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How Do You Do a Week of Prayer?

I recently received an email from a long-time reader of this blog who asked if I could write about a week of prayer.

Your blog is the third time in the last month that I’ve heard of churches having a week of prayer once a year.  You state that you pray 2 hours a day every day during that week.  I would be curious how churches like yours conduct these week of prayers?  What are the finer details of how it is organized?

As the question indicates, my church begins each year with a Week of Prayer. Let me give a few details about how and why we do this.

The why is answered quite easily: we believe that prayer must be instrumental in the life of the church rather than being merely supplemental. The beginning of a new year seems like a perfect opportunity to dedicate as much time as possible to prayer, to seeking God’s will and God’s blessing for the year to come. When thinking about this I’m always drawn to a story from the life of Charles Spurgeon.

Five young college students were spending a Sunday in London, so they went to hear the famed C.H. Spurgeon preach. While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.

Let me say a few words about the how of it all.

This year, in my new role as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church, I had the privilege of putting the event together. I largely relied on the model we have used for the past 8 or 10 years—since before I was part of the church. Here is how we do it:

Before the week begins, we put together a booklet which includes a prayer guide for each of the 6 days for which we will have prayer meetings. Each day contains lists of people who call the church home (one-sixth of the total list each day),  of some of the church’s ministries, of other local churches, of politicians, of missionaries and anything else related to our church. These booklets are printed in advance and distributed on the Sunday that marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer. This allows people who cannot make it to the meetings to pray at home.

The Week of Prayer kicks off on a Sunday and on that day the pastor will typically preach a sermon related to prayer and God’s sovereignty.

Then, throughout the week that follows, we have a series of prayer meetings. In the past we have always had one meeting per day, alternating between morning and evening. This year we decided to do things differently and have two meetings each day—6:30 AM and 7 PM. The two meetings were identical in terms of the items we prayed for—we just wanted to allow as many people as possible to participate.

Each of the meetings is led by one of the elders. We begin with a song and a brief reading from Scripture. Then we read quickly through the list of items to be prayed for and solicit other requests from the people at the meeting. And then we go to prayer. The meetings last one hour from beginning to end, which means we pray for approximately 45 or 50 minutes. The first and last prayer go to the elder who is facilitating that meeting, but otherwise anyone is welcome to pray.

Most years we have some kind of theme to bind the meetings together. This year we decided to go with Praying with the Apostle. To do that I took six of Paul’s prayers and had the person leading the meeting pray some of that Scripture as his opening prayer.

And I think that’s pretty much it. The meetings aren’t fancy, but we find them critical to the life of the church.

There are many benefits to these meetings, many of which are of the “secret” variety, I’m sure—only the Lord knows what he accomplishes through these prayers. I find that one of the more tangible benefits is a great love for the people I pray with; it is nearly impossible not to love a person you pray with and, in fact, praying together causes love to grow and flourish. Those who miss out on such meetings miss out on a significant means of grace.

I know that Grace Fellowship Church is not the only church that has a Week of Prayer. I’d love to hear from others who do something similar to learn what you do differently.