Last Wednesday we held our annual “Around-the-Grounds” prayer event. For several years running, we have held a “back-to-school” prayer walk and gathering on the Wednesday before school begins. On a typical prayer walk, we may have 15-20 people of all ages on hand who, after brief, corporate prayer at the flag pole outside of the school, disperse into teams of 2 and 3 to either pray around the school grounds or through the school halls. It's usually a mixed crowd of parents, supportive members of the community and kids of all ages. We start at the high school/middle school and later move over to the elementary school to repeat the whole process there. The teams who move inside pray in different places of the building invoking God's presence there. They are also encouraged to sensitively approach teachers and other staff and ask if they can pray for them. In a small town, most people know each other anyway and staff usually welcome prayer and are frequently touched by the fact that someone would pray for them.
But this year's walk, at least on the surface, appeared to be almost a non-event. Only two other individuals besides myself were on hand – a 17-year old senior and a retired teacher. Despite news releases in both the “Back to School” special insert in our weekly paper as well as on the “church page”, despite discussion at the Breakfast Club and email reminders, vacations, appointments, and other things, apparently took precedent over this important walk. But on the kingdom principle that three is a quorum (“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20), we began our walk at noon as planned. We spent a good fifteen minutes praying by the flag pole before making our slow meander around the grounds of Chetek-Weyerhaeuser high school and middle school. Two of us use a prayer language and so frequently while one was praying in English the other was quietly speaking in tongues. We took Paul's counsel to heart about “praying every way you know how for everyone you know” (1 Timothy 2:1, Msg) and asked God to fill the place, to protect those who would frequent it or play upon the fields around it, and for gospel-sharing activity to take place within it. With the exception of the Middle School secretary, who is a part of the Refuge faith family, we found no one else to pray for. All else were either on lunch break or in staff meetings.
|Part of the 2011 prayer walk|
When it was time to move over to Roselawn, our senior had to go so it was now just Teresa and I. But we metaphorically linked arms and began the process all over again. All the teachers at the elementary school were in a staff meeting with the principal so we walked the halls mostly just quietly praying in tongues. Admittedly, given the fact that we had been at this for over two hours now, we both were beginning to run out of gas and out of things to pray for. But we finished the task and considered our schools sufficiently blessed for the onset of the new school year which begins just a few days from now.
That night I had invited all the other fellowships in town as well as anyone else from the community who were not able to participate in the prayer walk to join us at Focus for a prayer meeting. Apart from our own kids, Pastor Norm and my wife were the only two “outsiders” to bolster our ranks. But we worshiped, we had the group of about 20 break into three prayer circles and pray spontaneously for the upcoming school year and then, later, I opened the floor mic for anyone who wanted to pray something for us to corporately agree with. I had only two takers (but these kids can pray!) And then we returned to worship to end the gathering.
So, was it a failed prayer meeting? I mean, what does it mean when you invite people to pray with you about a place and for some people that are important to us all and nobody (or very few) respond? Is it unbelief? Is it indifference? Is it not appreciating the significance of the Body of Christ corporately gathering together? Those who normally would have been there made a point of calling me up and letting me know they would not be able to participate this year on account of various reasons. And this is not the first time I have called a prayer meeting to order and there was no need of a gavel. But it isn't that prayers weren't prayed – they were! And they were not pale prayers, strung out needlessly to fill space. Both the three prayer-walkers and the twenty individuals who gathered in the sanctuary this past Wednesday night prayed sincerely and, at times, passionately for the things that were on their heart to pray. The fact that less than 25 were on hand to agree together on these things does not lessen the significance of their prayers. God heard and I trust that it matters.
At the annual Night of Power vigil held at The Well a few weeks ago, only six participated in the 6 p.m.-12 midnight prayer gathering on behalf of our Somali neighbors. A few nights ago at the House of Prayer, an all night prayer meeting was held on behalf of Steve and Kari from our fellowship as Steve continues to recover from a traumatic brain injury suffered on account of a motorcycle accident this past spring. While I certainly wasn't there for all of it, I think they had a good turn-out (maybe two dozen individuals who showed up at different times during the 12-hour set.) Worship was led and prayers were said. I don't doubt that they were effectual regardless of how any of us felt about the flow of our intercession.
I don't think our experience in Barron County is all that different than a lot of places in America. As a people we have no stomach for corporate prayer gatherings or we no longer know how to sit quietly and wait so “plugged in” are we. Things come up and certainly no one can be at everything but the relatively low turnout to these gatherings suggest to me that we lack understanding about the significance of when Christians in a certain community come together and pray. What's more, it is another sign that as a people we are maxed out emotionally and our appetite for God and his kingdom has been spoiled by other – and I would add, lesser – things. Nevertheless, I am grateful for those who came, for those who maybe did not come but prayed at work or at home and for all the other prayers that will be lifted on behalf of our teachers and students through the course of the next school year.