How to Improve the Prayer Life of the Church
“and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. My eyes will now be open and My ears attentive to prayer from this place.” (2 Chronicles 7:14–15, HCSB)
The Last Message of Billy Graham:
From the Christian Post:
Billy Graham was recently asked what the text of his last message would be. He said it would be 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Billy wants to call our nation, and all who would hear, to turn back to God. Billy said, “I want to call the country to repentance.”
The absent prayer life in a billboard quote:
I drove with Heike on our way to Springfield last month. We were going to visit a person in the hospital and then meet some friends at a Gospel concert at Remington’s. On the way there, on Highway 60, we saw the same billboard twice. On that billboard, was this quote from 2 Chronicles 7:14. The only problem was that the portion which was omitted was an important part in bringing revival back to our nation. You can’t pray without being convicted of sin. You can’t see God heal the land, if you don’t turn, change, repent.
I was so mad about that misquote. I wondered if the guy who made the billboard didn’t have enough room, or if he thought that what he omitted was unimportant. I just hate that people omit things from the Bible for the sake of their own convenience. I talked to Heike about all the way there. I was so mad. I said I had to preach about this. Well, God gave me a reason to preach about this. We have to improve a prayer life that has been absent in this church, and in our lives.
FIVE INGREDIENTS TO IMPROVE THE PRAYER LIFE OF THE CHURCH
Christian people – “my people, who are called by My name”
God does not hear the prayer of sinners who do not know Him. He hears the prayers of His saints. The first thing that needs to happen is that Christians need to come and pray.
Prayer (“humble themselves and pray”)
We should spend more time in prayer than we do. We have many opportunities to do that. Let me share with you just three opportunities you can spend more time in prayer today:
First, this is the “Week of Prayer” for North American Missions for all SBC churches. We have an envelope where we are asking you to give up and beyond your regular giving in the church to give a one-time gift for North American Missions. Our goal is $500, but the Mission Board is asking us to raise our goal at least 10%. So please give. Why? Because we fund these missionaries. Let me ask you to pray for them right now. We are going to divide into groups based on the person you are chosen to pray for. I will hand out a set of cards. You will see a name of a family, what their work is, and where their work is, along with the information about the need for that work. So let’s take some time right now, and let’s just pray for these missionaries.
Second, I talked you about sharing the Gospel. It is important that we take time to share the Gospel. However, we need to spend more time in prayer over the people who need to hear the Gospel around us. So I am going to hand out a card to you right now. I am asking you to take a few minutes and write down one name on the card. This is a name of a person whom you know is lost. Not someone who is sick. Someone who is lost. It should be someone who is local. Because we are going spend more time praying for the people we are called to reach. If we are going to get serious about reaching the lost, then we need to get specific about the people whom God has called us to reach. So please take a minute or two to write down one name – first and last name – for us to pray for. We will take these cards and pray over them every Monday evening. But we’ll start by praying for them this morning.
Third, I want you to spend FIVE MINUTES a day this week praying for the pastor-deacon planning meeting we are going to have this Saturday. FIVE MINUTES for FIVE DAYS. That equals to 2500 minutes over the week, or 41 hours of prayer for this meeting this weekend. The reason is because I will present what I believe is the vision that God has called us to have at this church. It will be a change, and I will talk about change in the next couple of weeks. I have asked the deacons to prepare for this meeting. I am now asking you to pray for this meeting.
Desire for God’s glory (“seek My face”)
We tend to spend our time in prayer praying for very selfish things. Yes, we pray for people, and we pray for people who are sick, but we tend to easily forget to pray for the people God wants us to pray for the most: lost people.
When one looks at the glory of God and how it is most magnified, one will find that God is most magnified when people come to Him. There are too many people whom He loves, who don’t desire Him.
“So I turned my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and petitions, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3, HCSB)
“And I said: My God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face toward You, my God, because our iniquities are higher than our heads and our guilt is as high as the heavens.” (Ezra 9:6, HCSB)
“The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the form of the Lord’s glory. When I saw it, I fell facedown and heard a voice speaking.” (Ezekiel 1:28, HCSB)
“So I got up and went out to the plain. The Lord’s glory was present there, like the glory I had seen by the Chebar Canal, and I fell facedown.” (Ezekiel 3:23, HCSB)
“Then the man brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple. I looked, and the glory of the Lord filled His temple. And I fell facedown.” (Ezekiel 44:4, HCSB)
“We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, HCSB)
Desire to change and follow God’s will, not my sinful will (“turn from their evil ways”)
There is a too much a desire for individualism in our culture today. Many people have decided that what they are doing is ok. There is no need for an authority over them, and there is no need to have a form of accountability.
We have this on the individual level. We say things like: “Do whatever you want.” “Just do it!” “If it feels good do it…” This rugged individualism which has served America well in producing capital for our country’s growth has always been at odds with the Biblical value of accountability to God.
We see this at the family level. Instead of focusing on what God wants our families to do, we turn selfish because we like to change our relationships like we change our underwear. If it gets dirty, we change it. If it doesn’t fit to where I think I need to be, then change it. If I feel like that I want to do something different with my life, well it is my right and I am entitled to everything life gives me. So I will change spouses, and get what I want in life. Instead of working with whomever God has placed in my life, I just toss it aside. This works both ways – for the wife and the husband. What do the children learn? here can never be stability in marriage. I have to do whatever I can to survive.
