The Most Hopeful Sign of Our Times

A Growing National Prayer Movement Points America Toward Spiritual Revival

By David Bryant

Is it possible that God could kindle the fires of spiritual revival in our nation at this critical point in our history?

In my travels around the country in recent months, I’ve witnessed an unprecedented grass-roots prayer movement that I’m convinced will prove to be the precursor of a sweeping moral and spiritual rebirth in America. Something extraordinary is taking place. It may be the most hopeful sign of our times. Let me share a few examples:

  • Times Square Church recently shut down all local programs and activities in order to concentrate exclusively on prayer for the desperate needs of New York City. The 5,000-member urban church led by evangelist David Wilkerson is one of America’s fastest growing.
  • Ben Patterson, a spiritual leader in New York City, has recently made prayer for revival a centerpiece of his preaching and leadership in the Presbyterian church (USA). As a result, New Providence Presbyterian church is quickly becoming a renewal center for the entire New York metropolitan area. For Patterson, it’s a return to his first love. He made revival a priority some 20 years ago while still in seminary.
  • Hundreds of thousands of believers gathered at municipal buildings to pray for America on May 7, the National Day of Prayer, just days after tragic incidents of racial violence erupted in Los Angeles and other cities. The American Family Association said the “Meet at City Hall” events were organized in more than 2,500 locations.
  • Groups of 70 pastors each gathered in four different cities (Spokane, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and Colorado Springs) last fall to pray for nationwide revival. One group met for just half a day, while another spent four full days in prayer and fasting. No one in any of the groups knew that similar meetings had been planned at the same time.
  • In Philadelphia, Christians are uniting in prayer for spiritual awakening as churches prepared for a Billy Graham crusade. The city has been divided into 35 regions, and believers in each area have organized their own prayer effort.
  • Southern Baptist leaders are uniting their congregations across the country in what they call “solemn assemblies.” Based on the book of Joel, the meetings essentially are calls for repentance and denomination-wide renewal. Meanwhile, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) has set out to recruit retired pastors to pray for spiritual revival. The original goal of the strategy was to enroll 1,000 clergy. Today, the number of participants in the program, called “The PrayerBorne,” has climbed to nearly 5,000.
  • Last Fall, an estimated 1 million junior high and high school students prayed for revival during “See You at the Pole,” a prayer event sponsored by national youth ministries.
  • College students also are joining the move. At Stanford University, from 300 to 500 students from all campus ministry organizations meet regularly to pray for revival and evangelism.
  • A prayer movement has been brewing in Cleveland, Ohio, for almost nine years. In the last two years, between 6,000 and 7,000 people (including 1,000 teen-agers) have taken part in city-wide prayer rallies. In Minneapolis, 300 congregations have committed themselves to pray for revival for seven years, just “to see what God will do.”
  • In Los Angeles, between 300 and 1,000 pastors gather every quarter to spend half a day in prayer for their city and the nation. Just days after the recent LA riots, about 700 area pastors from assorted backgrounds united in prayer at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood.
  • In New England, a prayer movement is growing on many levels in a five-state area. Some region-wide prayer rallies have attracted thousands of participants.
  • On May 23, hundreds of thousands of Christians marched through the streets of 125 American cities, while simultaneous processionals were staged in 29 European countries. The March for Jesus event is being planned in 1994 to coincide with “A Day to Change the World,” a gathering of 1 million Christians in Seoul, Korea.

Many evangelical leaders have stated that they believe this increase in united prayer foreshadows spiritual awakening. Paul Cedar, president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, recently wrote:

“Without a doubt, the major opportunity before us is the potential of a historic revival akin to the First and Second Great Awakenings. … The encouraging ‘sign’ of an impending awakening is the grass-roots prayer movement God is raising up throughout this nation among pastors, denominations, congregations, families, and individuals. There is an unusual openness among church leaders for cooperation and great movements of prayer and evangelistic outreach in the decade of the 1990s.”

Those who are students of revival are encouraged because they see a divine pattern repeating itself. Robert Coleman of the Association of church Missions Committees noted in a recent interview that he feels we are on the threshold of revival due to three developments: (1) the increase of citywide concerts of prayer, (2) the gathering together of pastors in concerted prayer, and (3) the growing concern for revival among our young people.

On this last point, David McKenna, president of Asbury (KY) Seminary, reached a positive assessment of the future based on his study of what God has done and is doing among young people. His conclusion is found in the title of his latest book, The Coming Great Awakening.

