Search

3424429216_061e931b29_bI 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.

Conclusion

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?


View Comments

Comments:


13 thoughts on “What Romanian Believers Taught Me About Prayer”

  1. Christian Mann says:

    Hi Trevin,

    Great article! I grew up in the US, and as a kid my parents dragged me to Romanian churches, especially on Sunday nights & Easters. The points you hit here are the things I was most embarrased by: do you really have to let *everyone* know you agree with *everything* this guy’s praying about? I can barely hear what he’s saying b/c of you! Now this guy’s basically yelling and crying! And do we really have to pray for an hour standing up? C’mon, seriouslly!
    In Ex 22:23, 1 Sam 7:8 & all thoughout Psalms (for example) we see the afflicted, righteous, needy, and thankful all crying out to the Lord. Then in Mt 26 & Lk 11, Jesus uses his most important times for prayer. Acts 2 demonstrates the unity and prayer of the early church.
    So now my view has changed (thankfully)! So why don’t all the churches follow the Romanian example? Why don’t we all spend more time together crying out to the Lord? Why do we in the West have a diminished sense of the urgency & power of prayer?
    I would encourage Western Christians to get out of your spiritual comfort zone: visit an established Romanian church (they’re not heretics, I promise!), and see how everyone is involved in the (3-5 hour long!) service: children play instruments, someone has a testimony, another a poem or encouraging word. Listen to the chorus of ‘Amens’ & ‘Yes Lord’ during prayer, and ask the 40+ crowd about being a Christian in communist Romania (my grandfather hid Bibles in the hollow he made in the kitchen table). Plus. you’re guaranteed to witness Christian (& Eastern European) hospitality, and probably have lunch in someone’s home afterwards!

    I still struggle with many parts of my heritage, but this I’ve grown to love and admire. Praise the Risen Savior!

  2. Greg Smith says:

    So what can we do to develop prayer like this in our churches? Would anyone come or would they be like commenter #1 before he saw the light?

    Romanian communities in the US are very tight-knit. I wonder if their tolerance for that kind of service is due to other aspects of community. I don’t think most Americans would sit through such a service. However, if it could be done Sunday or Wednesday evenings, it might go over.

  3. Trevin Wax says:

    Greg,

    Part of the prayer practices in Romania came about during times of intense persecution. I don’t think we can orchestrate or develop prayer like this in our churches apart from passing through those circumstances. In the years I spent in Romania, I noticed that many of the younger generation found the lengthy prayer times appealing. I suppose that’s because the younger hadn’t been through the flame, so to speak. So, I suspect the kind of intense, lengthy prayer I mentioned in this post will begin to fade as Christianity becomes somewhat “easier” for many in Romania.

    Still, I think we can do a number of things to help develop a stronger passion for prayer. Taking time to let multiple people pray would be a start. Teaching others how to pray, letting this actually be a part of our discipleship rather than something that’s just “caught” is also a helpful step forward.

  4. Brian Gass says:

    This was my experience among Moldovan brothers and sisters as well as among the Chinese. Persecution does indeed seem to intensify the prayer culture. I’d love for us to see our prayer culture modified without having to pass through that stage…but we’ll see!

  5. I.S.R. says:

    I have spent this summer in Romania, in the village in which I grew up, and which I left 9 years ago. I had a great desire to see the Baptist church that was once boring for a kid like me.

    This is not the right place to talk about the eye-striking problems that my small and old church has, but, in spite of this, I have to say that the praying time was worth seeing, and attending to it was a blessing. Hearing the prayers of +70 year old believers (especially women) is a thing to be pursued.

    One by one, prayers were uttered, and tears were spilled.

    And the Spirit brought a question to my mind: how do you want to die, if not like one of these poor children; do you need riches or fame or pleasure?

    No Lord, I don’t. You are enough. I have seen it now.

  6. Dan Mangeac says:

    I am Romanian and forget that prayer life is not the norm for believers today. I believe it is because we were a church born out of persecution. Anyword want to pray? God bless and pray hard!

