Rising Like a Mighty River
The hope of world revival is seen in how people pray. That’s the thesis of the next confidence builder:
God is stirring up his people to pray specifically, increasingly, and persistently for world revival. He is doing this by giving believers everywhere a common vision for the need for revival, a broad-based agreement on what the coming revival will look like, and a growing conviction that revival is at hand for those who seek it together. If God is stirring up the church to pray with this distinctive focus and consensus, he will not let us pray in vain. He has promised to hear and answer us fully. We can prepare for the answers with confidence.
In With Concerts of Prayer I told a parable about a cadre of people gathered at a partially opened door, knocking together for entrance. The sounds of their knuckles on wood grabs the attention of others, desperate for liberation, who come to join them at the threshold.1 Interestingly when I wrote this little story in 1984, I did so to illustrate what I saw to be the initial phases of an emerging God-ordained prayer movement toward world revival (the other side of the door). But today we are way beyond initial phases. The doorway is jam-packed! As one denominational leader put it, “It is as if God is pushing his church toward revival and prayer from all sides.” Appendix 4 documents this with scores of inspiring accounts from around the world.
Even secular publications like Newsweek notice the increase in prayer: “Talking to God: In America, as the prophet Amos put it, those conversations are rising like a mighty river . . . This week, if you believe at all in opinion surveys, more of us will pray than will go to work, exercise, or have sexual relations . . . In an allegedly rootless, materialistic, self-centered America, there is also a hunger for a personal experience of God that prayer seeks to satisfy.”2
George Gallup in a major study on the impact of prayer in the United States concludes: “In previous surveys, we have discovered that high on the list of things people want from their churches, whether evangelical or not, is teaching about prayer. We do need to get people in touch with God and teach them how to pray, through prayer and Bible study groups, among other means. To pray in a group is uniquely powerful.”3
A Global Phenomenon
Recent statistics back up this interpretation. I’ve already cited that worldwide approximately 170 million Christians are committed to pray every day for revival and evangelization, with twenty million claiming this as their primary calling in the body of Christ. Ten million prayer groups make revival prayer one of their primary agendas, while hundreds of prayer networks are committed to mobilizing such prayer within denominations, cities, and whole nations.
The vitality of this global prayer movement was dynamically unveiled at the International Prayer Assembly for World Evangelization in 1984. A first-of-its-kind gathering, it involved two thousand prayer mobilizers from seventy nations who concluded their week of strategizing on prayer movements by issuing an “International Call to Prayer” (part of which is quoted in the accompanying box). Nine years later in 1993, another gathering with more national import took place in the United States—The National Consultation on United Prayer—inaugurating a “new era of spiritual leadership” in our land, bringing to our nation a special “National Call to United Prayer” (reproduced in chapter 2).
A Call to Prayer
From the International Prayer Assembly on World Evangelization, 11984
God has impressed on us an urgent desire to call for an international prayer movement for spiritual awakening and world evangelization . . . Only the omnipotent Holy Spirit, applying the fruits of the finished work of Christ through a church constant awakened through prayer, can deliver the lost from the power of Satan (Acts 26:17-18), as the Lord adds daily those who are being saved (Acts 2:47). The awakening of the church is thus essential to the completion of world evangelization . . . The means of grace can only be empowered for us today through fervent and persistent prayer to the Father in the Name of the crucified and risen Christ. … Explicit agreement and visible union of God’s people in extraordinary prayer for the awakening of the church and world evangelization is essential for the extension of the Kingdom of Christ through the preaching of the Gospel. We rejoice that in the last few years, in many parts of the world, the Holy Spirit has instilled a growing dependence on God, leading to increased unity in prayer within the Body of Christ, transcending denominational, national, ethnic and cultural divisions . . . We are constrained to call the Body of Christ worldwide to mobilize intercession for spiritual awakening in the church and for world evangelization.
In the years between those two major events, I observed significant, identifiable developments in the prayer movement, both nationally and internationally, including the increase of prayer mobilizers bent on drawing the church together in prayer within whole cities. We have seen the emergence of community-wide pastors’ prayer gatherings for revival, matched by new thrusts in revival prayer within the ranks of denominations and Christian organizations.
