by David Bryant
The greatest challenge any of us will ever face in the global cause of Christ is to grow as men and women of prayer, and to mobilize others with us into a movement of prayer for the world.
Speaking to 18,000 delegates at InterVarsity’s Student Missions Convention, Dr. Eric Alexander, Scottish pastor and missions leader, observed of the apostolic mandate in Acts 6:4: "The frontline in world evangelization is the Word of God and prayer." Strategically speaking, increased united prayer is our best hope.
The greatest challenge any of us will ever face in the global cause of Christ is to grow as men and women of prayer, and to mobilize others with us into a movement of prayer for the world. Furthermore, the greatest contribution any of us will ever make to the glorious task of advancing Christ’s kingdom among earth’s unreached is, again, to grow as men and women of prayer, and to mbolize others with us into a movement of prayer for the world. Other things wait to be done, but this is the greatest.
Capturing this sense of the strategic importance of united prayer, missions professor George Peters stated:
We have become in missions so wrapped up in a technoloogy and methodoogy that we have forgotten that missions is number one, the releasing of divine dynamics…Reaching the unreached will, first of all, mean for us not only to lay hold of it in faith, but to develop thousands and thousands of prayer cells that will commit themselves whole-heartedly to prayer until the victory will be won. We need spiritual mobilization.
Well there’s good news! Such a united prayer movement, "releasing divine dynamics," is currently underway! And, across the globe within most prayer movements the concern is very similar. These prayer efforts seek to address two great sweeps of the Scriptures: spiritual awakening and world evangelization. Our contemporary pattern happens also to be very historical.
A VOICE FROM THE 18TH CENTURY
Eighteenth centry puritan scholar Jonathan Edwards, in his own call for "concerts of prayer," reported the trend in his day in a stirring treatise: "An humble attempt to promote explicit agreement and visable union of God’s people in extraordinary prayer for the revival of religion and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom on the earth." (That’s the title, not the table of contents! But it says it wall.) This comprised the divine pattern in his day; it is repeating itself in our own.
All of this renewed prayer for momentum should fill us with tremendous hope for the advance of the gospel. As a global Christian community, we desire to reach for Christ the billions of earth’s unreached Muslims, Chinese, Hindus, Buddhists, Communists, Capitalists, Tibals, Secularists, and others. We face the task of planting millions of new churches within thousands of national, linguistic, cultural and other social groupings where none currently exists.
This requires of us a major new mission thrust. But there’s no reason to fear. It ccan be done if God releases "divine dynamics" within us in answer to our prayers. Edwards knew this, and pointed the way to the moblization of united prayer as the key. Today, many are calling the church to lay hold of the same key — to unite in prayer for revival mong God’s people and for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom among the nations.
Much of this was seen as 1,000 Christians from 70 nations together with 2,000 Korean Christians met at the International Prayer Assembly for World Evangelization (IPA) in 1984, in Korea, under the banner of "Seeking God’s face for a movement of prayer in the world."
PRAYER FOR THE NATIONS
For the first time in the history of the church, Christians from throughout the world joined to concetrate for a week on two objectives: to pray together for the nations, and to plan how to encourage the church worldwide to press on in united prayer. That week we sensed the Spirit is raising up servants in the global body of Christ to provide direction to a God-given movement of prayer.
Latere I attended a meeting in Germany of the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization to explore plans for a second international congress in 1989 to develop strategies for total world evangelization. The participants, evangelical leaders in their own nations, seemed to be of one hart and mind that a primary focus of the next international congress must be united prayer and spiritual awakening. Clearly, God is on the move. we are on the threshold of revival.
Last spring, I returned from a visit to seven cities in Asia, including Singpore and Hong Kong, as follow-up of the IPA. Working with John Richard, general secreatry for the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia, and under the sponsorship of the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization, I helped facilitate city-wide "Consulations on United Prayer."
What we discovered was a growing burden among Christian leaders to see the church in their cities united on a regular basis in a prayer movement to change their cities and the world. In many cases, "continuation committees" were developed to begin networking the many localized prayer gatherings already pursuing this vision.