  7. Tracy Hodges says:

    Great post! I was in Romania over the summer and visited a small church plant near Bucharest. This is definitely the way even the smallest of church congregations are. It was a sweet time of fellowship with our brothers & sisters-in-Christ. Even though we could not understand one another as we prayed collectively, our Father heard each of us and answered mightily. May we use their example to change our prayer lives here. Blessings!

  8. zhansman says:

    But public prayer will make all the seekers feel uncomfortable and scare them away! (now removing tongue from cheek)

  9. Doulos says:

    Thank you for great reminder, Trevin. Brilliant and refreshing observations. Having grown-up in a Romanian Baptist church and serving in an English speaking church in Western Europe, I would highlight the virtual absence of spontaneous prioritised public prayers during the services.

    However, the prayer hour from 9-10 can often be peppered with the same people praying the same prayers, which can be quite monotonous.

    The other ‘glitch’ is that often there would be a presssure to pray whether you wanted or not (in the pew after pew version).

    Grateful for your posts, as always.

  10. Thank you for this post.

    I taught in the Republic of Moldova for two years, and the only thing I would add to your list is that “prayer is the initial response to the preached word.”

    I don’t know that it is the same in Romania but in Moldova at least when the preacher is finished he invites the congregation to pray, and people who have been affected by the sermon pray spontaneously.

    As a preacher, I found this encouraging. But, of course, I think it has an even greater impact on the congregation. Our invitation/altar call causes us the think that we should only respond to the sermon if we need salvation or some type of rededication. The Moldovan way of concluding the sermon emphasizes that we all should be responding to the preached word.

  11. Chevas says:

    Thank you for this post. I was asked to lead a prayer meeting at our church and this is what I have been trumpeting there and for the American Church in general. You are right, however, in that you can’t just force it to happen.

    As you said, trial, suffering and persecution have a way of bringing on a mindset of praying. We can also just pray for it and I’ve especially learned to pray for our leaders in humble submission with all hope that the culture of our individual churches can change to be more open to some of the messiness of corporate prayer. We should also pray for our eyes to be opened to see that we are more poor, blind, naked in desperate need and dependent on God than we ever thought.

  12. Raisa Salibrici says:

    My mother is Ukranian,she passed away last summer. But what she left me with is her method of praying,just as the posts talk about the older Romanian women ,so did my mother pray. When she stayed with me during her last few days,I would listen and weep as she prayed ,praising and thanking her Savior for bringing her to America where she was able to raise 5 children on her own(God always took care of her needs in miracoulous ways. I miss hearing her pray,because I knew it reached the throne of the Almighty. But the prayer baton was passed on,and I agree with you that we learn to pray when we hear others pray.

  13. Ethan says:

    I have experienced and loved the same prayer life in many missions and teaching trips to Romania. I have experienced similar participatory/interactive prayer life in many churches i have visited around the world. The sense of shared-ness in spiritual life is rich and deep. We in America literally do not know what we are missing. Though I served in a church in Idaho that had a great corporate prayer life, in all and by comparison, the American church has a very truncated experience and narrow understanding of prayer, and a very weak prayer life. The desperation and difficulty of life that drives prayer in Romania and most of the world is missing in America, as is the prayer life and shared spiritual life they forge in the Church.
    I lived in Ukraine for two years and was often shamed by my comparatively small American vision of prayer, while being inspired and fanned to life by the prayer life of my Ukrainian brothers and sisters. I remember once after an evening service being asked by a sister if a few of us would pray for her as she had a head ache. I thought something might be “wrong”, was this an ongoing condition? No, she was very well and happy, she just had a headache for the past hour or two after a long day at work and asked us to pray for her. To my shame I will confess that I felt her request seemed perhaps trite …. something so small? Of course I had a Costco sized bottle of Tylenol I had brought from the States sitting in my bathroom at home, … in which i trusted for such occasions. She knew nothing about Costco, or Tylenol, but she knew and trusted in God in a way I did not. She simply thought that where two or three are gathered, there God is in the midst of them. It was no word of faith claim, just a childlike confidence of approach. …then she went happily on her way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search this blog


About


Trevin Wax photo

Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

Trevin Wax's Books