In the Church we often encourage people to come out to group events for a time of fun, food, and fellowship. We certainly can provide the fun and food without too much trouble. But, far more than we might care to admit, the fellowship part either doesn’t happen, remains on a superficial level, or only happens with a few in attendance. We might engage in a lot of talking and laughing while eating or participating in activities, but how much of that communication can be identified as true fellowship?
True Fellowship in Group Events Missing Because we Lack Focus
In addition to fun, food, and fellowship, we also need focus — focus on the Lord. He is what we share in common, making true fellowship (koinonia) possible.
There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:4-6)
Coming together needs to be rooted in the One God who called us into one body if we want our group events to be different from what we might experience elsewhere.
Bring Focus to Group Events Through the Word
When I started leading a church youth group, there were cliques that prevented them from acting like “one body” so that was a priority I needed to work on. I implemented lots of community building activities to help break down walls. Since fun and food tend to fit well with youth (even with adults), I used one of our meetings every month for a time of extra fun and food centered around a holiday theme, both common and unusual ones, for that month. Since I wanted to not only rid the group of cliques but also replace them with true fellowship rooted in the Lord, these events included a brief devotional from God’s Word to focus on the Lord as the reason for it all. (Celebrate the Month Youth Activity Curriculum includes a year’s worth of these events.)
Group events filled with lots of fun and food provide a place for people to engage in fellowship but without providing the focus on God, true fellowship may not happen. A devotional, based on the Word, however brief it might be, can help people focus on the Lord, providing a jump start for true fellowship with one another. In addition, it adds verbal testimony to those in attendance who don’t know the Lord, helping them identify what it is that makes this group different from what they experience in the world.
Philippians 2:1-2 provides a worthy goal for any ministry team:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
These verses remind us that it isn’t just about the task we have to complete as a team but the relationships we have with one another.
How do we treat one another?
How do we handle disagreements?
Fellowship in Ministry Teams Comes from our Common Ground
Working on the same goal, or purpose, doesn’t make us one. As the above verses suggest, we’re to be one in spirit as well as purpose. So, even when we disagree, we can still be encouraged. Even when our idea is set aside, we can be comforted. How is that possible? We find our common ground in the Lord, united with Christ. We protect our commonality by exercising His love. We have fellowship with one another because we’re in fellowship with the Spirit. With all of that in place, we can experience unity out of diversity — being one in spirit and purpose.
If we try to find common ground in our own opinions or ideas, our diversity could get in the way. Rather, together, as a team, we seek God’s wisdom, His solution. We make getting on page with God more important than pushing our personal agendas.
Fellowship in Ministry Teams Requires Functioning out of our Common Grace
So much can go wrong when a group of people with different personalities, learning styles, backgrounds, and opinions try to work together. If we’re going to be like-minded and of one spirit and purpose, we must find fellowship with one another in the Lord and the grace He extends.
If we rely on the goodness of people in order to work well together, our diversity will get us in trouble. To overlook each other’s idiosyncrasies and work through conflict, we need to fall back on God’s love and forgiveness, His grace. When we do, we’ll find the tenderness and compassion to work with people we might not normally be drawn toward as friends.
Encourage Fellowship When Ministry Teams Meet
If fellowship must be rooted in the common ground and common grace that can only be found in what we all share in our Lord, then our meetings need to include time to focus on Him, not just the task at hand.
Do we take time to pray together?
Do we use God’s Word as our filter for making decisions?
Do we point each other to His character and ways as the grid through we function?
One way we can do that is to have a short devotional time together. You could keep it casual by having team members share something God taught them from His Word since you last met. Or, members could take turns coming prepared to lead this time with Scripture they believe would be encouraging or relevant to the task at hand. You might work through a study together but must remember not to get so caught up in it that you become a Bible study group rather than a ministry team with a mission to accomplish.
Whether we use devotionals or not in our meetings, the basis for our fellowship must consistently and regularly be remembered and reinforced. That could be done through spontaneous moments of prayer, especially when we find ourselves at an impasse. It could happen by purposefully asking the right kinds of questions as we flow through our agenda, ones that challenge us to consider if what we’re planning and doing lines up with God and His Word.
God referred to King David of the Old Testament as someone who walked before Him “faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness” (1 Kings 9:4) and as a man after His own heart through whose lineage He would send Jesus (Acts 13:22-23). God said of Him, “he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22). David experienced many trials and hardships yet remained strong. When he sinned, he repented and accepted the consequences from God’s hand. Where did David find such fortitude? — From his view of, approach to, and obedience of God’s Word.
Fortitude in Our Personal Walk Requires an Adequate View of God’s Word
Look at David’s view of Scripture as written in Psalm 19:7-11. Pay particular attention to the emboldened words.
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
We find similar sentiments about God’s Word in Psalm 119, though it isn’t clear if David authored that Psalm. The longest chapter in the Bible, this Psalm focuses in on how we can find not only guidance but strength through His Word to overcome anything that may come against us.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Ps. 119:11)
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Ps. 119:105)
You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word. (Ps. 119:114)
Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. (Ps. 119:133)
Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. (Ps. 119:165)
Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me. (Ps. 119:175)
The psalmist viewed Scripture as his standard for living but also his source of strength to live in alignment. If we don’t have an adequate view of God’s Word and the powerful benefit it brings (2 Tim. 3:16-17), we’re not going to approach it in ways that most profit us.
How We Approach God’s Word Can Determine how much Fortification we Derive from It
The Word isn’t going to benefit us if we don’t turn toward it, which often requires sacrificing other pursuits. And so, the psalmist prayed,
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. (Ps. 119:36)
Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. (Ps. 119:37)
The Word isn’t going to help if we don’t remember it. We must keep it ever before us.