This movement is find expression in whole new ways within local churches as well. Recently the Christian Reformed Church published The Praying Church Sourcebook based on extensive research on congregational prayer growth within many church traditions.4 They uncovered a variety of increased prayer activities in churches throughout our nation including: more prayer in worship services, schools of prayer, family prayer altars, prayer telephone ministry, prayer emphasis weeks, prayer chains, prayer triplets, prayer vigils, church prayer support groups, evangelism prayer groups, prayer groups for world missions, pastors’ prayer-support groups, concerts of prayer, personal and churchwide prayer retreats, prayer ministry teams, prayer healing services, twenty-four-hour prayer rooms, businessmen’s prayer gatherings, women’s prayer fellowships, seniors’ prayer groups, children’s prayer gatherings, solemn assemblies—to name only a few!
To this could be added other current prayer expressions, often involving churches working together. Some of these include prayer concerts (citywide mass prayer rallies focused on revival in participating churches and in their cities, as well as on world evangelization); prayer walks (interceding for neighborhoods as Christians walk the streets in teams); prayer marches (interceding for whole cities as churches march together through the center city with songs and prayers); and prayer journeys (teams of intercessors going out among the nations to pray in the midst of specific, unreached people groups).5
We may be standing in the vortex of the most significant prayer movement in the history of the church. Appendix 4 is only a sampling of all God is doing. No generation has ever seen such an acceleration and intensification of prayer worldwide.
Recently we conducted a statewide Concert of Prayer in Iowa. Billboards were placed across the state inviting people to the rally. I saw one billboard beside another that advertised a painting company. Its motto (in big, bold, red letters) was “You’ve got to be kidding.” Together the two signs read, “Come to the statewide Concert of Prayer rally for revival” followed by “You’ve got to be kidding!” Over the years that has been my recurring response as I have witnessed the spectacular emergence of this diverse prayer movement. Something extraordinary is taking place right before our very eyes. I keep saying to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
An Unprecedented Movement of Prayer
Of course, this movement has not sprung into life overnight. There are important roots to be aware of. Countless individuals and groups across the world have been praying for a prayer awakening for many years. I have met with some prayer bands that have been seeking God for this for forty years.
Now, however, that an increasing number of church leaders have served this effort in the past decade, we are seeing tremendous multiplication of local and national prayer ministries and coalition of prayer trainers to nurture the movement. In addition, there have been the increasing and faithful prayers of thousands of pastors who now realize, as the pastor of the largest church in American titles his recent book, that they are, “too busy not to pray.”
Here is evidence of the unprecedented nature of this movement (and appendix 4 has illustrations of each):
- The Prayer Movement is Unprecedented in Numbers
In America over the last few months alone, tens of thousands have been united in citywide prayer rallies in communities large and small. Hundreds of thousands have joined together in prayer from coast to coast through the broadcast of world-revival prayer meetings by radio, led by local and national leaders. Pastors meet regularly by the hundreds in prayer groups nationwide, seeking God for renewal in their own lives and within their churches. Recently in one city, two hundred pastors came together for four days of prayer over this city and returned the final night to lead a prayer rally of nearly fifteen thousand in the local stadium. In other cities the numbers turning out for prayer rallies have been so large we have actually, experienced full-fledged traffic jams, even turning hundreds away. All of this for a prayer meeting!
What is happening here is happening in even greater measure in other nations, as evidence in appendix 4. For example, recently in one month alone nearly thirty million Christians in more than one hundred nations joined in thirty days of prayer to cry out to God for a spiritual awakening that would bring the gospel to all the unreached peoples throughout most of the Muslim, Hindu, and Chinese world. Some called it the largest prayer meeting in history.
- The Prayer Movement is Unprecedented in Its Breadth
Crossing many borders within the body of Christ, the prayer movement is multi-denominational (involving people of all spectrums of the church) and coalesces Christians from any different ethnic and social backgrounds, united in prayer toward the same vision. It is breaking down walls that many Christians have raised in our major urban centers, particularly racial barriers.
