It was pitch black as we made our way to the prayer meeting. No street lights or lights shone from around the huts. This wasn’t Atlanta, Georgia, but right on the border between Thailand and Burma. There was no electricity. The only light was from candles burning, showing where the meeting was going to take place. Climbing up a bamboo ladder, we joined the assembled village Christians, sitting cross-legged around the perimeter of the room with 8-10 candles in the middle.
I was scared the flimsy bamboo mat floor wouldn’t take the weight of four large, Western men. Then I was worried that I would knock over one of the candles and burn the meeting room down! Suffice it to say, neither happened, but what remains with me today are some significant reminders about prayer. We came to bless these faithful people, but actually what they imparted to us was far, far greater. Sitting in that environment brought home to me again how uncomplicated prayer is and yet how profound is the mystery of it. Here are some lessons I’m learning about keeping prayer vital, fresh and enjoyable!
We can make prayer and prayer meetings too complicated. In this small hut meeting room, there was no PowerPoint, live music, video clips or pizza! Just simply people committed to meet and pray, knowing that God would meet with them. There was no program or agenda or personalities, or egos–just time spent before the Throne.
Richard and I (another Englishman) lead many prayer meetings together, and he coined the phrase that we try and follow for these, which are sometimes a hour long, or two hours, a weekend or 10 days of 24/7. Our prayer meetings are simply Unstaged, Unhurried, Unsafe, Unscripted, but not unprepared. When we come to listen, be guided, by the Holy Spirit and ask the Lord to mess us up, it’s surprising what can happen!
It’s not about numbers (there were only maybe 8-10 people in that hut), but in God’s eyes it’s an army. And that’s what counts! I meet with 4-8 people each week early in the morning for prayer. Right at the beginning God told us not to worry about numbers. In His eyes, one plus Himself is a majority! Very often it’s a small group that meets, but that’s enough to pull down strongholds because the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God for the pulling down of strongholds. There is nothing there about needing a certain number before that will work. Numbers, size, strength are man’s ways. God’s plumbline is about holiness, humility and unity.
Nor is it about location. Anywhere is good enough to pray. We don’t need comfy chairs or kneeling benches. In fact I rarely sit when I am praying. Walking around helps keep me concentrating (and awake!). Jesus used a mountain, a quiet place; Paul used a prison; Koreans use caves; some prayer fanatics in a Southeast Asian country use long-distance buses!
It’s not about performance. Jesus said to His disciples, Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace. The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and He knows better than you what you need.” Matthew 6:6-8. (The Message)
God listens to broken and desperate people with hearts totally dependent on Him. The outward show is nothing. It’s the heart and history we have in God in secret that matters.
But it’s about His promises.
“For apart from me you can do nothing.” And yet there is a lot of nothing we engage in. We have His promises throughout scripture, and we can know them, memorize them, meditate on them, pray them, and believe them.
And lifestyle. Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists have a prayer culture, whereas we Christians have a prayer meeting. God never intended prayer to be merely a value or a duty but a lifestyle. “Engaging in continual prayer and fasting means embracing a way of life before the Lord that challenges everything in us. When the church corporately (or the student group) embraces and approaches prayer as a lifestyle and not a meeting, she will begin to take significant steps toward her ultimate destiny, which involves partnering with God to shape history, affect the spiritual atmosphere, and influence nations.” Dave Sliker
Let us learn the secret of crying out to Him day and night to see justice released into our community, nation and world! (Luke 18:7).
“Fan into flame a passion for your name,” sings Tim Hughes, a worship leader from England. This is a prayer I pray many times: “Lord, fill my heart with passion for You and Your presence.” The villagers that night were passionate in their prayers and relationship with the Lord. It was not just a matter of duty but a passionate desire for Him. Just how passionate do we want to be? It is you and I who make that decision, not God. We set the limits, not God. We can go as far as we want, but so often we put barriers up and allow other things to captivate and fascinate our hearts. We are content with so little of God when there is so much more. He is the God of all pleasure. “In your presence there is fullness of joy, and at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11) As we meditate on this God of all pleasure and beauty, our hearts cannot fail to grow in our passion and love for Him.
It’s what we do in our own time that prepares us for the group times of prayer. We cannot be worshipping idols of entertainment and then expect to be full of passion for God in the prayer room. As our hearts are moved in His presence, everything else pales in comparison.
One of the best ways I have found to deepen my passion and love is regular fasting. While fasting is voluntary weakness, it reveals so much the true intents of our hearts. It also makes a statement that I am serious about this relationship and want to grow deeper into the things of God.
