Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
rayer occupies a large place, not only in private and family life, but also in church life. Especially is that true in the worship services. But prayer also has an important place in Bible studies, lectures, and other meetings. In all these instances, the people of God are privileged to draw near to and speak with their almighty and loving heavenly Father.
In addition to this, however, provision is also made in the life of the church to have special days of prayer. This is mentioned in Article 66 of the Church Order, which states: “In time of war, pestilence, national calamities, and other great afflictions, the pressure of which is felt throughout the churches, it is fitting that the classes proclaim a day of prayer.”
These special days of prayer are to be distinguished from the Day of Prayer, which is observed once each year, in the spring, to ask for the Lord’s blessing with a view to the planting and growing season. Special days of prayer, on the other hand, are observed on account of some great affliction that has occurred and which affects the churches and her members—such as war, earthquakes, floods, and so on. They are days similar to those that were observed in biblical times, as for example in the days of Nehemiah (Neh. 1:3, 4), and in the days of the early New Testament church (Acts 1:14; Acts 13:3).
The Church Order states that the classis should call such special days of prayer. This does not mean, however, that a consistory may not do so, or even a synod. The reason the classis is designated to do this is because the churches are divided regionally by classes. If, however, a calamity would be more local, affecting, for example, only one church, a consistory could call a special day of prayer for their particular congregation. And if all the churches were affected, a synod could do likewise for the whole denomination. It all depends upon the extent of the calamity, and on how many of the churches are affected by it.
Special days of prayer have not been held much in our churches. The only instance of which I am aware is when Classis West called for such a day after the terrorist attacks upon our nation on September 11, 2001, with a number of consistories in Classis East doing the same. But we know from Scripture that days of great afflictions, including severe persecution, are coming (Matt. 24). Especially then it may be very necessary for the churches to call and observe special days of prayer.
On special days of prayer, the church of Christ gathers for worship. This was the practice in the Netherlands, where the Church Order was written. Special days of prayer were observed especially during times of persecution. When the distress was severe, the congregation would sometimes come to church for most of the day. Two sermons would be preached. Between these sermons, Scripture would be read, the congregation would sing, and time would be spent in prayer.
The idea, then, of special days of prayer is that the consistory issues a call to worship. The congregation gathers to hear the Word of God preached. The minister preaches a sermon appropriate to the occasion, instructing the people of God concerning their response to the calamity that God has sent, and bringing words of comfort from the gospel. And, of course, prominent in the worship service will be congregational prayer, in which the needs of the church are brought to God.
It is certainly appropriate for the church to gather for worship and prayer on such occasions. By doing so, the church expresses her dependence upon God. To whom else could they turn in times of hardship and calamity than their heavenly Father? In prayer they cast their burdens upon Jehovah, knowing He will sustain them (Ps. 55:22). They pray because “the name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe” (Prov. 18:10).
Since prayer is our focus in this issue of the Standard Bearer, we do well to consider in some detail what the substance of the church’s prayers should be in times of great affliction and distress.
Proper prayer in times of calamity requires, first of all, an understanding and confession of the absolute sovereignty of God. The faithful church of Christ recognizes the fact that it is God who sends all troubles and calamities. He determines and controls all things. He governs and directs all that happens. Nothing comes by chance, but all things come from the hands of the almighty Lord of heaven and earth. And it is all sent by Him, not in some haphazard and purposeless manner, but wisely, at a specific time, and with a specific purpose.
As far as the wicked are concerned, God’s purpose is to bring upon them temporal punishments for their sins. Through all the troubles and distresses that occur in this world, God punishes the wicked for sin. Few today will admit and say this. But the church must remember it, and should also rejoice to behold God’s judgments in the earth (Ps. 97:8).
But the fact is that the church also suffers under these judgments of God. However, she knows, in her suffering, that these judgments are sent upon her as chastisements. The calamities come from the hands of her heavenly Father. They are sent in His goodness and love. They are for the spiritual and eternal good of His people.
The church of Christ therefore humbles herself under the mighty hand of God. She is, by means of God’s judgments, made very conscious of her sins. She realizes she deserves to be punished for all her sins. But she also knows that she is delivered from all punishment through the blood of Christ. In the midst of great distresses, the church of Christ is thankful for her deliverance from God’s wrath through the sacrifice and death of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Knowing and believing these things, the church and people of God utter spiritual prayers to God on special days of prayer.
The prayers of the church are not carnal and earthly. They are not prayers full of worldly concerns, such as the desire for world peace. They are not focused upon man and his happiness on earth. They are not prayers simply for things that would enable man to enjoy a life of ease and pleasure here below. That is, they are not merely requests for God to remove the trouble and to give relief.
The church knows that the judgments of God must and certainly will come upon the earth. She also knows that this will continue until the end of time, and will do so with increased frequency and intensity as the end draws near. And she confesses that Zion is redeemed through judgment (Isaiah 1:27).
The church does not attempt, therefore, to tell God what He ought to do. She does not ask God to change His plans and to do things differently. Nor does she hope (as many do today) that by having a large number of people praying to God, He will hear and do what we ask.
Rather, the spiritually minded church calls special days of prayer out of concern for the cause and kingdom of Christ. That is her chief interest and concern. It is true that she prays on such days for deliverance from adversity, if that is the Lord’s will. But deliverance from the judgments of God is not her main desire. It is, rather, that God will glorify Himself by accomplishing His purpose to save and preserve His church. She is interested in the glory and praise of her God.
For that reason, the church prays for grace.
She prays for grace to submit to the will and way of God. She needs the grace of submission so that she will receive the calamities as from the hand of her God and Father in Jesus Christ. She needs it so that she does not complain or become bitter, but instead knows and believes that God, whose ways are always much higher than ours, does all things for her blessedness and good.
She prays also for grace that she may seek the things that are above. It is so easy, in the midst of great distresses in this life, to become overly concerned, even distraught. The church and the people of God realize they are tempted to do this. They can be very earthly minded at times, and therefore see things from a very limited and earthly perspective. They pray for grace, therefore, so that they will view all things in light of eternity and the blessedness that is coming when this weary life is over.
The church also prays for the grace to bear up under the distress that God has sent. It is the desire and prayer of the church that God keep her faithful to Him. That grace is especially needed when the calamity that God sends upon the church is persecution at the hands of the wicked. She prays that God will protect her, and that He will enable her to shine as a light even in the midst of the darkness of affliction.
On special days of prayer the church urgently prays for the return of Christ and the coming of the end of the world. By the grace of God, she views the judgments of God as signs to her of the end of all things. She is reminded of that glorious day of Christ’s return. The Spirit quickens within the hearts of the saints a longing for that day. Therefore the church prays more earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!” She longs for the final manifestation of the kingdom of Christ, when God will be all in all.
By means of such prayer, the church of Christ shows her dependence upon God. She needs Him to uphold and preserve her in the midst of evil and distress. But she is not distraught. She prays in faith. She confesses that God is on her side, and therefore she has nothing to fear. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof” (Ps. 46:1-3).