J. Edwin Orr summarized for me in one sentence his 60 years of study on prayer and spiritual awakening when he wrote: “Whenever God is ready to do something new with his people, He always sets them to praying.”

This was certainly true during the First Great Awakening. In 1746, Jonathan Edwards published a book on “concerts of prayer” – a term used in his day and repeated in subsequent prayer movements over the last 250 years. Well aware from biblical and historical accounts that united prayer was the only way to sustain the spiritual awakening that already had begun in the colonies, Edwards called for Christians on both sides of the Atlantic to pray for revival.

The title of his book summarizes what is happening throughout the Body of Christ at this hour in the growth of the prayer movement: “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer, for the Revival of the church and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.”

Edwards’ book, along with such classic texts as Andrew Murray’s Key to the Missionary Problem and Timothy Smith’s Revivalism and Social Reform, suggest there usually are five phases in every historic revival:

1. Intercession – God’s people begin to unite in prayer for revival;

2. Revelation – God answers prayer by pouring out a fresh new manifestation of the person of Christ;

3. Consecration – as a result, God’s people consecrate themselves to Him, to each other, and to the work of Christ in the world;

4. Revitalization – ministries are purified and rejuvenated and become more fruitful, both locally, nationally, and beyond;

5. Expansion – out of revival the gospel is advanced further, the church makes a greater impact upon the surrounding culture, and a general spiritual awakening takes place on many levels.

Why Today’s Prayer Movement Is Unprecedented

Though it certainly has not risen to the level of a great awakening, the movement of united prayer occurring in so many parts of the world today is unparalleled in several respects:

1. It is unprecedented in numbers. Mission statistician David Barrett, who has researched the magnitude of the prayer movement, claims there are approximately 170 million Christians who are committed to praying every day for spiritual awakening and world evangelization. In addition, there are 10 million prayer groups that focus on those priorities. Also, according to Barrett’s figures, 20 million Christians worldwide believe their primary ministry calling is to pray daily for revival and for fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Barrett also suggests there may be as many as 1,400 prayer networks around the world that are mobilizing Christians to pray for revival. Such groups include International Intercessors, the Global Prayer Network of the Lausanne Committee, and the Anglican Prayer Fellowship. In the past few months, tens of thousands of Christians have participated in citywide prayer rallies. In some instances, they have joined together in prayer from coast to coast via television. Pastors are gathering together by the hundreds in prayer groups in various communities nationwide, seeking God for renewal in their own lives and within their churches.

In January, pastors in Corvallis, Oregon sponsored a citywide rally that attracted residents from throughout the Willamette Valley region. Afterward, the church leaders spent three days praying and fasting together at a retreat site. At the same time, almost 200 pastors from the Portland area took part in a four-day prayer retreat. When it concluded, they led a prayer rally that drew 15,000 people. Such events are uniting believers in prayer throughout the Pacific Northwest.

2. It is unprecedented in breadth. The prayer movement crosses many borders. It is multi-denominational and multiethnic. It is breaking down walls between Christians in Los Angeles, New York City, Cleveland, and other major urban centers. The prayer movement also knows no age boundaries. At a high school in Houston, a group of 150 students has gather twice a week in the early morning throughout this year to pray for revival.

In Boston, a recent multilingual prayer rally brought together 800 Christians from 75 churches from throughout the center city. It took place in historic Park Street Church, itself the outgrowth of a concert of prayer in the early 1800s involving three other congregations.

3. It is unprecedented in scope. Entire denominations are involved. The Assemblies of God, for example is seeking to mobilize one million intercessors. The Christian and Missionary Alliance decided to devote much of this year’s national meeting to mobilizing concerted prayer within all C&MA congregations. The prayer movement is clearly national in scope, as evidenced by the increased interest in the National Day of Prayer. This year, the entire nation was linked in united prayer through a one-hour Day of Prayer radio broadcast.

The prayer movement also is international in scope. In South Africa, for example, tiny multiracial prayer groups are scattered throughout the nation, and they have had a part in preventing a wholesale bloodbath there. Last summer in Korea, 800 university prayer leaders gathered for three days of training to mobilize concerts of prayer on every campus. That same week, 100,000 Korean high school students met for three days of praise and prayer at the Olympic Stadium. These events were preceded by a prayer march that drew 500,000 participants.

