First, we need to understand that more prayer or even better prayer is not the primary goal. It is instead, the vehicle toward the goal of greater relationship with Jesus and His Body. If we seek to motivate and facilitate prayer from the perspective that more or better prayer, in and of itself, is the desired goal, we may find some, but limited success. But if we see that a deeper relationship with Jesus, a deeper awareness of all that He is, is the driving force behind more and better prayer, we will not only be able to get there ourselves, but we will also be able to help many other people reach that goal as well.
One of the most famous prayer meetings in church history is the prayer meeting that lasted more than one hundred years and was responsible for the modern missionary movement. Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf was the founder of the Moravian movement from which the one hundred year prayer meeting took place. He was not caught up simply with the process of prayer. He was caught up with Jesus! His deep passion was to know and proclaim the value of the wounds and the blood of the wonderful Son of God. His life, travels, preaching, and praying all flowed out of that primary passion.
The same could be said of Jonathan Edwards, who was the man most responsible for the first Great Awakening in America. His passion was to see Jesus exalted in every possible way. Prayer was (and is) a key practice to accomplish that.
I have had the privilege of being around some very seasoned saints. Some who had walked with Jesus for as much as 75 years. These dear, godly people were committed to regular times of deep and meaningful prayer. But my observation is that their times in prayer were not only about the act of praying. That seemed to be the vehicle they used to get them to where they really longed to be; closer to the Savior. It was their love for the Savior that led them to a deep commitment to prayer.
The prospect of providing this rebellious human race with a deep relationship with the Father is what motivated Jesus to go to the cross. The reason Jesus left heaven, endured the rejection of His creatures, and suffered unimaginable agony on the cross was not simply so we would have our sins forgiven and could go to Heaven instead of Hell. Nor was it so He could have more people to accomplish His mission on earth. The reason why He did these things was so we could have a relationship with the Father. The forgiveness of our sins and the change of our destiny is a wonderful part of the package, and joining Him in His mission brings fulfillment in our lives, but according to John 17:3 the primary description of eternal life is a relationship with the Father and the Son.
I have been able to watch a shift take place in pastors’ lives as I have facilitated Prayer Summits. Often times when pastors hear about attending a 3 or 4 day Prayer Summit, one of their first questions is “How in the world will we do nothing but pray for 3 or 4 days?” Many times I have heard pastors pray a prayer of deep repentance as they enter into the Spirit-directed flow of corporate worship and prayer. A typical prayer would be something like, “Father, please forgive me for having my priorities out of place. You first called me to Yourself, then you called me to ministry. Father, in the pressure of ministry, I have acted as though I was called to preaching (or praying or counseling) more than to You. I ask you to forgive me and I ask you to help me live as though my first priority is to live in healthy relationship with You.”
This is consistent with the Apostle Paul’s perspective. He prayed, “… so that you may know Him better…” (Ephesians 1:17) and, “…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (Ephesians 3:17) and, “…so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you…” (2 Thessalonians 1:12). His passion is summed up when he said, “…I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10).
To the degree that we understand and direct our prayers after the primary purpose of a deeper relationship with the Father and the Son, to that same degree we will enhance both our times of prayer and the times of those we influence.
What about the requests and needs? I have observed that if we focus on the relational aspect of prayer, then He is able to bring up the specific requests and needs that are on His heart. Then, when we pray according to His heart, we can pray with greater confidence and see greater results. In fact, this is what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33. If we seek His kingdom and His righteousness, then all “these things” (the real concerns of this world from verses 19-32) will be taken care of as well.
*Blessed by Doing – If you facilitate a time of prayer, begin to help those who attend develop the perspective described in the answer above. Few things will refresh your time of prayer more than this.