And it is bring together Christians of all ages. Youth, however, may be leading the way. This is true not only of teenagers (and there are hundreds of thousands in America who have recently shown consistent interest in praying unitedly for revival) but also of young children. An international conference on prayer is planning an entire track for children to attend as participating pray-ers.
In Boston a prayer rally took place that involved eight hundred Christians from seventy-five churches throughout the center city. It was conducted by different races in four different languages to fairly represent the diversity of the Christians involved. Interestingly it took place in historic Park Street Church, which itself was planted out of a multi-denominational concert of prayer in the early 1800s.
The breadth of this movement can also be seen in how it involves whole denominations. Some denominations have set goals to mobilize as many as three million intercessors in this decade (such as the Assemblies of God in Brazil). Others are scheduling national denominational meetings exclusively focused on fostering concerted prayer for revival within their congregations, even passing official resolutions that commission the pastors to make this top priority.
And believers across hundreds of cities worldwide are involved in national days of prayer, prayer rallies, prayer conferences, and medial events—all of which is under the guidance of local spiritual leaders.
Whether it be bands of multiracial prayer groups in South Africa, concerts of prayer planted among unevangelized Mongolians and in officially closed Muslim countries, one hundred thousand high school students praying in the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, or international prayer mobilization efforts such as those fostered by the World Evangelical Fellowship, the a.d. 2000 and Beyond movement, and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization—the breadth of revival prayer is global.
- The Prayer Movement is Unprecedented in Strategy
The growing understanding among prayer leaders worldwide is that the movement of prayer is not intended simply to undergird our personal and denominational ambitions for God. Rather there seems to be a paradigm shift. The movement is perceived increasingly as uniting the church in prayer as the fountainhead of everything else that will happen in national and world revival. This is why we find united prayer development to be the first order of business in many national and global plans for world evangelization by the year 2000. There is the growing conviction that everything we do (whether evangelism, social action, or ministries of compassion and justice) must be built on concerted prayer.
Let me give you a personal example. In a radical divergence from his seminary lectures of many years, Peter Wagner has expanded his understanding of church growth principles to include the missions dimensions of prayer In doing so he has become an articulate “dean” for an emerging school of thought on the subject. Recent titles include: Warfare Prayer, Prayer Shield, Wrestling with Dark Angels, Breaking Strongholds in Your City, and Your Church Can Pray!6 Not all agree with all he teaches, particularly relating to spiritual warfare and “prayer mapping.” But he is stirring up healthy discussion on a broad range of prayer topics relating to world evangelization throughout much of the church. And he’s doing so because of his personal soul-wrenching conversion on the issue. Now, he says, God will not let him turn back.
There is also an increasing attempt to link prayer movements with citywide evangelistic efforts. Billy Graham, Luis Palau, and others have made increasing attempts to insure that crusades inaugurate or strengthen ongoing prayer movements for spiritual awakening long after the crusades are over. In Atlanta, GAP (Greater Atlanta Pray) is helping to mobilize three hundred churches into united prayer for revival and evangelistic outreach over much of this decade, including outreach during the Summer Olympics. The same can be seen internationally. The All-Japan Evangelistic Prayer Bands have as their goal to mobilize one hundred thousand Christians in prayer and personal evangelism to reach the one hundred million unevangelized Japanese. The All-Japan Revival Prayer Movement has set its sights on even larger numbers after a recent rally of one hundred thousand in the Osaka baseball stadium.
In many parts of the prayer movement, the church is focused on united prayer to bring about reconciliation within the church community. Increasingly it is through the prayer movement that races and denominations are beginning to “cover each other in love,” to build bridges of trust, acceptance, and understanding, and to stand together with a common focus for the reaching of their cities. As a result, in a number of citywide prayer movements there are reports of changes in the “climate” of their cities, and the body of Christ is discovering new ways to minister together to moral and spiritual crises in approaches that bring long-term healing for their cities.