United prayer is a major explanation for the phenomenal changes in the former Soviet Union. In 1987, the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, a call for united prayer for spiritual and political liberation was circulated among the churches there. Russian Christians took their cue from a passage in the Book of Daniel, which describes how the prophet discovered that the 70 divinely appointed years of Jewish captivity had lapsed. The Russian believers were convinced that if they would unite in prayer and fasting, God would set them free. Subsequent events in 1988 and 1989 attest to what God is willing to do with a year of united prayer.

4. It is unprecedented in strategy. Prayer movements increasingly are being linked to specific evangelistic events, such as crusades by Billy Graham, Luis Palau, and John Guest. In Atlanta, organizers of an impressive outreach effort known as Quest ’96 will involve 400 churches in evangelism during the 1994 SuperBowl, the World Cup, and the 1996 Summer Olympics. The prayer effort is called G.A.P. – “Greater Atlanta Pray.”

In Taiwan, the “Year 2000 Gospel Movement” is uniting denominations from all over the island. These groups have developed a comprehensive evangelistic thrust anchored in a national movement of prayer that includes citywide and regionwide events. Japanese church leaders recently formed the All-Japan Prayer Movement to mobilize 100,000 in prayer for the full evangelization of the 100 million people in that country.

5. It is unprecedented in leadership. In past spiritual awakenings, single categories of leadership seemed to propel prayer movements. In the early 1700s, for example, the first Great Awakening was led personally by the clergy. In the late 1700s, the second Great Awakening was steered 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, groups we would describe as para-church ministries set the pace. In the mid-1800s, in what is sometimes called “the businessman’s prayer revival,” prayer was encouraged mostly by lay people.

Young people in student-led prayer bands have been at the forefront in almost every awakening, as J. Edwin Orr has documented in his book, Campus Aflame.

But the leadership of today’s prayer movement is coming from all of these levels. In the past year alone, national level consultations on prayer have been held for denominational leaders, youth ministry leaders, missionary executives, city prayer movement leaders, and even directors of Christian foundations. Prayer coalitions have been organized, such as the Denominational Prayer Leaders Network and the National Youth Leaders Prayer Forum. The sole purpose for these groups is to develop strategies for united prayer. Never before has such a constellation of leaders come together like this. Never before has a united call to prayer been issued by such a wide cross-section of denominations and church groups.

Has God Begun to Answer?

Is there any evidence that God is responding to this great increase in prayer? Hs revival begun? From one perspective, the response is simple. That God is expanding the prayer movement is itself an answer to prayer for revival. When He is ready to unleash spiritual awakening, He will have the full attention of the whole church.

We have seen some specific, immediate answers to united prayer in many communities and nations, but they are not the ultimate answers. The immediate answers have come in many shapes and forms. After nearly 12 years of involvement in the prayer movement, I cannot think of one instance when immediate answers were not apparent.

These answers have included: (1) a greater revelation of who Jesus Christ is; (2) an expanded vision of what God desires to do in our cities and our world; (3) spiritual revitalization; and (4) unity among those who are praying, as they learn to trust and respect each other. All of these answers become evident whenever Christians pray for spiritual awakening.

But then there are the ultimate answers, for which we still wait: (1) the intensification of the grace and work of God in the midst of his Church (this is already occurring in some local congregations and in parts of the developing world, particularly in Latin America); (2) the renewal and transformation of the church; (3) the accelerated expansion of the work of the church within our cities, our nation, and in foreign lands; (4) the consummation of all things, since all of our prayers ultimately are answered in the return of Christ.

Our Puritan forefathers understood the importance of waiting for ultimate answers. They took courage from a passage in Revelation 5 which describes prayer as incense ascending before the throne and before the Lamb. They concluded that even if it took 40 years for their prayers for revival to be answered, not one prayer would be forgotten. They understood that every prayer and every concert of prayer would linger like incense before the Father until all had been answered.

We Have Every Reason to Hope

Can we really be sure that if we unite and pray together, God will truly give us the ultimate answers? Remember that seekers are the secret of God’s Kingdom. Seekers are the ones who ultimately become the receivers. And when they receive, it is never for their sakes alone, but for the sake of many others. This is how God’s Kingdom expands. Whenever we find a band of earnest seekers, we can expect the rest to follow.

Also, God has given us substantial reasons why we should pray for revival with full expectation that He will answer:

1. Because we know God intends for Jesus Christ to be at the center of everything, and that He is committed to working unrelentingly toward that goal. This, after all, is the heart of revival. It is also why God answers our prayers for revival.

2. Because God is faithful in all his ways. We know from Scripture that He has been pleased over and over again to raise up a people of prayer and then to answer them in revival. What He has done before He is willing to do again.