We see this in the social level as well. Individualism branches out into philosophical beliefs and this affects how I behave with other people.If I believe that I came from a monkey (Darwinism), then I treat other people like animals.
If I believe that there are no absolutes in social beliefs, then divorce is ok, marriage with groups which destroy the social order is also ok. Divorce is saying to God: I do what I want. Choosing to marry someone whom God has ordained, whether that person is a non-Christian, or not following God’s specific instruction about marital identity (such as multiple spouses, same-sex spouses, and the like), is also saying: “I’ll do what I want.” I am choosing an evil path.”
This has serious consequences on the personal, social, and national political level. What happens in family house, will effect the school house, and the court house, all the way up to the White House. This only changes when we start things this way: It must go from the church house, to the family house, up to the school house, in the court house, and all the way up the White House.
God says for us to turn from the evil path.
This leads us to the last ingredient for an improved prayer life.
Movement of God (“Then I will…”)
The Awakenings of the past
First Great Awakening: The First Great Awakening was a religious revival lasting from the 1730s to the 1740s and led by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Its focus was on mans‘ sinfulness and need for redemption, and its preaching employed “fire and brimstone.” It also focused on the emotional and personal element of spirituality instead of the traditional, doctrinal elements. It was strongest in the American Northeast and affected the colonies.
Second Great Awakening: Lasting from about 1800 to 1830, the Second Great Awakening was a religious revival movement largely concerned with reaching out to the “unchurched.” It also encompassed many pre-Civil War reform movements, such as temperance and abolitionism. Its leaders are not as iconic as those of the First Great Awakening. The famous tent revivals on the American frontier were part of the Second Great Awakening.
Third Great Awakening: The Third Great Awakening, from about 1850 to 1900, focused more on social reforms and outreach work than the past Awakenings. It was largely categorized by political activism. It gave birth to the Social Gospel and several new Christian traditions, most notably Pentecostalism and the Holiness Movement.
The Fulton Street Revival of the 1850s
The mood of America was grim during the mid-1850s. The country was teetering on the brink of civil war, torn by angry voices and impassioned opinions. A depression had halted railroad construction and factory output. Banks were failing; unemployment soared. Spiritual lethargy permeated the land.
In New York City Jeremiah C. Lanphier, a layman, accepted the call of the North Reformed Dutch Church to a full-time program of evangelism. He visited door-to-door, placed posters, and prayed. But the work languished and Lanphier grew discouraged.
As autumn fell over the city, Lanphier decided to try noontime prayer meetings, thinking that businessmen might attend during their lunch hours. He announced the first one for September 23, 1857, at the Old Dutch Church on Fulton Street. When the hour came, Lanphier found himself alone. He sat and waited. Finally, one man showed up, then a few others.
But the next week, 20 came. The third week, 40. Someone suggested the meetings occur daily, and within months the building was overflowing. The revival spread to other cities. Offices and stores closed for prayer at noon. Newspapers spread the story, even telegraph companies set aside certain hours during which businessmen could wire one another with news of the revival.
In all these cities, prayer services began at noon and ended at one. People could come and go as they pleased. The service opened with a hymn, followed by the sharing of testimonies and prayer requests. A time limit of five minutes per speaker was enforced by a small bell, when anyone exceeded the limit. Virtually no great preachers or famous Christians were used. It was primarily a lay movement, led by the gentle moving of God’s Spirit.
The revival—sometimes called “The Third Great Awakening”—lasted nearly two years, and between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people were said to have been converted. Out of it came the largest outlay of money for philanthropic and Christian causes America had yet experienced.
Jesus Movement (Fourth Great Awakening): The Jesus Movement lasted from the 1960s to the 1980s. It focused on personal conversion, and the outreach ministry that categorized it was largely untraditional. Most of its converts, often referred to as “Jesus Freaks,” were former hippies, rock and rollers, occultists, and eastern religion practitioners. The well-known Protestant denomination Calvary Chapel was formed during the Jesus Movement, and the Movement gave rise to the now-popular Christian Rock and Contemporary Christian Music genres.
The Influence of Billy Graham, 1940-2000. I would say that the ministry of Billy Graham, along with many other para-church organizations, was another form of “awakening” in this country. Literally, over a billion people have heard the gospel because of Billy Graham. Many thousands of people have made decisions to follow Christ from his ministry alone. He started Christianity Today magazine, developed the modern mass evangelism model, as well as movie evangelism. Fireproof, Courageous, and Facing the Giants, Passion of the Christ – these movies owe their existence to Billy Graham’s influence. Without Worldwide Pictures, a movie production which Billy Graham started, we would not have the evangelistic type of movies to show that we have today. Billy Graham embraced technology, and even politics to influence the nation and the world with the Gospel. Billy Graham has led over 400 crusade revivals, in 185 countries, on six continents, and his influence cannot be denied.
However, one could not really say that churches have increased as a result. Southern Baptists, and perhaps the Assemblies of God had increases in the 1950s, and this was probably due to Billy Graham’s influence as well as the evangelistic methods of the time. However, there was no widespread increase in churches as a result of his ministry. Yes, people were being saved, but there was no increase in churches sharing the Gospel.
Certainly, since the early 1990s, there really hasn’t been a movement of prayer and awakening in this country. As a matter of fact, with the end of the Cold War, and the changes in society (like blended and other forms of family structure), in technology (like the Internet), as well as America’s financial and political decline in the world, spirituality has changed in this country.
Some say that the next “Great Awakening” will not be a Christian one, unless we take time to pray for one.