Having been arrested by the authorities in a Middle Eastern country for witnessing and passing out some scriptures, I learned early on in my missionary life about desperate prayer. Being threatened with expulsion from the country, I cried out in desperation in the men’s bathroom (“toilet” to non-Americans!) for God to give me wisdom in getting out of this situation. And as clear as anything God gave me the words to use and I was able to stay and fulfill my commitment in the country. The Bible shows us that David had instances of desperate prayer, as well as Hannah when praying for a son.
Joy Dawson asks the question, “Why Desperate Prayer?” and answers it:
• Because the world’s unreached multitudes are in desperate need.
• Because hell is desperately real. Hell is desperate people, eternally trapped, with no hope of relief.
• Our desperate cries to God on their behalf powerfully influence the lost to make the right choices. Heaven is then more populated and Hell less.
• Desperate people pray with intensity and are not self-conscious.
As we pray for the issues on our campuses, in our cities and nations, ask God to give a burden so that as we pray we are not just uttering words but our heart’s cry, and we feel the pain and see the lostness and hopelessless of those without Christ. And it rises up in a desperate cry for God to act.
Rhonda Hughey writes, “The key of holy desperation for the presence and ministry of Jesus is required in order for us to move out of our complacent, satisfied existence. Desperation is the underlying fuel that ignites our hearts for unity, prayer, worship, and repentance. If we aren’t longing for Jesus, our ministry activities will be routine and hollow. There is certainly no shortage of ideas, plans, methods, books, teachings, programs, and activities in the church; what we are suffering from is a drought of desperation for God!”
Worship is an essential part of keeping the flame burning through prayer. The more we worship God, the bigger God becomes in our understanding, resulting in a greater faith to believe He will accomplish His purposes through us.
With music, without music, with great voices or voices like mine, we can still declare the greatness of God through worship. The ancient Fathers used to worship by singing and reading through the Psalms in eight-hour cycles.
In Rev. 8:1-6, we see the prayers of all the saints (a picture of intercession) being released with much incense (a picture of worship) at the throne. Both joined together help to keep the fire going on the altar. According to Dick Eastman, “Worship-saturated intercession will be a key to the last great harvest on earth.”
5. Intimacy and Devotion
Misty Edwards, one of the most amazing worship leaders, sings, “I’m not going to talk about You like you’re not in the room, gonna talk right to You, gonna sing right at You.” The beauty of prayer is that we are talking to a real person who is right in the room with us. This God that we adore loves us, delights in us, spins over us, and sings over us. We can’t do better than David when he says in Psalm 84:10, “One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches.” (or choose your own favorite destination!) (from The Message)
Lou Engle writes:
“Today the call of God to the church is to cultivate a heart of unwavering devotion. He wants us to love Him first and foremost, with all of our hearts. When your heart is conquered by the One who is fascinating, then no other captivation will satisfy.
You will refuse to dwell anywhere but in this position of waiting on Him. You will pursue Him alone, not allowing yourself to be distracted by anything less. Your hunger will be fixed on a single source. There will be no going back to what used to bring satisfaction. Secondary pleasures will fade away.”
It really is about intimacy. “This is the main purpose of prayer,” says Bill Johnson.
“I want to encourage you to embrace a life of extravagant devotion to God, without any regard to cost. I want to encourage it not only because you will have the greatest reward you can have at the end of your life, but because it is an incredibly enjoyable way of life. If prayer is not enjoyable, it’s not sustainable,” states Mike Bickle.
A few years ago I ran the London Marathon. After the halfway point, you come into an area called Docklands. It’s an industrial wasteland, and there is no encouragement from spectators. The fun and excitement of the start is gone, the key sights of London where people are cheering you on in the thousands is all behind you. It’s all quiet, no sounds except your running shoes on the concrete, no talking. This is where the discipline of training pays off. This section is six miles long, boring, tiring, there’s nothing to look at to keep your mind away from the pain! You can only look ahead to the 20-mile mark and the crowds again thronging the streets for encouragement. There will always be seasons where prayer is hard, tiredness creeps in, discouragement can be close by. This is when we just keep going, we keep engaged and we trust not our feelings and circumstances but our faith and the truth of His word. We are encouraged not to grow weary in well doing, because as we press on and in, we will see the results of our praying.
“The level of a spiritual victory for your city is directly affected by two spiritual conditions: the intensity of your desire and the size of your faith. God wants to see if you want the minimum or the maximum. Do you want institutional survival–or citywide revival?” writes John Dawson.
During that evening with the villagers on the Thai-Burmese border, I sensed through their prayers and simple faith that they were content with nothing less than the maximum.