3. Because God knows that unless He answers our prayer for revival there is no other hope for the world. He must act powerfully on behalf of a praying church if the world is ever to come to know Jesus Christ and his saving power.

4. Because He knows that there is no hope for the church unless He answers our prayers for revival. The Church today is paralyzed and impotent before internal and external challenges. Apart from God’s empowerment, and apart from a renewed vision of Christ and His Kingdom, we will never be liberated sufficiently to fulfill our potential in Christ.

5. Because He is showing us dramatic preparations for revival on every hand already. If God is preparing the way, He will definitely bring to completion what He has begun.

6. Because the Holy Spirit is teaching God’s people how to pray as we ask Him to fulfill His great promises for revival. If God is stirring us to pray this way, our prayers won’t be in vain.

7. Because God is raising up a great company of people throughout the Church who are devoted to Christ and His Kingdom. These people are determined to pursue God for revival, and they refuse to waiver in unbelief until God answers. Their fearlessness and boldness is a gift from God, and it is a sign of things to come.

I believe we have hope. Based on my years of observation at both a local and a global level, I believe we can make the following conclusions:

1. Ultimately, revival will come to the Church. God will answer our prayers;

2. It will result in a “second conversion,” as it were, among millions of God’s people, as this prayer movement releases in us a new passion for Christ and his Kingdom and a new sense of hope for His ultimate purposes. As D.T. Niles articulated many years ago, we who have been converted out of the world through Christ will now be converted with Christ back into the world;

3. We will see more and more the integration of prayer into all facets of Christian experience and community, until the whole church will become known as a movement of prayer. Prayer will be one of the church’s chief hallmarks. It will be the fountainhead out of which flows our worship, theology, community, and mission;

4. A new dynamic in evangelism will emerge because of local, visible expressions of unity in the Body of Christ – a unity that is based upon scripture with Christ at the center;

5. A vast new missionary force will emerge from the church in North America (and out of the church world-wide) that will focus its energies primarily on the 2 billion people who are beyond the reach of the Gospel. It may be appropriate to say that the prayer movement is designed by the Holy Spirit, above all else, for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission.

Some Practical Steps

What are the practical steps we should take in response to these phenomenal developments around the world? Here are some suggestions:

1. Believe that God wants revival. Pray that God would bring revival. Pray that God will give you faith and a genuine vision for revival, until you know you are committed to be a part of this great movement of prayer.

2. Join a small prayer group with friends and associates who share your vision. As you pray, seek to recruit still others. Begin to set the pace in prayer for the Body of Christ.

3. Work at integrating the prayer movement into these four “C” areas of your Christian experience: closet prayer (personal prayer life); cluster prayer (in small group settings); congregational prayer (when an entire church convenes for intercession); and concerts of prayer (when several congregations gather to pray comprehensively for revival).

4. Seek out “pools of renewal” in churches and organizations within your community. Identify which churches and ministry groups are concerned for revival, especially those that already are praying. Then try to “dig the trenches” between them, enabling them to flow together and form a vast reservoir of renewal that can make a difference throughout your entire community.

5. Be equipped in your prayer life and in your efforts to mobilize prayer. The many resources available include books, tapes, conferences, and local and national prayer ministries.

6. Get involved in a communication network that will keep you informed about developments in the broader prayer movement. Historian Richard Lovelace says one of the most important factors in the great spiritual awakenings of the past was communication about what God was doing in other localities. Various Christian publications, Christian radio and TV broadcasts, and revival-report telephone hotlines of national prayer ministries can keep you in touch.

7. Whenever possible, visit other places where the prayer movement is flourishing. Talk to the leaders and learn from them. Then bring back a report to your own church or prayer group.

8. The most important step you can take: don’t give up until the answer comes. It is by faith and patience that we inherit the promises, according to Hebrews 6:12.

Listen to the entreaty offered in the 1840s by British preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon: “Oh God, send us the Holy Spirit! Give us both the breath of spiritual life and the fire of unconquerable zeal. You are our God. … The Kingdom comes not, and the work is flagging. Oh, that you would send the wind and the fire! And you will do this when we are all of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer.”

Spurgeon lived to see God answer his prayer. God is ready to do it again in our day.

David Bryant is the founder-president of Concerts of Prayer International. For more information, contact Concerts of Prayer, P.O. Box 36008, Minneapolis, MN 55435. Telephone 612-853-1740.

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