President and district executive minister of Converge MidAmerica
Point Magazine // January 2019
When I entered the ministry over 30 years ago, a mentor gave me a book that ultimately shaped my prayer life. In Power Through Prayer, author E.M. Bounds wrote, “Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world.”
These words are as fresh and convicting today as they were three decades ago. My mentor knew what I needed and, through Bounds’ writings, drove home the words of Jesus: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
As a young, passionate follower of Jesus with little experience and lots of bravado (which covered up my insecurities), I desired a prayer life that worked in transforming me, the people I led and the community in which I served. Every fall and spring I led our church through a prayer initiative or spiritual emphasis campaign. This pattern helped us exercise our corporate discipline of prayer as a church and changed individual lives in the process.
I tell people if you show me a church that truly prays, I will show you a church whose baptismal tank is full every week and who is becoming a change agent in its community.
These prayer initiatives in my church usually spanned three or four weeks. The spiritual disciplines built during these times led to a 365-day prayer habit for many of our people.
Today, I encourage churches to kick off their new year, prepare for Easter or open their fall outreach with 21 days of prayer. Simply bringing a 3-4 week focus to deepen your people’s prayer life and teaching them to pray missionally for your community can have a tremendous effect on your church.
In January 2018, Converge invited churches and missionaries from across its movement to take part in its year-opening 21 Days of Prayer initiative. Its impact on congregations and individuals was so great, it has become a permanent fixture on the calendar.
Why 21 days?
The prophet Daniel was deeply concerned over the spiritual condition of his people, so he prayed and fasted for 21 days (Dan. 10:1-3). There are certain seasons in our lives when we need to give focused attention to the spiritual needs of our family, church and community.
Focusing on prayer for 21 days creates an opportunity to teach your people how to wrestle with God privately and petition him publicly alongside other followers of Jesus.
In a culture that celebrates individualism and self-sufficiency, corporate prayer struggles to find its place in our present age. And yet, it is our duty to call God’s people to pray.
In our media-driven culture, there is little room for quiet reflection and prayer. This is a great time to strengthen the devotional lives of our people by engaging them in new spiritual disciplines.
It is one thing to help people pray in their prayer closet but a whole other thing to encourage them to pray together as the family of God. One of the marks of the early church is that the people prayed together (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:31; 13:3; 16:13; 20:36). In a culture that celebrates individualism and self-sufficiency, corporate prayer struggles to find its place in our present age.
And yet, it is our duty to call God’s people to pray, just as Paul charged Timothy when he wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
During 21 Days of Prayer, you will be able to give a sustained focus on developing your church’s discipline of corporate prayer. Deep change will never occur in your people or your community until you give great appreciation for the power of the believers praying together.
And when those prayers stop being routine and start getting dangerous, you’ll see God move in their lives.
All too often we pray safe prayers:
God, bless me.
God, help me.
God, protect me.
God, heal me.
God, provide for me.
Dangerous prayers are risky and life-stretching. They come out of a spirit of brokenness. They are filled with boldness and daring faith.
My most dangerous prayers have come in moments of deep frustration and seasons of brokenness. I pray dangerously when I need to experience God’s light in my soul, his power in my ministry and his leading for the future.
There are three types of dangerous prayers:
Confessional prayers – “Lord, search me.”
Confessional prayers allow God to breathe into our lives. When we invite his holiness, righteousness and glory to invade our being, he reveals our needs and any obstacles that are hindering our growth and usefulness in his mission.
One example of a confessional prayer is David’s prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps. 139:23, ESV).
Transformational prayers – “Lord, break me.”
Transformational prayers allow God to shape and mold us. They seek God’s sanctifying power, strength and grace as we work out the gospel in our lives through confession and repentance. They ask God’s leading by submitting to his Word and surrendering to his ways.
Isaiah prayed, “O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Is. 64:8, ESV).
Missional prayers – “Lord, send me or use me.”
Missional prayers align us with God’s purposes. They teach us to rest in God’s power and presence as we advance his mission and promote his glory. They position us to be usable by God in any way possible.
Mary’s prayer after her angelic visit is a missional prayer. She prayed, “I am the Lord’s servant...May your word to me be fulfilled” (Lk. 1:38).
In his book On the Anvil, Max Lucado offers this dangerous prayer to God: “Draw me from your fire, form me on your anvil, shape me with your hands and let me be your tool.”
He gives a vivid picture of a blacksmith taking something raw and, with great care and precision, making it beautifully usable.;
If we want to be beautifully useful, we need to step into God’s purifying fire by inviting him to search us. We need to be willing to lay our lives on God’s anvil by allowing him to break, shape and transform us.
Finally, we need to respond to God’s call with a willingness to be used as his chosen instrument in his redemptive cause.