I encourage a lifestyle of prayer and repentance – understood as progressive re-focus of attention on God in Jesus Christ – as keys to the abundant life He came to bring. Skeptics wonder about the pragmatic benefits of seeking and praising an alleged all-seeing yet unseen King – and they are right to wonder. Tentative Christians say prayer does not change God; it changes us. They are right as far as they go, yet wimping out if they really think that is all there is to having a relationship with God. The pragmatic fruit of concerted prayer is all around us–and easy for a repentant heart to discover.
The California Governor’s Prayer Team – one example of the many organized prayer efforts in our state alone – deploys teams for regular prayer in thirty-two of California’s fifty-eight counties to date. (The governor in the name refers not to an elected official but to the Governor Himself.) We have prayed for the past two years, and in concert with the coalition of thirty-five other prayer ministries called the Rain and Reign Coalition, for the past year. We have – of course – asked the Lord to end the drought, but our focus has been in the spirit of 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. In it, the Lord promises to hear and forgive in times of drought when His people humble themselves, seek His face, and repent of sin. Our prayers have focused on the historic sin patterns common to California (and virtually everywhere else) of idolatry, covenant breaking, shedding of innocent blood, and sexual sin. In the past two months, rain and snow has averaged 150% of normal. The primary reservoir in my region has made up half of its deficit. Dry streams and rivers are flowing with waters bubbling from the ground in three counties following an earthquake. While the drought is far from over, this is a clear case of God’s mercy in response to heartfelt prayer from a critical mass.
In this time of prayer, we’ve seen a number of horrific bills fail in the California Legislature. One would have forced pre-schoolers into Kindergartens staffed by teachers uneducated in Early Childhood Education; another would have forced all children into Kindergarten regardless of their developmental readiness; still another threatened the tax exempt status of youth organizations not permitting homosexual leaders. A medical marijuana initiative given a broad chance for success in last November’s elections did not even muster enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. By the way, we do not pray failure for the bills; we pray that justice, wisdom, and the will of God be manifested. Just as important is that all these bills sailed through their committees, hailed as surefire by insiders, before crashing and burning.
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Concerted prayer must be sustained for lasting impact to occur. PrayNorthState has conducted more than a decade of whole-Bible readings in public forums. Several projects of targeted prayer have accounted for large drops in crime rates, hospital cancer admissions, and plummeting rates of suicide and youth deaths. We pioneered Christian radio and television in secular venues beginning in 2001. Our programming expanded from one to five outlets and has enjoyed wide popularity from the get-go; it is no longer unusual for new offerings to do well on secular media. Secular periodicals that did not have them are now hosting Christian-themed features. Our blog has expanded from one thousand to four hundred thousand readers; the invitations to expansion have all been unsolicited. Prayer concerted across denominational and congregational lines and sustained over seasons has literally modified the cultural atmosphere on the ground; our region is not the only one in the state or nation to bear such fruit. Our ministry is just one leader of prayer plowing and preparing ground so others can plant and gather the fruit.
In my city of Redding, a local church leased and took over the running of the city-owned – and bankrupt – convention center. There was the expected outcry over church-state-separation and so forth; but the city council gave the church’s separate holding corporation a chance, and the center is flourishing under the new management as it has not in many years. Hard and creative work by management achieved this; but before the bedrock of concerted prayer over years, this move was unthinkable.
Redding’s convention center is only the latest God-intervention coming in the wake of concerted prayer. FAITHworks is a coalition of some seventy churches-in-support birthed from a half-day retreat where half a dozen pastors prayed, worshiped, and asked a vision of God’s plans to address regional unemployment. The vision was grandiose – as authentic visions are. The pastors mobilized their congregations in prayer as others signed on. Eighteen months after a 1997 launch, the coalition – in voluntary partnership with a softened county government – had reduced unemployment by half while sharing the Gospel and life-skills training with all who consented. The coalition built and operates two transitional living projects for marginalized families.
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Another seventy-church coalition in our region followed concerted prayer with multiple community service and evangelistic concert events shortly after 2001. Hundreds came to the Lord, and hundreds wounded by the Church came home as a result. The coalition engaging similar unity and fruit in Sacramento numbers almost five hundred churches at this time. When Jesus says, “My father’s house shall be called a house of prayer,” in Mark 11:17, He is not making a statement of obligation only, but of opportunity. And the verse offers a prescription for authenticity to churches.
This is not about designated intercessors gathering for prayer. It is about houses of worship – led by their pastors and those specially gifted in prayer – gathering in spatial separation and spiritual unity to plead for God’s people as Moses pled for the Children of Israel and Jewish minions down the centuries pled for the restoration of Israel herself. All these prayers were answered – in their time – by God’s sovereign choice to bless His people – but not before they were prayed. God’s Word in 2 Chronicles 7:14 says: “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.” He does not say, “If those people,” but “If my people…”
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