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The churches in South Korea pray like their life depends on it. The bell rings at 4:00 a.m. every morning in Ji Jong and many other villages calling the Christians to wake up and come to the church for prayer. Many of their churches have a larger crowd for early morning prayer meetings than North Americans have at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. Furthermore, it is customary to spend all night Friday in prayer. The churches have enjoyed phenomenal growth in the latter part of this century.
Here in North America the desperate need of our churches is hidden from view with our beautiful large buildings. Beneath the surface lie the seeds of spiritual death. Dr. Howard Hendricks speaking to Dallas Seminary¬ís National Leadership Conference declared, "There are two things the church has never been able to survive--prosperity and popularity--and we have both."
Prayer meetings in the average church are either non-existent or very small. The prayers are focused on surface needs like jobs and health. Rarely will you hear people pouring out their hearts to God for the salvation of lost relatives, friends and business associates. The reality that hell is real and multitudes are going there seems to escape serious attention in prayer.
The Bible records many extraordinary exercises of prayer. Jesus prayed all night before He chose the 12 apostles (Luke 6:12-13). On another occasion Jesus went into a mountain to pray early in the evening and stayed there until 3:00 a.m. (Mark 6:46-48). It was His habit to arise long before daylight and go out to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).
Prayer was the outstanding feature of Jesus¬í life and ministry. He did absolutely nothing apart from prayer partnership with His Father (John 5:19,30). His disciples saw the secret of His work was prayer. So they asked Him to teach them to pray. They never asked Him to teach them to preach or teach though He was the master of both. They wanted to pray like Jesus.
The church began with an extraordinary prayer meeting that lasted 10 days (Acts 1:14-15). After they all prayed in one accord, they were of one heart and one soul and were all filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31-32). The apostles witnessed of the resurrection with great power and great grace was upon them all (vs. 33).
Prosperous popular Christianity in our land is powerless. The warning signs of moral and spiritual decay are obvious all around us. Our needs are desperate, but the Christian community (with some notable exceptions) had not desperately cried to God.
When Jonah reached Nineveh with his warning, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed," the king ordered an absolute fast for three days. Neither men nor animals had food or water while the whole city stopped to plead with God to save them from His wrath. God heard and spared the city.
It is this kind of praying that is sorely needed in North America today. While we wish entire congregations would meet for prayer, the small group that does come should not give up in despair. In 1857 churches were sliding down hill. Thousands of Americans were disillusioned with Christianity. William Miller, a New England farmer, had captured nationwide attention with his prediction that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. When nothing happened many abandoned their faith.
America¬ís moral recovery began when Jeremiah Lanphier, a concerned layman, started a noon prayer meeting for New York businessmen. Only six people came to the first prayer meeting on September 23, 1857 on the third floor of the "Consistory" of the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street. By spring daily prayer meetings sprang up in many locations and daily attendance grew to 10,000. America¬ís greatest spiritual awakening was underway. It was called the Layman¬ís Prayer Revival because laymen led it.
Something Is Missing
In the book of Acts, we see a powerful church full of heavenly love and holiness. Today, Christian homes and churches of this caliber seem to be the exception, not the rule. Within the church, all too often, we see intense power struggles, even fights. In Christian families, broken marriages have become as common as in the world.
Even in lives where no blatant sin exists, there is noticeable spiritual dullness. Serious problems of spiritual weakness plague the church. Instead of the gospel turning the world upside down, the world is turning the church upside down, inside out, and every way but loose! According to a Gallup poll the sins of the world have become the sins of the church.
Our Lord promised to fill families and churches with His presence and His own holy life through the power of the Holy Spirit. But what has happened? Something is missing!
Meeting with Christ in one accord in prayer is missing today. Even when Christians pray together they fail to unite in placing themselves under the authority of Christ.
We need to remember that Christ is not only my life and your life, but He is also our life. He alone is our living Head, and we are members of His body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:22-23). Jesus is the tie that binds us to His Father and to one another. When we come together in Christ¬ís powerful presence under His authority, He transforms our lives and enables us to keep our unity as fellow members of His body.
Christ has given believers a new kind of shared life. "For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). Together in one accord in prayer we advance under Christ¬ís active headship toward our glorious future. "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (v. 4).