, how are younger Christians going to learn to pray, if they never hear an older man or woman do it? How can the family, the members, be better "knit together" as a body in Christ without participating in the joys and griefs of others?
I can remember the men and women in the little Free Methodist church where my family attended in Baltimore, Maryland kneeling down between the pews to pray on prayer nights. I can still see many of their faces with eyes closed as they prayed for strayed youth, sick family, the church work, missionaries. Seeing older Christians in fervent prayer for others had a big impact on my life as a young girl.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up... James 5: 13 - 15
2. Does prayer make a difference for God? Can we change God's mind?
Is the future set in stone? The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Does that indicate that everything is already written in the great annals of time and cannot be altered? I'm a big fan of science fiction and some of my favorite works and movies have to do with time travel. But here and now, through prayer, can I really make a difference in what is supposedly or seemingly going to happen? If God is really the holder of the keys of that great book of all events, can my feeble human prayers have any effect at all?
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. James 5:16 -18
I don't think you could find a clearer passage then this! Confess your sins and pray and God will answer. Will we always SEE those answers in our life time? Maybe not, God is on His own time line, but these verses do indicate that good prayer of fessed up believers AVAILS. It doesn't say how long it might take. It just says that God will answer. That's good enough for me.
Lastly, prayer is our time to speak directly, one-on-one with our creator God. So many times in my life, just telling my problems to my Daddy without his even saying much at all in return, put me on the right path. It's almost like I knew what I needed to do, but after sharing my burdens, I was ready to act. Perhaps prayer is partly that - looking to our Great God for the wisdom to put into action what needs to be done. It's a time to rest on God's wisdom and ask for help.
Let's not give up on talking to God - individually in private and collectively at church. God is still answering prayer in big and small ways all around the world. Having problems with your church prayer times? Change it up! But don't give it up!