November 5, 2006, was a historic date in the life of the Foursquare movement in the United States. On that Sunday evening, the first National Foursquare Church Family Prayer Meeting convened at 350 locations across the country, broadcasting live via satellite. That event offers us a look at what it means to embrace the conviction to pray and the call to lay hold of the opportunities before us.
In November, four decades before, I had just opened my Bible to bring the pastoral teaching at our regular midweek prayer meeting when the Holy Spirit breathed into the congregation’s life with a profundity that none present could deny as both precious and profound. As we were worshiping, a gentle but pointed prophetic exhortation came to us:
“The Lord is calling this congregation to pray for your nation, and to pray as though no other church is praying. He is not saying no others are praying, but that your passion is to be motivated as though no others were doing so. If you will obey, God will hear and will answer, according to the promise of His Word.”
Because I have always believed that prophetic utterance should be matched to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, I rejoiced in this “word” because I know the matching promise: “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” (2 Chron. 7:14, NKJV). I knew the verse, but I was hardly ready for two things that taking it seriously would mean.
First, I understood it to be an “assignment” to pray, not simply to observe a moment or a single occasion. If I was to respond as a pastor, and if our congregation was to respond as a people, our intercession for America would have to become an added part of our congregation’s ongoing agenda—a focus, not a footnote; a continuing part of our larger church mission to serve our people, our community, and our world.
Second, I realized my own lack of preparation to know how to do this. It certainly wasn't because either our congregation or I were prayer-less—we weren't! To the contrary, like any vital congregation, prayer was a way of life for us, large on the agenda and constant in its practice, in private and when we were gathered. My sense of inadequacy wasn't regarding “prayer” but in how to set a long-term strategy for ongoing, consistent, faith-filled prayer for our nation.
An Early-Church Priority
As I sought God for practical direction, I searched His Word and made several key discoveries, beginning with finding “intercessory prayer” as a distinct dynamic in the arsenal of God-given prayer resources.
New Testament believers were introduced to new covenant dimensions of prayer. The disciples observed Jesus’ life, finding Him at prayer on many occasions, and were prompted to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They were seeking more than learning prayer-habits, because they had seen in Jesus in new dimensions of practicing prayer.
From those beginnings, believers have come to essentially see prayer as applied in “private devotion” or “united petition” by observing:
- the discipline of fellowship with Jesus on a daily basis
- the privilege of joining with others to ask God to provide for a need, to save souls, to heal the sick or to answer with blessing or deliverance in a situation or a crisis.
These are fundamental, entirely biblical and filled with purpose. They serve as an entry-point to the possibilities of a prayer-pattern that was a priority among first-century believers, and many have learned to apply these prayer practices.
Praying to Change Your World
I felt I had put my finger into a live electric outlet when I began to touch the heart of 1 Timothy 2:1-4: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
At least four points summoned my understanding:
- The prayer-life of believers is the “first of all” thing to be learned and applied in our lives. This doesn't minimize reading and studying God's Word, but clearly places our worship of and passion for Him as the starting point for His Word finding fruitful entry (as compared with simply providing factual entries).
- “Prayers” (petitions) are a distinct kind of praying that, while important, are the kind with which most Christians are familiar, while often being unaware they are only a part of a believer’s spiritual assignment. “Supplications, thanksgivings and intercessions” (all in the plural in the Greek text and in precise translations) are each whole realms of prayer possibility. When I first saw this, I was stirred and awakened to search out and find how to apply each in my own prayer life.
- I found confirmation for the Holy Spirit’s call to the congregation that launched my search in God’s Word, noting that this letter was directed by the apostle Paul to Timothy—a young pastor being shown principles and duties as a local-church leader. Thus, these “kinds of praying” are to be applied in prayer-partnership by the whole congregation. For example, “Praying always with all prayer” is given to the Ephesians as a church-wide call (see Eph. 6:18). I saw these texts becoming my call as a pastor, to find times and settings when various prayer focuses could be made by our local church family.
- The critical objective in the apostolic call that these ”supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings” are to be made shocked me when I suddenly saw the staggering possibilities being set forth. Pointedly and with promise, God’s Word in this text says that believers are to apply these prayer-keys THAT “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,” and to the result THAT people “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”!
Cultural Transformation and Evangelism
Hereby my understanding was instructed, my path directed, and my passion ignited. I realized that here was the New Testament believers’ call to world-changing prayer! Multi-dimensional prayer at a congregation-wide level was God's plan for:
- effecting cultural change; and
- effecting the advance of evangelism.
The Old Testament call, promising God would “heal the land” if His people would pray, was advanced to New Testament believers’ priority assignment.
It wasn’t as though I had not ‘believed’ (at least in a conceptual way) that ‘all things are possible,’ including the changing of a society from torn and strife-filled to ‘quiet and peaceable.’ But I had never put together the pieces that made it a point of practical pursuit at a local church level.
From that time, regular occasions of gathering with a congregational focus on spiritual, social, and moral issues of concern (nationwide and communitywide) were brought to prayer. These prayer meetings became weighty times of power-prayer, but also joyous times of praise-begotten faith accompanied by a sense of God's confirming presence bringing gladness as we obeyed His Word.
Our congregation learned:
- To believe that you don't have to be a mystic to be an intercessor. You only need to let the Holy Spirit enable you for prayer (see Rom. 8:26-27), and begin to grow in applying “all prayer” (see Eph. 6:10-18).
- To refuse to measure the effect of “all prayer” by presuming immediate answers were our confirmation. Many things for which we pray involve a long warfare (see Dan. 10:1); but with constancy in intercessory prayer, the tide will turn.
- To remember that thanksgiving and praise are the doorway of entry into faith-ignited prayer (see Ps. 100:4), and purifying confession is the key to preparing ourselves for boldness in asking great things and truly believing that God is hearing us and will take action (see 2 Chron. 7:14).
How to Change a Nation?
At the time God was calling us to “pray for this nation as though no other church is praying.” The United States was on as self-destructive a path, as is this present generation. A marked change in the course of our national affairs took place over a seven-to-ten-year period, the result of many congregations across America receiving the same call we did.
The notable lesson we learned was that God’s key to changing a nation comes through the prayer of His people, not only their political actions. We did not become a politically passive people, because as citizens in a free society, the privilege and exercise of a voice and a vote are a part of our responsible stewardship as believers. But we came to realize that the Church's assigned priority is prayer, not politics. The power of a rising tidal wave of prayer can drive back the strongest surges of evil the flesh or devil can generate.
Awaken an Awakening
Without presumption, I want to speak forth a bold conviction I feel God has emblazoned in my heart. I believe that just as He spoke to my heart as a local pastor years ago, He is calling me to speak again today saying: If we will pray, we will be part of an awakening that can change our nation!
So let your heart answer—both the Holy Spirit’s call and your local shepherd’s call—as future opportunities arise. Together, they echo the Father's call to “ask anything according to His will” (see 1 John 5:14-15), and to be assured that “a quiet and peaceable life” in your nation, and people being “saved and coming to the knowledge of the truth” are exactly that, His will.
The only thing required first is that our response to God's priority assignment be received together!
May we join together and be faithful to:
- Pray with all prayer.
- Supplicate with all passion.
- Intercede with all constancy.
Let us rise up as His people and begin!