In some cities God has enabled prayer leaders to develop multifaceted prayer movements, which are therefore potentially multifaceted in their impact on the city. One of the most significant urban prayer strategies today is the one unfolding in New York City. This movement expresses itself in the following ways:
- Regular, citywide prayer rallies, prayer marches, and prayer vigils
- Pastors’ prayer gatherings and prayer retreats
- Training of congregational prayer leaders
- Churches “adopting” one another and praying for revival for one another
- Local concerts of prayer within individual churches
- Radio broadcasts that facilitate bringing the metropolitan area together in prayer
- United daily “prayer watches,” involving hundreds of churches who raise up intercessory teams for each day of the year to pray for the overriding concerns of world revival
- Commitment by a multitude of smaller prayer groups to become a part of a “prayer net” in which they integrate a least ten minutes of prayer for world revival every time they meet
- Regular written communications on prayer concerns for world revival as well as reports on the prayer movements locally and worldwide
- Businessmen praying for revival as they conduct preaching missions in the Financial District (their motto: “Pray boldly, preach boldly,” from Acts 4:31)
- Prayer conventions directly related to evangelistic outreaches (like the Billy Graham rally with 250,000) and social ministries (like the 1,000 parents who spent a Saturday afternoon interceding for the city’s teens and their schools)
- Volunteer prayer coordinators for the citywide movement meet with the counterparts from many other cities nationally to pray for and learn from one another
The great hope we have in the linking of strategic prayer and outreach struck me as I polled the executives of one hundred mission societies (a number of which were founded within the past twenty years), I asked them, “How many of your agencies actually began in a movement of united prayer? I don’t mean that after they began they went out looking for prayer support. Rather, how many at the outset started with a company of praying people concerned for Christ’s global cause, to whom God finally gave vision and resources they ultimately took the shape of the mission society you serve today?” Immediately almost every hand went up (and those who didn’t raise their hands, I suspected, were unaware of their history!). Is it any wonder that in the past decade more and more mission-focused consultations are setting up twenty-four-hour prayer watches to “cover” their planning deliberations? Never before has there been such a widespread consensus that prayer is our number one strategy.
- The Prayer Movement is Unprecedented in Leadership
In previous historical awakenings, prayer movements have been served by various kinds of leaders. In the early 1700s, for example, the First Great Awakening was led primarily by the clergy. In the late 1700s, the Second Great Awakening was led by those who were mission-minded (such as William Carey and William Wilberforce). In the Third Great Awakening, with central figures such as Charles Finney and Jeremiah Lamphier, it was often what we might today call “parachurch” groups that set the pace. In what was sometimes called the “businessman’s prayer revival,” lay people worked together across denominational lines to mobilize tens of thousands into prayer for world revival. J. Edwin Orr documents in Campus Aflame that throughout most awakenings, young people banded in prayer groups on their campuses have often been at the forefront of the whole movement, catalyzing concerted prayer in the church at large.7
But the encouraging thing today is that leadership is coming from all of these levels. It can be seen in the over thirteen hundred prayer-mobilization networks worldwide that collaborate in the effort. Not long ago in the U.S., within a twelve-month period, national-level leadership forums were convened for denominations, national youth ministries, missionary agencies, city prayer-movement leaders, and even directors of major Christian philanthropic foundations. The full historic spectrum was in motion: leaders from churches, missions, parachurch groups, lay groups, youth. Formal coalitions have formed as a result, such as the Denominational Prayer Leaders Network and the National Youth Leaders Prayer Forum. And in every case the goal is the same: to work together as catalysts toward united prayer for world revival.
At the local church level, thousands of pastors are currently gathering in hundreds of four-day “prayer summits” (where they give themselves to prayer only), to seek God for spiritual awakening in their own lives and communities, and returning to call their churches to follow their example.8 And even as I write, plans are underway to bring together seventy-five thousand pastors to pray over the nation and to return to mobilize congregational and citywide prayer thrusts for revival.
