In an open letter titled Urgent Church: Nine Changes We Must Make Or Die, Thom S. Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism, details the decline of the church in America and outlines actions we must take to survive. Included in his list is this plea: “We must become houses of prayer. Stated simply, we are doing too much in our own power. We are really busy, but we are not doing the business of God.”
This escalating crisis is producing the greatest revival of prayer in history. Since the 1980’s when it was estimated that only 25 locations hosted continual prayer, now more than 10,000 locations have been documented around the world. Missiologists attribute the current acceleration in global evangelism to the rapid expansion of this culture of prayer. This revival of prayer boldly reflects Jesus’ declaration,“My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13 NKJV). If this truly is the last stand for the church in America, then it truly is time that our churches embrace a culture of prayer. Here are some of its characteristics.
The First Commandment in First Place
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:35-40 NKJV
There is a divine design ordered to the ministry of the church. Too often the burnout of a minister or decline of a church can be attributed to the exchange of the First and Second Commandments. Nearly forgotten in the western church expression is the value of ministry unto God as a primary function of the church. The work of ministry to others, while critical, cannot be accomplished at the expense of the church’s heavenly inheritance as priest. We must recapture the vision of ministry from an overflowing heart of intimacy with God.
Building a culture of prayer involves realigning the First Commandment to first place. Prayer must become the foundation of every endeavor of the church. Personal and corporate prayer are core functions that cannot be marginalized. Such reorientation has proven to accelerate the work of ministry to others despite the reallocation of time and energy to prayer.
Beholding and Becoming
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 3:18
Humanity is continually being transformed into that which captivates us. This eternal truth is evident in both healthy and destructive social trends throughout history. We become what we behold, whether by the glorification of evil or the rediscovery of God’s majesty, society always response to what it beholds. We are subconsciously being transformed by what we see, hear and give our attention.
Building a culture of prayer sets our attention on the intrinsic beauty of God. Persistent prayer becomes transformative as we become what we behold. This progressive transformation matures into a culture of righteousness, honor and love that reflects the very nature of God.
On Earth as it is in Heaven
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:9-10 NKJV
“For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,” Says the Lord of hosts.
– Malachi 1:11 NKJV
The opening of the Lord’s Prayer prioritizes heaven for its complete conformity to the will of the Father. Scripture depicts heaven filled with continual declarations of worship in response to the glory of God. The example of heaven is one of continual worship compelled only by God’s intrinsic worth. Malachi prophesies the fulfillment of this prayer as the eventuality of global evangelism.
Building a culture of prayer conforms the church to the Father’s will, that in our churches adoration will ascend as a priestly offering in heaven. As the Elders laid their crowns before the Throne, we must lay down our preferences and embrace a culture reflective of heaven. Doing so positions the church for the rapid expansion of God’s kingdom.
A Transformative Force
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 Chronicles 7:14 NKJV
And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:7-8 NKJV
There is no force more powerful than prayer because there is no force more powerful than our God. Exclusive to Christianity is the God who hears and acts on the prayers of His people. Prayer is the vehicle by which humanity is invited to rule and reign with God. The transformative force of prayer knows no boundaries, applying to issues of family, business, government, education and media alike.
A praying church is the most transformative force in creation. By building a culture of prayer we assume our position before the Throne of God and enter into partnership with Him. Tracing prayers to corresponding change our churches can easily witness the miraculous effectiveness of prayer. Only through persistent prayer will the earth be filled with faith.
Rebuilding David’s Tent
After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord who does all these things. – Acts 15: 16-17 NKJV
Just as the Lord designated an entire tribe of Israel to minister before Him, the Lord has called the church to the ministry of prayer and worship before God. The rise of more than 10,000 locations of continual worship and prayer is evidence of this resurgence. The church’s heavenly role as priest is rapidly finding its expression in environments of extended worship and prayer.
Building a culture of prayer extends into sustained environments of ministry to God in worship and prayer, whether through a specific prayer room or special services. The local church expression of prayer will reflect more and more the extended worship and prayer of the tabernacle of David, propelling the global harvest and preparing the earth for Jesus’ return.
Scripture concludes that building a culture of prayer pertains to the core function of the church. Prayer is neither a fad nor means to an end, but an eternal intention allowing creation to commune with its Creator. By recognizing the urgency of our dependence, the season of our hour in history and the glorious inheritance of the saints in prayer we apprise ourselves of the fullness of God’s purpose. Let us then join our voices with the many forms of prayer throughout history and the eternal songs ascending to the Throne at this moment. Let us orient our churches rightly, reclaim our priesthood and make prayer the foundation of every endeavor.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21