Editor’s note: Over the past years, China Partnership has dedicated itself to intentional prayer for the church in China. As CP increasingly emphasizes prayer as part of our calling, we have worked with John Smed, director of Prayer Current, to hone our prayer muscles. We spoke with him about why prayer is so crucial and how organizations can grow in this critical area.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CP: Can you share about prayer and partnership?
John Smed: The question that needs to be addressed is: how do we bring prayer into the center of our organizations and our partnerships? The slogan we have come up with is: “Prayer-centered movements have prayer at the center.”
At International Justice Mission, every person begins his or her day at the office with an hour of prayer. Then they have an hour of staff prayer. They have a monthly day of prayer, and an annual prayer time that everybody participates in – as part of the payroll, if you want to put it that way. Instead of prayer being an elective exercise – you know, “If you want to exercise, go ahead, but if you don’t, just be chubby” – instead, we have to say prayer is as essential and vital as anything we do. International Justice Mission, for example, says the work of justice begins with prayer. If well begun, half done.
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There are significant implications to saying, “Let’s bring prayer into the center.” For example, is it going to be in the budget? Are you going to hire anybody to do anything? Are you going to pay for training? Are you going to have materials and resources?
If we don’t disciple in prayer, we are not going to become prayers. It has to happen with staff and with leaders. Let’s not bring people to prayer; let’s bring prayer to people. Let’s not bring people to prayer events; let’s take prayer into every event. Let’s give it its rightful due: not just the footnote or the polite thing at the beginning and the end.
In our church we did not have small groups or Bible studies, we had prayer groups. Why? We knew Bible study would happen. We knew discussion would happen. Our philosophy was, “If prayer doesn’t have first place, it will get last place.” Somebody said, “The Holy Spirit is the shy person of the Trinity, he only comes if asked.” If we want a Spirit-led church, if we want to experience the life and vitality of Christ, if we want to see people actually come to faith in Jesus and not just talk about it, then we have to spend more time on our knees. Jesus said, “Wait. You’ll receive power, the Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
I believe that’s a paradigm for the church, and not just back then. If you don’t wait, there won’t be power, there won’t be the Holy Spirit. It’s a syllogistic relationship; if one thing is true, the opposite is not true. We have to have a Holy Spirit resolve about prayer. It’s not nearly to that point with almost anybody in evangelicalism today. It’s not a Holy Spirit resolve, it’s: “That would be a great idea.” One in ten times we see it happen.
Whereas, I have found working internationally, five out of ten times people will do something about it, and they will do something serious. When we bring training materials to a place like that, we do not even have to follow up; the materials will be put to use and disbursed right away to the entire community. Whereas, in America we’ll have to do four or five follow ups, and that’s not happening.
The other point about bringing prayer into the center of the organization and into the center of partnerships is that, if the key leaders are not highly committed to the enterprise, we have never seen it materialize in the community. You can’t have a prayer-centered network if it is not centered in prayer at the middle. [It needs to] connect that we will be transgressing against our heavenly Father and betraying our Savior Jesus if we do not affirm and begin with the primacy of prayer.
The last thing to say is, we don’t think people are becoming biblically literate without any training, yet we think they can become prayer literate without training. It is not true. There needs to be as concerted discipleship with prayer as with the Word, and of course that effort should be integrated.