In north America, we conducted a "National Prayer Leaders Retreat" to gather many who are currently guiding city-wide prayer movements. We shared with one another reports on what God is doing, and helped each other learn from our own experiences. In some cases, such as Los Angeles, one city’s prayer thrust is helping to spawn similar monthly prayer concerts in adjacent communities. In another case, we learned of scores of pastors in Boston meeting reglarly to pray for spiritual awakening. The same phenomena seen in Asia and North America are surfacing world-wide.
What is all this activity about? It is nothing less than the foundation of a new mission thrust. It is the springs of awakening for world evangelization. It is a sign of God’s grace, because prayer, praying people and a movment of prayer for the owrld are all gifts from God.
If in fact God is raising up this prayer movement, then we as his people need to be in it together. We need to coordinate our efforts in order to participate in what is emerging. Above all, we must get God’s praying people together. We must help them find one another; help them get on with the curcial ministry God has given us to do in prayer; and owrk with them to mobilize many others.
THE FOUNDATION OF A NEW MISSIONS THRUST
In fact, if you study the great outward movements of the gospel over the past 300 years, history suggests there is a divine pattern in every new surge of world missions. It has five phases:
1. A movement of united prayer begins.
2. A Renewed vision of Christ and his kingdom eventually results.
3. The church-at-large is restored in unity and in resolve to obey Christ as Lord.
4. An ensuing revitalization of exisitng ministries and outreach takes place.
5. This leads to an expansion of the gospel among those yet untouched by God’s love and justice.
In the face of tremendous evangelistic tasks, and with seemingly insurmountable barriers (both human and spiritual), God’s primary strategy is to bring his people together in prayer. They often gather in specific geographical locations witin the body of Christ (like your campus or your city), in order that they might seek him unitedly. They pursue in prayer a fresh revelation of the glory of God’s Son, so as to penetrate all levels of society with the gospel, and to launch new mission thrusts to the ends of the earth.
Often, these movements of prayer begin with just a few who are willing to set the pace. A few catch the vision of the priorty that prayer must hold in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. They get in step with the divine pattern, and in so doing, encourage many others to join with them. What may be rather imperceptible in its beginnings, becomes in the end a widespread movement of prayer involving a significant portion of the body of Christ.
ON THE THRESHOLD OF A SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
It is my conviction, and many share this with me, that our generation is on the threshold of a major spiritual awakening within the body of Christ—of a fresh revelation of Christ’s glory in the church and among the nations.
I have been in a number of gatherings over the past three or four yearss of what I would call "spiritual seismologists." People who live on the West Coast of North America know what a seismologist is. They are scientists who study the tremors of the earth to determine where the next major earthquate might strike.
In the same sense, these spiritual seismologists — scholars, mission strategists, historians, and other Christian leaders — have gathered in consulation from around the world to analyze new tremors in the body of Christ. They have sought to determine if another major spritual shaking might take place among us. Without exception, it has been their conviction that we are on the threshold of something wonderful that may be unprecedented in the history of the church. All of this, of course, has direct implication for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
One of the major evidences that we are on such a threshold is the growing concern for united prayer in the body of Christ worldwide. Prayer has taken a mighty leap forward in the cconsciousness of the church, even over the past five years alone. There are many evidences of this onevery hand. Let me name a few.
MOVEMENTS OF PRAYER IN THE UNITED STATES
In the United States, we see a new surge of interest not only in prayer, but more specifically in united prayer. For example, during the 1984 Summer Olympics, a mighty effort was made to moblize churches and students in southern California, together with Christians from all over the world, to engage in what was known as the Olympic Outreach. They saw 14,000 confirmed decisions for Jesus Christ during the three weeks of the Olympics.
But the primary objective of the Olympic Outreach Committee was not simply to reach people at the Olympics. They wanted to foster concerts of prayer for spiritual awakening that would precede, undergird and continue on long after the event itself. God has fulfilled the dreams he gave them. A new multi-faceted movement of prayer in southern California led one prominent pastor there to say, "I believe this is the most significant movment of the Holy Spirit that I have seen in my lifetime."
In many other places there is similar concern for united prayer, whether in Washington, D.C.; among the 40 evangelical churches and outreach ministries that join in regular, concerted prayer in Portland, Oregon; or among inner city churches in New Orleans that united 10,000 Christians in round-the-clock prayer in 1984 and 1985.
