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You may not be responsible for the prayer ministry at your church as I am for mine, but I believe the principles we have learned can help you no matter what type of prayer effort you may want to initiate or participate in. Based on our experiences during the development process, I offer the following suggestions:

Seek the Lord's guidance about His plan for your prayer ministry. Ask Him to help you determine the mission or objective of the prayer ministry; what should you pray; how you should pray; who your target population is; and why you are developing a prayer ministry. If your prayer ministry will be in any way involved with your church, be sure to obtain pastoral approval before starting it.

Establish the primary avenues for praying. God may give you a different direction than He gave us, but after seeking the Lord and studying the Scriptures about prayer, we decided that we would pray in two ways: pray the Scriptures and pray in tongues. Since most Christians have not been taught how to pray Scriptures, we began to slowly teach people how to search the Bible and find Scriptures that applied to specific prayer petitions.

First, we encouraged intercessors to read the Scriptures verbatim as their prayers. Next we taught them to incorporate their prayer petitions into the Scriptures. We placed intercessors in small groups and encouraged them to practice this technique during corporate prayer. Most people had difficulty just praying in front of other people.

During this time, we found that many people did not have the biblical foundation to adequately pray, so we gave the intercessors brief teachings about topics related to prayer ranging from "How to Operate in the Holy Spirit" to "Knowing Who You Are in Christ." After three years of teaching and practicing, intercessors began to pray with ease scripturally appropriate prayers.

Develop a prayer strategy. Whatever you're praying for, develop a specific approach to pray for the need. We write most of our prayers, researching each prayer topic and composing a prayer that is based on Scripture knowledge obtained about the topic. We then incorporate our prayers into a prayer strategy that is intentional and specific. We develop prayer strategies for all the various ministry efforts and community development projects.

For example, during the construction of the Power Center (once a rat-infested, asbestos-filled, dilapidated, 98,000- square-foot, old K-Mart building on 24 acres), the prayer ministry developed prayer strategies that targeted its financing, construction and operations.

We researched the Bible in order to understand God's directions and promises for social and economic empowerment of a community and interviewed key planners of the project in order to gain the technical specifics involved in refurbishing the property. Our strategy included writing Scripture-based prayers, organizing a 500-member prayer effort, and conducting weekly prayer walks that targeted the legal, financial and business communities; local, county, state and federal agencies; architects and construction companies.

We were intentional, tenacious and consistent. As a result, the Power Center today is a vibrant, productive, economic, social, educational and medical force in the Houston community. Numerous professionals were instrumental in making the vision a reality; but the key to its development was that my husband, who is the founder of the Power Center, made prayer the foundation.

Develop a training program. Continuing education is a key to praying effective, productive prayers. Provide training that will help your ministry members to grow in their walk with the Lord and their ability to communicate with Him.

Through the process of developing a prayer ministry, you may learn, as we have, that most people are told to pray but lack the adequate skills and tools to do it. In other words, they do not learn how to pray on their Christian journey. Don't assume they know; teach them!

Hold prayer partners accountable for living a holy life. Require prayer partners to conduct their lifestyles in accordance with biblical teaching. In other words, expect them to change habits, behaviors, attitudes and anything else that is contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

For us, lifestyle is critical. We do not want anything in the life of a prayer partner to hinder the prayers that are offered to God on behalf of our church membership.

When a prayer partner sins (and occasionally one does), we encourage him or her to repent quickly and get help (professional counseling, if necessary) to make sure the sin is not repeated. Our prayer partners will tell you that their lives have improved greatly as a result of the required discipline.

Expect God to answer. It is important that you collectively decide you will believe the entire Bible and operate in accordance with its principles and instructions. For example, since Mark 16:17-19 tells us that every believer should heal the sick and cast out demons, it is important that you believe this and work to operate accordingly. Remember, prayers without faith are useless. We have to pray believing God will answer.

We are successful in prayer because we expect God to hear our prayers and bring them to pass (see 1 John 5:14-15). We operate in the power and authority that has been given to us through Jesus Christ, and we fight valiantly against the works of the devil.

Prayer is not a glamorous ministry, and the results are not always immediately visible. However, we have persisted in our efforts to systematically train people how to pray, and we have remained steadfast in our intercession for the church. As a result, we are seeing the fruits of our labor. Be consistent in praying and in leading others to pray, and you will be amazed at what God will do.

Read a companion devotional.

Suzette Caldwell is co-pastor with her husband, Kirbyjon, of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. She is also president and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Kingdom Builders' Prayer Institute, a community-based organization that prays for the Houston metropolitan area and teaches people how to pray.

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