At the same time, never before has such prayer leadership been as international in its expression. What is happening in the U. S. is unfolding with equal and greater forces in many countries. International Intercessors, for example, has teams of trained prayer mobilizers in over seventy nations. The united prayer track of the a.d. 2000 and Beyond coalition has unearthed thousands of Christian leaders (at all levels) who are now being networked into one of the most comprehensive prayer mobilization enterprises ever.
- The Prayer Movement Is Unprecedented in Vision
As I study what is being taught by the plethora of prayer ministries worldwide, as I listen to the focus embodied in recent calls to prayer, as I watch the direction toward which various coalitions for prayer are headed and note how God’s people are praying within their congregations, in mass citywide prayer rallies, or in international prayer assemblies, I consistently hear one major concern: national and world revival.
The praying may be expressed with many creative techniques. It may involve a combination of the historic prayer approaches (discussed in depth by Richard Foster in Prayer).9 The “spirit” with which people pray will surface in various ways along the historic continuum. At one end we find contemplative praying (reflection, communion, listening to God). At the other end we find what theologian Donald Bloesch calls “prophetic praying” where people sense that through their active praying God is actually bringing new things into being. (See Bloesch’s The Struggle of Prayer, in which he documents that though both approaches have been intertwined in most great prayer efforts, historically it is prophetic praying that must be the leading edge if the prayer thrust is to remain healthy.)10]
Even prophetic praying will vary in its expressions. It may move from times of rejoicing and celebration in the hope of what is coming, to repentance over everything in us that might hinder God from bringing revival, to resisting enemy attacks against the preparations for coming world revival, to intercession that cries out to God to fulfill his promise for revival, to commitment to God to be used in any way he pleases to bring it about. But the heart of the vision remains the same. All these forms of praying continue to give expression to one overriding concern: the unleashing of a massive global spiritual awakening to Christ that decisively advances his cause in every place.
In fact, unlike any previous prayer movements, this one carries the passion for revival as a result of a prior burden for the fulfillment of Christ’s global cause. World missions is not an afterthought of the prayer movement: in many ways it is the spawning ground for it.
What Does It Mean When…?
Not long ago in a midsized city in the south, one hundred churches united for a citywide prayer rally. The week before, they ran a full-page ad in the local paper that consisted basically of one question in bold print centered on the page: “What does it mean when all of these churches unite together to pray for revival? Underneath the questions, in smaller print, they listed the one hundred cooperating churches by name. And then at the bottom of the page the answer was given by quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14. In a sense, that’s the meaning of this unprecedented global movement of prayer, wherever you find it. God is calling his church to unite, to humble themselves, to seek his face—not to coax him to revive us, no. He longs to awaken and restore his people, and through them to bring healing to their communities and to the nations.
Recall once more Dr. Orr’s principle: “Whenever God is ready to begin something new with His people, He always sets them to praying.” That’s what it all means! This is God’s prayer movement. He has ordained that he will be open to our cries as a part of the sovereign process toward his ordained ends of world revival (and ultimately of the final revival). The Scriptures are clear: There are some things in the church and in the world that God will not do until his people pray.
This prayer movement is a gift from God. Because of our natural aversion to prayer (our predisposition toward the status quo and toward idolatry), God himself must stir up the work of prayer in us. Just as faith is a gift of God, so prayer is a gift of God. Therefore, praying people are a gift from God, and movements of prayer are his gift too. And if God is giving this gift, he will not fail to answer the prayers that he himself has stirred up in our hearts to begin with. Truly, the prayer movement is a powerfully reassuring sign that national and world revival is at hand.
Has God Begun to Answer Yet?
But someone may ask, “Is there any evidence that God is responding to this increase in prayer Has revival begun?”
From one perspective the response is simple: God’s current answers to our revival prayers are found in the very fact that he is increasing the movement of prayer itself. If revival comes to those who seek it in prayer together; and if the revival God is preparing for this generation is something bigger than any one of us or any one of our churches or denominations or nations can fully contain; and if, as it comes, the impact will be on the whole mission of Jesus Christ so that this revival is something in which we all have a stake; and if it’s going to take the whole body, fully revived, to fulfill God’s whole vision for this whole generation worldwide—then this makes sense. One of God’s major answers to our cries for spiritual awakening would need to be the acceleration of a much broader-based work of concerted prayer. Since God’s seekers ultimately become his receivers, then as he works toward full-orbed revival, he must first expand the prayer movement. He must have the full attention of the church-at-large, actively seeking him for it. That way the whole church is ready to receive what he desires to give—a revival that embraces the whole church.
