During the 1950s in the United States, prayer was known to be little more than a devotional exercise. Of course, it always served us as a last resort in times of crisis. Sincere Christians disciplined themselves to maintain a personal quiet time, and sincere churches took time each Wednesday night to mention the names of their ailing members in prayer. This broadly summarizes what Christians generally understood about prayer.
By the 1980s, Korea was setting a new pace in intercessory prayer, and nations around the world were beginning to experience powerful moves of God. However, in America we saw little evidence of God’s activity within our borders. While outpourings of revival and historic harvests of souls were being seen in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the church in North America was relatively impotent.
For example, while millions of Chinese were being swept into the kingdom of God each year, there was not one county in the United States that experienced any measurable evangelistic growth. The best we had to show was the emergence of several mega-churches that were largely the result of innovative worship styles and “sheep-shifting” (members of one congregation moving to another).
God began convicting us that we were powerless because we were prayerless. He began to stir us to reevaluate the purpose and the priority of prayer. Although many were used of God to contribute to this renewal, it was God Himself who was motivating His body, the church, to pray.
We began to realize that the absence of true intercession (fervent, focused, passionate prayer) was the primary reason for our nation’s spiritual stagnation and moral malaise.
Read Nehemiah 1:1–3. Nehemiah was greatly troubled when he heard how God’s people were devastated. Write in your journal, how Nehemiah reacted when he heard the report?
Read Nehemiah 1:4–11. How did Nehemiah pray for his nation?
What do you think would happen in your nation if you and
other Christians prayed with the same fervency?
From Devotional Discipline to Foundational Ministry
The first stage in our reevaluation was seeing prayer elevated from simply a devotional exercise to a “support” status.
Pastors and churches began to view prayer as the foundation that undergirds each of the church’s ministries. Pray-ers, who had long practiced devotional praying that nurtured their own relationship with God, began to respond to the work of prayer—intercession, which requires laying down their own lives for others. Intercessory prayer was moving from an inward focus to more of an outward focus.
With this revelation, churches began to develop prayer ministries. There are one hundred sixty-eight hours in a week, so many churches built twenty-four-hour-a-day “walls of prayer” by enlisting one hundred sixty-eight prayer watchmen who would commit to spend one hour each week in prayer for the pastors, the staff and the ministries of the church. Larger churches built multiple walls of prayer so that there were as many as four people praying each hour of every day.
The prophetess Anna had been married for only seven years when she was widowed. The Bible tells us that Anna had devoted the rest of her life to staying in the temple in prayer and fasting. The Lord honored her devotion by allowing her the joy of seeing baby Jesus (her Messiah) before her death. (Read Luke 2:36-37.)
So, by the late 1980s, American churches across the doctrinal spectrum were enlisting prayer watchmen, captains and coordinators. They began building beautifully appointed prayer rooms. Churches that could do so began to hire pastors whose role was to oversee the church’s prayer ministry. Prayer was beginning to be more noticeable in the corporate life of the church.
From Foundational to True Ministry
In 1995 God led Alice and me (Eddie) to initiate an extended time of prayer and fasting for our own nation. In the spring of 1996, thirty-five of the nation’s prayer leaders laid hands on us and commissioned us to coordinate PrayUSA!
In April of 1997 we launched PrayUSA!—the first of five years of praying through a forty-day calendar for revival and spiritual awakening in the United States. With the help of dozens of denominations, hundreds of parachurch ministries and thousands of churches, we saw millions of Christians fast and pray each spring for revival and spiritual awakening in America.
CBN news reported PrayUSA! as the largest fasting and prayer initiative in history.
Steve Hawthorne and others carry on national prayer initiatives of this type. In fact, PrayUSA! inspired many such times of extended fasting and prayer and eventually gave birth to PrayWORLD!, an international initiative coordinated by Dr. Ben Jennings of Campus Crusade for Christ International.
As we’ve entered the twenty-first century, more and more believers are becoming aware of the vital nature of prayer. It is certainly a devotional discipline. It is absolutely foundational to every other ministry, for it puts the power of God into the work of God. But as we now know, prayer itself is a fullfledged ministry. Whereas other ministries go to men for God, prayer goes to God for men!
A NEW WIND OF THE SPIRIT
In his book Does It Pay to Pray?, John DeVries makes the following point about prayer: “The Western church has been compared to a little boy trying to fly a kite on a windless day. He runs furiously up and down his sidewalk, pulling his little kite behind him, and as long as he runs, the kite flies. The moment the little fellow stops, the kite plunges to the ground. His problem? The wind isn’t blowing. The Western church, with its members burned out from endless programs, seminars, classes, committee meetings, planning sessions and organizational flow charts, is much like that boy. We are too often trying to carry the church and its programs by our own efforts. The wind of the Spirit is not blowing.
What the church desperately needs is a new wind of the Spirit, but when the Spirit comes, that doesn’t mean we stop working or that our work becomes less important. The Spirit fills our work and lifts it up, far beyond the world of human expectations and limitations, doing “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).”