Though the make-up of each united pryaer effort differs from city to city, the emphasis is the same. Together they seek God for a new revelation of his Son, so that the church might be freshly empowered to carry out its tasks of preaching, compassion and justice not only within their own cities, but to the very ends of the earth.
Similar movements of prayer are also emerging on the nation’s campuses. Over 50 seminaries in the United States in the United States have groups that gather in concerts of prayer for spiritual awakening and world evangelization. At one leading university on the West Coast, students from various campus movements regularly come together to pray. At a major midwestern campus, students are joined by lay people and pastors from different churches within their city.
Last year, five regional studdent-led missions conferences sought to launch a prayer coalition on scores of university campuses as they united across organizational boundaries for world outreach and revival.
The growing concern for united prayer spawned a national Consultation on Concerts of Prayer in 1985 that brought together missions, campus and denomiatnional leaders to consider how to help praying people within their constituencies to find each other within their cities or on their campuses, in order to unite in prayer for spiritual awakening. Many of these leaders are pressing forward to fulfill that vision at this very moment.
CALL THEM "CONCERTS OF PRAYER"
In many cases these current prayer efforts are termed "concerts of prayer." This phrase comes from the history books. Many of these past movements of prayer that undergirded and usstained new missions thrusts were called, literally, "Concerts of Prayer." "Concert" meant people were gathering together — united, concerted.
But, of course, the word "concert" also reminds us of music. A group of musicians who are each playing different instruments with varying sounds are still united. Under one conductor they play fromt he same musical score in order to create a glorious symphony that fills the concert hall. I’ve had experiences like that as I’ve joined others in united prayer for spiritual awakening.
Though the way we expressed ourselves verbally differed, in the same way a violin differs from the flute, we were led by the same Conductor, the Lord Jesus. We were giving expression to the same score. The symphony, composed by our one Conductor, consisted of nothing less than God’s kingdom purposes as revealed in his Word. And our time of prayer was filled with the joy of great expectation.
Taking Paul’s picture of an army in Ephesians 6, we might call a concert of prayer a marching band. That being so, what are we marching toward? IN other words, what are our expectations for this movement of prayer?
We’re praying toward a spiritual awakening. What is that? Let’s look at it.
PRAYER FOR SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
Throughout history, whenever God gives spiritual awakening, it comes something like the picture in Isaiah 60:1-3:
"Arise and shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen on you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples. But the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn."
In other words, spiritual awakening is when God rises before his people, gives them a new vision of his glory in Christ, so that they come awake to him with new zeal and love and readiness to do his will. In turn, Christ is revealed through his obedient people before unbelievers. The end of it all is that nations — the unreached peoples — who were sitting in deep darkness, are drawn to seek the Lord themselves.
That’s the heart of world evangelization. In spiritual awakening, the saving work of God that has been unfolding among the nations in and through Christ’s disciples, intensifies and accelerates in new advances of his kingdom.
Here’s one simple definition of spiritual awakening as I"ve come to understand it in my studies of the Scriptures; Spiritual awakening is when God awakens his people to see Christ’s fullness in new ways, so that together they trust him in new ways; so that they love and obey him in new ways; so they move with him in new ways for the fulfillment of his global cause.
TWO MAJOR FACETS OF SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
You will notice in my definition two key words: fullness and fulfillment. Those are the two major dimensions in spiritual awakening. They are also the dimensions toward which we are praying.
By fullness, I mean what God does in the church as he wakes us up to the fullness of the person of Jesus Christ. We might use the word revival or renewal or some other term, but I think fulness captures best for me what the scriptures mean when they describe God’s people restored in faith, hope and love to serve him effectively in the world.
Fulfillment, on the other hand, refers not to the fulfillment of our own desires or plans, but rather to the fulfillment of what God has purposed to do through us by Christ Jesus among the nations. In other words, it speaks of God’s work in the world. As the Spirit reveals Christ’s fullness within the church, he then is able to mobilize the church to fulfill God’s work of redemption among all the peoples of the earth.
If you study,