We’re in the season of Lent – a season of prayer. So this is a good time to think about what prayer might look like in a transformed North of England – in a region changed by the gospel of Christ. In future blogs I will explore areas like like values, politics, social action, evangelism, family life, education, business and leadership. But today: prayer.
We get a picture of prayer in revival in Acts 4:23-31 where, after the Spirit of God is poured out at Pentecost, the disciples gather. Peter and John have been hauled before the Jewish authorities and told not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. And now they return to the believers and they pray. In the midst of Holy Spirit revival, we’re given a snapshot of believers at prayer.
I have 7 words about prayer in a transformed North, that are evident in this passage.
1. In a revived North, prayer will be PRIMARY.
It will be restored to its primary place, as the engine that drives all of God’s work – fueling mission; evangelism; church planting; social action; everything!
In the 1880s, five young college students went to hear the famed preacher Charles Spurgeon. They arrived early and were greeted by a man on the door who asked them if they wanted to see the heating plant of the church. They weren’t very interested and it was a warm day in July, but not wanting to offend, they agreed and were taken downstairs. ‘This is our boiler room’ said the man as he opened a door into a room filled with 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking God’s blessing on the service soon to begin. Softly closing the door, the man took them back upstairs, and politely introduced himself as Charles Spurgeon.
In Acts 4 we similarly see that prayer is primary in the life of the church. This continued in much of the early church as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the people. No doubt some of the prayer was spontaneous and some planned. Some in small gatherings and some in larger ones.
In the future I’d like to think that the North of England could become known as a region where people pray. When I think of a part of the world where people pray, I think of Nigeria. I have a clergy friend who every year flies out to Nigeria to attend an annual New Year’s prayer meeting where over one million people gather for prayer. And that’s not the largest prayer meeting in Lagos. Others have had up to 3 million people at one prayer event! Wouldn’t it be good if, in the future, Christians from other parts of the world say that the North of England is a place where people really know how to pray!
So in a revived North, prayer will be primary and restored to its central place. People get the idea that nothing of significance happens without prayer,
2. In a revived North, prayer will be PRIORITISED
In Acts 4, the first thing they do after Peter and John tell their story, is pray. Prayer is prioritised.
Most churches in the North – St Michael le Belfrey included – get about 20% of the church turning up to the church’s main prayer meeting. I suspect that in a revived North that figure might go up to 80+%. In a revived North, prayer will become one of the things that we all do. It will be something that really unites us as God’s people. We see that in Ac 4:24 as ‘they raised their voices together in prayer to God’. In a revived North the prayer meeting will be the most important meeting of the week rather than it being an afterthought or something that’s done it there’s time. People will build their diaries around the prayer meeting. It will be prioritised.
In fact that’s been true in every true Christian revival. Kathie Walters expresses this really helpfully when she says:
Every revival that has broken upon the face of the earth has been preceded by men and women upon their knees travailing before God. Undeterred by cold and the discomforts of the barn … undeterred by the fact that no-one else seemed concerned about revival and the world was as godless as ever, they travailed and prayed. Kneeling upon the straw or upon their faces in agony of soul, they cried before the throne.
3. In a revived North, prayer will begin with PRAISE
Starting with praising God – for who he is and what he’s done – will become the normal prayer pattern. We see that in Acts 4:24. Even though they had threats from the authorities and could have begun by asking for God’s help they actually begin by telling God how great he is. That’s often how we begin our prayer meetings at the Belfrey – like Dynamic Prayer and our Evenings of Prayer. We begin with praise. And rightly so.
4. In a revived North, prayer will be PASSIONATE
It will be from the heart. Gutsy. Honest and true. We see that in Acts 4 as they tell God how it is and what’s on their heart.
Prayer will not be passive. People will enter in to God’s presence. They will, as St Paul says (in Colossians 4:2) ‘devote themselves to prayer’. It will involve noise – and silence. Laughing – and weeping. I got a glimpse of this the very first time I went to St Nic’s Church in Nottingham in 1987, when the person next to me prayed the Lord’s Prayer which such passion and enthusiasm that I saw the prayer in a whole new light!
Passionate prayer in a revived North will involve much standing up. People will go home from a prayer meeting with tired legs. But it’ll be ok. And it will involve much kneeling down too. In fact kneeling will probably become the dominate prayer position. It certainly isn’t that at present in the UK. As that happens it may well be one distinguishing characteristics of Christians is their worn patches on their trousers!
5. In a revived North, prayer will be PARTICULAR
Prayer will be ‘particular’ in that people won’t be afraid to ask God for specific things. There’ll be less ‘if it’s your will, Lord’ prayers and more specific prayers as we come boldly and confidently before God’s throne and ask of him in faith. When I twisted my ankle last year and had instant shooting pains up my tendons, I immediately said to Sam who was next to me in the back garden, ‘speak healing to my ankle’ and she did. In Jesus’ name she spoke healing to my foot and within seconds the pain left and I was fine. We see something similar in Acts 4:29-30 as they specifically ask God for help to speak God’s word boldly, and for miracles. In a revived North we will not hold back from asking God for what we need.
6. In a revived North, prayer will be POWERFUL
As people pray they will be filled with the Holy Spirit, empowered and sent out in mission. That’s just what we see in Acts 4:31: ‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.’
I first sang in tongues in a prayer meeting when I was 18 or 19 yrs old. As I approached the building people were already beginning to worship and pray, and I was filled with the Holy Spirit as I entered. And I began to sing in tongues. It felt like it was just flowing out of me. And this was at a prayer meeting! Prayer meetings can be powerful. They certainly will be in a revived North.
7. In a revived North, prayer will be PERSISTENT
We don’t see that specifically in Acts 4, but we see it as this church advances, in the rest of the pages of the book of Acts, so much so that Paul later says (in 1 Thessalonians 5:17) ‘pray without ceasing’. He means – keep going. And, in all things, keep prayerful. That’s because God wants prayer to be happening everywhere, as people discover they can call out to him any time, any place, any where. You won’t have to be in a church or religious setting.
And yet, having said that I suspect we’ll also see more specialist Houses of Prayer established in the North for the sake of persistent prayer. All the main cities will have one – a specialist prayer centre where gifted intercessors pray 24/7 for their city and region and nation and world. If you’ve never been to one or seen one, and are ever in the vicinity of Stoke on Trent, check out Beacon House in Sandyford, run by my brother William & his wife Karen. People in these Houses of Prayer know how to pray. And they know how to fast. If I’m one of the ‘infantry’ in terms of God’s prayer-warriors, these guys are the SAS!
There will be lots of these. And I hope there’ll be one in York soon. I’m asking the Lord for that at the moment. It’s on my long-term prayer list.
Finally, let me make something very clear. Whilst only God can sovereignly bring revival, our prayers are crucial in initiating and sustaining revival. That means it’s God’s work, but he calls us to co-operate with him. To fan into flame his work, through our prayer. And to keep the fire burning, through persistent prayer. That’s why the growing 24/7 Prayer movement is fascinating and really important. That’s why the Global Day of Prayer events – and especially the one in London at Wembley Stadium on Sat 29th Sept – are so important. And that’s why at The Belfrey one our key strategic emphases for 2012 is ‘persistent prayer’.
So please pray with me, for God’s transformation in the North.