By Sloan Milliken
In Colossians 4:2, Paul commands the believers in Colosse, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” I didn’t like this verse very much until I looked it up in the Greek one day, and I discovered that a more literal translation of the first part might read, “You all be strong in prayer.” Immediately, I realized that the verse wasn’t an individual mandate to achieve some abstract level of devotion to God. Rather, I realized it was an apostolic charge for the believers in a city to rally together and pray. Furthermore, I saw that if strength in prayer doesn’t describe our communities at the moment, we could work towards it together, much like an out of shape individual might adopt a weight training regimen. We may not be strong now, but with a little diligence and effort over time, we will be!
In that spirit, I submit the following list for encouragement and study. Certainly, many of these points can overlap into our one-on-one time with God, but I exhort you to read this list through a corporate lens. I pray this list would give you vision for doing what God would have you do to see your community be strong in prayer!
12 Reasons for Building a Culture of Prayer
1. Jesus’ words and example. We know that the Lord was a man of prayer (Mark 1:35) and encouraged his disciples to be the same (Luke 18:1). Being a people of prayer isn’t about a trendy ministry idea—it’s about emulating and obeying the Lord Jesus.
2. To rise into our promised identity. As we come to Jesus, we are built into a house and a priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Peter 2:4-6). Prayer meetings aren’t ends to themselves. They’re about providing an opportunity to draw near to Jesus, seek his heart and will, and let him build us into the people he desires us to be.
3. Receiving joy from the Lord. While the “house of prayer” reference in Isaiah 56:7 seems to literally refer to the Jerusalem temple, I think it can also be figuratively applied to us—ones who are “foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord” (v6) in the new temple of the Spirit. To put it simply—God leads us to pray because he desires to give us JOY!!!
4. It builds community. Nothing can build intimate friendships quite like seeking the Lord together. Check out 1 Peter 2 again. As we come to him, a bunch of living stones are put together into a corporate unit.
5. Building sustained prayer is not as hard as it seems. We need not compare ourselves to others, but simply seek God and obedience to his word and his voice. His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). Instead, they are an easy load (Matt 11:28-30). I speak from experience that all it takes is an individual committing to a prayer time (a one-time meeting or a regularly scheduled one) that is in step with the Spirit, having a specific vision for the time, and inviting others to come along. If just a few individuals start initiating prayer times in that way in a congregation or ministry, a vibrant culture of prayer starts to emerge!
6. A culture of sustained worship and prayer turns inwardly focused communities outward. Or, to put it otherwise, encountering God together will line us up with his heart. Ancient Israel usually gets the rub of being self-absorbed and isolationist, but in the context of the Davidic 24/7 worship, Israel encountered and began to adopt God’s heart for the nations. Suddenly exclamations like “let your ways and salvation be known on earth,” “let the nations be glad,” “praise the Lord all you nations,” and “let everything that has breath praise the Lord” became their heart cry (Ps 67, 117, 149).
7. It fuels wisdom, maturity, and success in the purposes of God. Hours given to prayer deepens God’s word in us and fuels obedience. Meditation on the word unleashes blessing (Joshua 1:9, Psalm 1).
8. Power in prayer and great fruit. I believe that John 15:7-8 is the New Covenant version of the great meditation scriptures listed above. Living in God’s love and letting Christ’s commands and gospel message live in us produces power in prayer, yields great fruit, and glorifies our Father.
9. Encountering God transforms us like nothing else can. As we behold his glory, the scripture says we regularly undergo a metamorphosis (2 Cor 3:18). Who doesn’t want their entire being to be turned into something exceedingly beautiful and free?
10. We are commanded to set our hearts on eternity. Jesus commands us to be careful, watch, and pray so that we don’t get “weighed down” with everyday-life anxieties and the pursuit of worldly pleasure. He wants our lives to reflect what matters forever (Luke 21:34-36).
11. God uses prayer to produce world-changers out of ordinary men. Paul says in Romans, “How can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15). At least two of the great sendings in the NT were an overflow of prayer (Matthew 10, Acts 13). Mass salvation, boldness, and signs and wonders resulted from fervent, powerful, Spirit-filled prayer meetings (see Acts 1-2, 4).
12. It pleases God by giving him his desire—us. Psalm 4 declares that “God has set apart the godly for himself.” Catch that? He sets us apart because he wants us. Yes, he wants to be with us! Regularly positioning ourselves together in the place of prayer can be a great way to agree with his desire—and to experience all the blessings that come from being the objects of his delight!