I love to listen to the testimonies of my American friends who have recently been to Romania to do mission work. They inevitably comment on the prayer practices of Romanian churches.
- The prayer time blew me away!
- I couldn’t believe how much time they spent praying!
- They are so fervent and passionate in their public prayers!
I always nod, smile, and – with great affection – recall the years I spent serving in Romanian churches that valued corporate prayer. For the Christians whose identities were forged through the fire of Communist oppression, prayer is an act of quiet desperation that manifests itself in bold supplication. I’ve never seen humility and confidence so perfectly married as when listening to (and joining) Romanians in prayer.
Here are five things about prayer I learned from Romanian believers:
1. Prayer is not wasted time.
Prayer takes up a big portion of a Romanian worship service. The typical service on Sunday morning begins at 9:00 a.m. The entire first hour is spent in prayer. Bigger churches open up the floor for spontaneous prayers about various requests. Smaller churches go pew by pew, so that every church member gets an opportunity to pray out loud. This tradition of soaking everything in prayer makes a strong statement: Prayer matters. It is not a waste of time.
I often struggle with prayer because I am not fully aware of my utter dependence on God. I’m a “let’s get to it!” kind of activist. Prayer often seems passive. The Romanian testimony of prayer challenges me that it is never a waste of time to enter the throne room with our brothers and sisters and petition the King to act on our behalf. This is, in fact, the most effective type of activism for a child of God.
2. We should affirm one another as we pray.
Romanian Baptists pray out loud, one person at a time. But the prayers are never individualistic. The rest of the congregation listens carefully and affirms the requests of the person praying. When the public petitioner asks for something specific, other church members audibly affirm the request.
The Pray-er: “Lord, we thank You for giving us the privilege of coming into Your presence.” This petition is followed would be a chorus of spontaneous voices saying, “We thank You” or “Yes, Lord.”
When the pray-er starts making petitions, “Speak to us this morning, Lord!” the chorus gets louder and more united with their firm “Amen’s.”
Affirming others in prayer is hard for me to do in the United States. It seems like a charismatic or Pentecostal practice. No one else does it, so I’m the odd man out. Still, I miss leading people in prayer and hearing their “amens.” The public agreement in prayer reinforced the corporate blessing of my individual request. I often felt like I was being held up by my brothers and sisters in Christ, that I was lifted up to the throne room while I expressed the desires of everyone’s hearts. Then, when it came time for the next person to pray, it was like coming down and joining the chorus, reinforcing another brother or sister’s requests.
Audible affirmation during prayer is easiest for me when I’m praying with my wife. Affirmation reminds me that praying together isn’t just taking turns. It’s affirming each other’s requests, so that what the other is saying is also being delivered as the cry of our own heart.
3. Prayer is for everybody.
The Romanian church taught me that everyone can pray and that everyone should pray. That means that prayer in church is not the exclusive domain of the man in the pulpit or the church leadership. Men in the pews pray. So do women. Out loud. Children pray softly in their rows. Teenagers pray for their lost friends.
The Romanian practice of prayer embodies the priesthood of all believers. We are all granted equal access to the throne of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This emphasis on prayer from all kinds of people in the church made the service seem like a family. We were there, affirming our mothers and sisters and fathers and brothers in the Lord as they prayed.
4. Prayer can be spontaneous and theological.
Once you make prayer the purview of everyone, you open the door to all sorts of messy requests, right? It’s true. New believers often prayed for odd things, or they mimicked phrases they’d heard that weren’t theologically precise.
Still, the majority of Romanian prayer services convinced me that prayers can be heartfelt, spontaneous, and theological. Head and heart go together. Many Romanian believers unconsciously followed the Lord’s Prayer pattern, beginning with praise to God for His salvation before moving into general requests and ending with specific desires for deliverance. Romanian believers peppered their prayers with snippets from psalms and other biblical petitions.
The cool thing was… no one felt “super-spiritual” by praying this way. It was the way we talked to God. One reason American evangelicals are increasingly fond of written prayers is that our experience has shown spontaneous prayers to sometimes be superficial. It doesn’t have to be this way. When you are immersing yourself in gospel truth, richly theological prayers pour forth from the heart spontaneously.
5. Prayer teaches.
Many churches want to be “gospel-centered” today. We want the gospel to be presented in our songs before the sermon even begins. I’m encouraged by these developments. At the same time, I’m convinced that one of the places we need to push for gospel centrality is in our corporate prayer life.
Prayer teaches. Often times, as I listened to the prayers of my Romanian brothers and sisters, I realized that the gospel was clearly articulated in these praises and petitions. Before the pastor even had the chance to get up in the pulpit, the gospel had been proclaimed through the prayers of the people in the congregation.
I’m grateful for my Romanian brothers and sisters, and for the prayer practices that they taught me. What about you? What are some prayer practices you have learned from brothers and sisters in other parts of the world?
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