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In the early 1700¬ís, Jonathan Edwards wrote a book intended to encourage Christians to gather and pray for revival. The book, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God¬ís People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ¬ís Kingdom on Earth, was used by God to help launch what historians call the First Great Awakening.
In subsequent revivals in the United States, a call to the Church for times of extraordinary prayer always preceded them. This shouldn¬ít surprise us since this has been God¬ís pattern from biblical days to the present. The promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 has proven true for many generations down through history: If God¬ís people would humble themselves and pray and seek Him, then He would hear, heal and forgive.
Godly leaders down through the ages have recognized the key role of prayer in revival and have issued calls to prayer. The great Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, issued such a call during his ministry: "Dear Friends, we do not know what God may do for us if we do but pray for a blessing of the Holy Spirit....Have we not tried to preach without trying to pray? Is it not likely that the Church has been putting forth its preaching hand but not its praying hand? O dear friends! Let us agonize in prayer, and it shall come to pass that this Music Hall shall witness the sighs and groans of the penitent and the songs of the converted. It shall yet happen that this vast host shall not come and go as now it does, but little the better; but men shall go out of this hall praising God and saying--it was good to be there; it was none other than the house of God, and the very gate of heaven. This much to stir you up to prayer."
There has been a growing awareness in the Church today of such a need for a call to prayer that is not only issued, but heeded by a large number of those belonging to the Lord. In 1992 at a gathering of Christian leaders called the National Coalition for United Prayer (NCUP), a strong call for united prayer was issued to the Church in America. As one who was a part of the call, I believe that God used the 1992 NCUP call to bring the fledgling prayer movement together and give it greater focus. In many ways it was the foundation for a much broader call to prayer.
The New Call
This new call was issued in 1999 by a broad-based group of Christian leaders that included the heads of many denominations and Christian ministries. Key signers included Dr. Billy Graham, Dr. Bill Bright, Dr. John Perkins, Bishop George McKinney, and Dr. Paul Cedar. The heart of this call to prayer is the following sentence:
"We strongly urge all churches and all Christians of America to unite in seeking the face of God through prayer and fasting, persistently asking our Father to send revival to the Church and spiritual awakening to our nation so that Christ¬ís Great Commission might be fulfilled worldwide in our generation."
What do we do with such a call to prayer? Because you are reading this you are probably one who has a passion to see the Lord bring revival in our generation. You are (I hope) praying toward that end already. What does it mean to embrace this new and timely call to extraordinary prayer?
Fortunately the authors of this document also included what they entitled, "A Call for United Action." It gives us five very practical steps we can take in responding to this call to prayer. These steps form a pattern of prayer that includes the following:
¬ē Daily spending time with the Lord in prayer and in the reading of His Word so as to yield ourselves fully to the control and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
¬ē Weekly humbling ourselves before God by designating a day or part of a day (Friday, if possible) for united prayer with fasting, as the Lord leads.
¬ē Monthly designating in individual churches one service for concerted prayer emphasizing this call, with special focus on its neighborhood applications.
¬ē Quarterly assembling in multi-church prayer events emphasizing this call, with special focus on its city-wide applications.
¬ē Annually participating in the nationwide prayer events emphasizing this call, with special focus on its national and global applications.
This gives us what we need in order to move from merely agreeing with a call to prayer, to actually making it a vital part of our lives and churches. As I joined with the original signers of this document in December of 1998, it was this call to practical action that excited me as much as the actual call to prayer itself. It is also important to point out that though this is a call to the Church in America, this same call and points of action could form the basis of revival in any and every nation around the globe.
I urge you to consider how you might incorporate these prayer points into your own prayer life. Perhaps the most important practical step would be to write out the sentence in bold print that spells out the essence of the call to prayer. Make sure that the two key elements of revival and spiritual awakening are made a part of every day¬ís prayer experience. Then from there, look for ways to join with other Christians in being obedient to this call to prayer, that I believe comes ultimately from the Throne Room of Heaven.
In his excellent book, The Power of Extraordinary Prayer, Bob Bakke traces the history of Concerts of Prayer from the early 1700¬ís and its impact on the revivals of those days. There is a great challenge to the Church today in his words: "It (the Concert of Prayer) was born out of convictions that say with certainty that, regardless of how bright or dark the hour we live in, God is about to do something greater than He¬ís ever done before. Furthermore, it said that God would not move forward with His ever-increasing and ever more marvelous plans until Christians agreed with Him and agreed with each other about what He was going to do. A great and lucid vision of Christ¬ís earthly reign was before their eyes--with every nation, people, tribe and tongue united as one company before the throne of God, Christ the Son, and the sevenfold Spirit. It was a compelling vision that would not let Christians rest or let go of God until the rule of God held sway in every aspect of life."
May that compelling vision come to life in the Church today as we answer God¬ís current call to extraordinary prayer!