But there is another perspective on the question of answers to revival prayers. There are both immediate answers to this prayer movement as well as ultimate answers. The ultimate answers are obvious. They will be found in a thorough spiritual awakening to Christ in the church worldwide. This means, as we’ve seen, a fresh revelation of Christ to his people, an intensification of his life within his people, and the consummation of his mission through his people among the nations. Every prayer—and every act of concerted prayer—lingers before the Father until these ultimate answers are given in full. Revelation 5 guarantees this, describing prayer as “bowls of incense” that ascends before the throne and before the Lamb, with the ensuing fulfillment of the Lamb’s global purposes—even to the final revival itself.
But there are also immediate answers, foretastes of revival that arise out of the process of the prayer movement itself, even before thorough world revival descends on the church. As I have visited united prayer initiatives in many nations, I’ve become aware that involvement in the process significantly impacts people’s daily walk with Christ. It provides them a genuine touch of revival now. It is world it for them to be involved, even if God takes years to answer their prayers with full-scale awakening. Immediate answers that come as we pray include an enlarged vision of Christ, a deepening hunger for God’s glory, a more dynamic sense of being God’s family together, the acceleration of congregational praise and praying, greater drive toward full consecration to the Lord, the releasing of dreams and visions for outreach, and the liberation of men and women to enter into Christ’s work whole heartedly.
But as important as anything, the process of praying inspires a new spirit of hope and celebration about all that God is getting ready to do in the future. And that, apart from anything else, has the power to start breaking the chains or paralysis discussed in chapter 7.
This came home to me one day when I was on retreat at a farm in Virginia. Aware of such a longing to know Christ more deeply, I was thirsting for personal renewal—literally day and night. Early one morning as I walked through the fields, I watched a cow break out of the herd and wander down a hillside to the stream below. She walked straight into the water, planted all four feet in the middle of it, lowered her massive head, and began to drink. Her neck muscles rippled with each delicious gulp. Suddenly I cried out to God, “I am just like that cow! Jesus said in John 7 that if we were thirsty, we could come to him and drink, and out of our innermost being would flow rivers of living water. That’s what I want to do. But how do I drink?”
Immediately I sensed God giving me an answer: “I know you’re thirsty. I’ve made you thirsty. And I want to keep you that way. That’s how you grow. But be assured of this: every time you gather in your little concert of prayer back home, praying for revival in my church, you are drinking, right then and there.”
I’ve never attended a prayer meeting since then without that perspective on what’s happening. The immediate answer to prayer is that then and there we are drinking more of Christ. All of this should be enough to lead us to pray with bold persistence, even for national and world revival.
Whose Prayer Movement Is It Anyway?
But even more important is the question as to whether God himself is stirring up this dynamic prayer movement. Is the distinctiveness of its focus, unprecedented breadth, and intensive growth from God?
My answer is, Can there be any other biblical explanation for such a phenomenon? I think not. There’s absolutely nothing in this old nature of mine that would ever desire to seek God’s face for revival. Every praying person you know is a miracle unfolding right before your eyes!
And if all of this is from God, would he be encouraging a prayer movement for world revival while intending in the end to frustrate us and leave us empty-handed? Of course not! So we can pray and prepare with confidence. We can praise God with the same hope voiced by the hymnist John Ellerton in the mid 1800s during the Third Great Awakening:
We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping
And rests not now by day or night.
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
So be it, Lord; Thy Throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
They kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
But behind all this distinctive praying lies the seventh reason to expect revival for the twenty-first century: the rock-bottom commitment of the people who are doing the praying. I call them the “determined people”—a breed unto themselves. We meet them next.