Editor’s Note: Over the last year, many Chinese Christians have intentionally devoted themselves to prayer for their own hearts, their churches, and their nation. Many believers have also taken part in intensive prayer trainings, meant to equip them and their churches to build God’s earthly kingdom through prayer.
We recently spoke with Pastor Zhang Liyan about why he feels the need for renewal in his personal and corporate prayer life, and how a recent prayer training helped him and his church.
China Partnership: Why did your church participate in an intensive prayer training?
Pastor Zhang: We need prayer training in the church because nowadays, prayer meetings are more of a formality. Since there is no good way for the church to be renewed without prayer, we need to have a deeper understanding of prayer. We also need practical equipping in how to pray—how to teach prayer, how to practice prayer, how to keep our prayer meetings fresh, and so on.
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CP: How would you describe your experience of prayer after becoming a Christian?
Pastor Zhang: When I first came to faith, for a very long time I had an amazing prayer life. I was moved by the Holy Spirit and received clear guidance from God. But as ministry became busier, prayer became less easy. Prayer gradually became less personal, and more about ministry; less emotional, more rational; less an inner experience, and more an outer practice.
CP: What does prayer look like in your personal life?
Pastor Zhang: Prayer is still important in my personal life—but prayer is also a problem that is difficult to explain. It seems like everything is right, but at the same time, nothing is right. I am not quite sure what is lacking. Of course difficulties with prayer are related to one’s relationship with God, but other than that, I do not know if the issue is circumstantial, lack of knowledge, or something else.
CP: What does prayer look like in the life of your church?
Pastor Zhang: The church’s prayer life is fairly stable, because most prayers within the church are formal: for a ministry project or for the needs of a member. This type of prayer is very specific and focused, so there is not really a lot to say about it.
CP: Tell me about your church’s experience at the recent prayer training.
Pastor Zhang: We had an important experience during the prayer walk. Going through the prayer walk training led us to face not only our city, but also our own hearts. As we reflected on the prayer walk, we realized that we had gradually lost our passion for the gospel and our burden for lost souls. Satisfying logical questions and building the institution of the church are both important, but doing these things took up too much space. We spent less and less time praying for our city and for the gospel. This experience of prayer walking in our city prompted us to make some changes.
CP: What does “prayer evangelism” mean? How can prayer be a part of outreach? I know there were prayer exercises during the training that involved praying with and for strangers. Can you tell me what this looks like?
Pastor Zhang: Our church does not actually practice prayer evangelism or pray with strangers in public. Partly this is because we lack courage; partly, this is because of the culture in which we live. Perhaps there would be unexpected gains if we just went for it (actually, I am sure there would be), but these things also bring a greater chance of negative consequences. We look forward to learning more deeply about prayer evangelism and to building the right kind of faith so that, when we become more mature, we can have these types of experiences.
CP: Is prayer a priority for you and your church? If so, why? How would you convince others that prayer is important?
Pastor Zhang: Theoretically, prayer is the highest priority for any church, because prayer is the foundation for all of a church’s ministries, both inward and outward. In my own experience, effective evangelism and church planting must be connected with prayer before they take place. If prayer is not the highest priority, then any work we do will be ministry- and result-oriented rather than God-centered, which is dangerous and unstable.
But—the reality is that our church just makes formal prayer our top priority, not effective prayer. This was one of the reasons our church joined the prayer training, and one of the reasons we convinced others to join along with us.
CP: You mentioned that effective evangelism and church planting are linked to prayer. Can you tell me about how you have seen prayer impact church planting and prayer? Are there any personal experiences you could share regarding this?
Pastor Zhang: Different people experience different things. Based on some experiences I have had, I believe that prayer can create a spiritual atmosphere. If we pray persistently about something—this includes both formal and informal prayers—then the meditations of our mind will be constantly focused on that certain thing. Our spiritual sensitivity will become strong, so that when God leads through the Word, circumstances, people, or situations we are experiencing, we will easily notice that leading, and then we will be able to verify it. We will be able to understand God’s will. But on the other hand, if we ignore the importance of prayer, our spiritual observation skills will be dull and we will rely on past experiences instead of God.
One example of this was that our church prayed for our church planting ministry. Once the church realized this was a need, we began to pray about it, and during that time, all of our thoughts were focused on church planting. One Sunday, the preacher passionately shared Deuteronomy 11:11, which says: “The land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.” After service that day, someone gave me a notebook with that very verse on its cover.
Shortly after all this, the church settled on a plan for church planting. The great question was that of space: where would we meet? Should we rent something, or use someone’s home? At 6 a.m. morning while I was praying about this, a sister in the church who works for a real estate company called me. The night before, her boss had called her to say that the company had a home that they could give him for a very good price. He wondered if she wanted it? As soon as she woke, she couldn’t wait any longer and called me. It was amazing as I was just praying about this very thing! Through further discussion and meetings, the church determined that this was the very place God had prepared.
When we entered the room for the first time, we were amazed. Just as Deut. 11:11 says, the house faced a valley with a very beautiful view. We all praised the Lord. Of course, there are many more experiences—but the point is that, without prayer, we would not have realized what was happening. Everything would have seemed natural, not supernatural. I do not think prayer changes God’s plan, but prayer does lead us to understand his plan, which is the foundation of all ministry. If prayer is lacking, then we lose the opportunity to work with God, which is a shame!
CP: Did this recent training change or influence your attitude toward prayer? If so, how?
Pastor Zhang: Yes, it impacted me personally. Not only did the training give me a broader understanding of prayer, but it also helped us to see opportunities in prayer ministry. For example, during the training, I saw that some church members who were not very good at prayer were praying better after they had studied prayer and practiced praying. Once the training itself was finished, our church started a one-year prayer group, and even more people got involved in the prayer programs. Although our church still has difficulties in prayer ministry, the training gave us a lot of practical help in areas like teaching prayer, practicing prayer, and experimenting with prayer.
Pastor Zhang Liyan (a pseudonym) shepherds a church in northeast China.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
-Pray that churches across China will pray with expectation, diligence, and fervor. Pray for Christians to experience God’s guidance and gospel renewal through prayer.
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