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Ps. 119:97)
Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. (Ps. 119:98)
Fortitude Sustained by Obeying God’s Word
Yes, faith does come from hearing the Word (Rom. 10:17) but faith without works is dead (James 1:22-25; 2:17-20). We will quickly wane in our faith if we don’t apply what we learn to life. We might gain immediate comfort or encouragement from a mere reading of the Word but the real reward comes in obeying it. David acknowledged this reality when writing about the law of the Lord. He said, “By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Ps. 19:11). We read this same truth in the New Testament:
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:23-25)
And, what a difference it makes when obedience to the Word comes out of love for the Word, not mere duty. Notice what the author of Psalm 119 wrote:
May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees, that I may not be put to shame. (Ps. 119:80)
Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. (Ps. 119:129)
I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. (Ps. 119:167)
Point to Remember: If you want a stronger walk with God, then you must spend time with Him in His Word.
The Word itself is that which fortifies us. We meditate on His Word. Nothing ever can, or should, be a substitute for God’s Word.
God does use other tools to strengthen us in our walk with Him. We can learn from others. But, nothing should ever supplant time spent in the Word. If using devotionals or study guides, let’s choose ones that center on the Word, that not only refer to the Bible, but actually get us reading or studying it.
Overestimate the Following And Prayerlessness will be More Likely
If we overestimate our own ability to deal with life, we’ll be less likely to pray at every turn.
Though we’re finite human beings, we sometimes act like we know it all and can do it all. Self-reliance leads to prayerlessness. When, however, we truly understand our own limitations and God’s great wisdom and power, that He’s the Infinite One, we’ll tend to pray more. When we understand how much we need Him, we’ll humble ourselves and turn to Him in prayer, yielding control and trusting Him.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.(Prov. 3:5-6)
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5)
If we overestimate our own goodness, we’ll tend to pray less.
We don’t like to admit that we are fallen, depraved people. Yet, the Bible says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). We will often be motivated and guided by self-inflation which skews what we do. When we truly understand how much we need God’s grace and mercy in our lives, we’ll tend to pray more. When we truly grasp how our thoughts and ways are not as high as God’s (Isa. 55:9), we’ll realize we aren’t good enough to make proper decisions and we’ll seek God’s guidance and power.
Notice the emboldened words above. When we overestimate ourselves, we have less need for God. If we don’t need God, we won’t sense a need to pray. It’s only when we come to an end of ourselves that we turn to God in prayer. But after we regain our footing, if we aren’t careful and alert (1 Pet. 4:7), we’ll all too quickly return to our self-reliance and self-inflation, once again leading to prayerlessness.
In previous posts we’ve determined that for many prayerlessness probably isn’t due to ignorance or a perceived lack of benefits in praying. Why, then, don’t we pray more? Perhaps it’s because we fail to accurately or wholeheartedly grasp certain factors that will help us pray.
What We Might Underestimate that Leads to Prayerlessness
We might underestimate the work involved in praying.
The following Bible verses show how we need to be actively engaged when it comes to praying — alert, clear-minded, self-controlled, persevering. We can’t merely coast. We can’t be passive or lazy about praying. It’s too easy to lose focus or even fall asleep.
With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Eph. 6:18)
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Col. 4:2)
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. (1 Pet. 4:7)
We might underestimate the role of the Spirit in helping us pray.
We need to be consistently walking in the Spirit, depending on and yielding to His work in our lives. On our own we might lack the self-control we need to consistently pray but the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control and perseverance (Gal. 5:22-23). We might not know what to say or how to pray, but we have a Helper in the Holy Spirit.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Eph. 6:18)
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Rom. 8:26)
We might underestimate the enemy and consequently don’t pull on God’s mighty power as needed.
God has a formidable foe who doesn’t want us praying. Satan knows the power of prayer. We must be aware of the devil’s lies and schemes to get us to doubt God hears or cares, to believe we’re too busy to pray, or that it doesn’t really matter. We must be proactive, putting on the armor God provides, resisting the devil, replacing his lies with truth.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith … (1 Pet. 5:8-9)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. … (Eph. 6:10-18)
When we underestimate any of the above factors, we will tend to find it harder to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17) and to be devoted to prayer (Col. 4:2). But, prayerlessness can also result from what we overestimate — the topic of the next post.
In the previous post we considered how for many Christians prayerlessness isn’t due to ignorance. We know we should pray, that God commands it. Could it be because we don’t think it’s beneficial?
Can We Really Claim Prayerlessness is Due to a Lack of Benefits?
If we don’t pray because we fail to see its value, or benefit, then we have to reconcile the following:
1) God’s Word clearly promotes the benefits of praying.
Read the following verses for just a few of the many specific benefits of praying we find in Scripture:
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Ps. 34:4)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16 … even more in verses 13-18)
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
Some of the benefits will be outward demonstrations of God’s power and grace. Others, equally if not more potent, may be internal results affecting our heart attitudes and perspective. There’s definitely something beneficial about prayer if we have a God who keeps His promises.
2) Many believers testify of answers to prayers, attesting to the benefits of praying.
Read through the Psalms for the psalmist’s testimony of God responding to his cries. Listen to fellow believers who have personally experienced God not only hearing but responding to their prayers (Jn. 14:13; 1 Jn. 5:14). There must be something beneficial about prayer or these people are either liars or the exception.
3) Even non-believers seem to value people praying for them.
If nothing else, many non-believers derive comfort and encouragement, a blessing, when a Christian says they will pray for them. There must be something beneficial about prayer for that to happen.
Perhaps rather than claiming a lack of benefits in praying, we must admit our failure to tap into those benefits due to prayerlessness. Surely, then, there must be other reasons why we don’t pray. We’ll look further in the next couple of posts.