CALL TO PRAYER: Sweet hour of prayer
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, to pray for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world.
PHOENIX (BP) -- While ministering as a missionary in Argentina, I had the privilege of facilitating prayer vigils in the province of Buenos Aires.
These prayer vigils would sometimes last all night. But it's not necessary to pray all night to have a powerful prayer vigil. You can start with a one- or two-hour vigil in your Bible study, church or even better, in union with another local church.
Like no other book in the Bible, Acts provides a dynamic picture of what God can accomplish through His praying church.
-- In chapter 2, the church waited on God for power.
-- In chapter 4, the church prayed for boldness to proclaim the Gospel in the face of mounting political and religious opposition.
-- Acts 12 shows the church in constant prayer for the wellbeing of Peter, their imprisoned leader.
-- And chapter 13 reveals united prayer as the God-ordained context for launching new ministry initiatives.
Are any of these first century prayer concerns relevant to the church today? Does the 21st century church need heaven-sent power? Does the church need boldness to remain true to its calling against contrary social and political currents? Are church and denominational leaders in need of prayer? What about wisdom to undertake new ministry ventures; is there an urgent need to hear from God in that area?
The answers to these questions are obvious. The challenges that drove the church to its knees in prayer more than 2000 years ago have not gone away; if anything, they have become more urgent.
God marvelously answered the cries of His people in each of these prayer meetings in Acts.
-- Three thousand people came to Christ and were baptized as a result of God's promised gift of power sent on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
-- Those who fearfully prayed for God's intervention in the face of a political crackdown were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God's message with boldness" (Acts 4:31).
-- As the church prayed, God sent an angel to miraculously deliver Peter from prison just hours before the apostle's planned execution (Acts 12:5-15).
-- In another prayer meeting, Paul and Barnabas were "sent out by the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:2-4) on a missionary trip that changed the world.
The following is a sample one-hour prayer vigil program based on these four prayer meetings in Acts. If you can pray longer than an hour, this outline can be modified to fit two hours of prayer by making each segment 20 minutes instead of 10. The focus of this particular prayer vigil is the health of the church, the bride of Christ.
-- 7 p.m.: Praise and worship;
-- 7:10 p.m.: Prayer for God to empower His church for revival (Acts 2);
-- 7:20 p.m.: Prayer in the face of political, religious and other threats to the church (Acts 4);
-- 7:30 p.m.: Prayer for the leadership of the church (Acts 12);
-- 7:40 p.m.: Prayer for release of God-ordained ministries in the church (Acts 13), and
-- 7:50 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.: Praise, thanksgiving, testimonies and benediction.
A final logistical word about this sample prayer program: you'll notice there is no message or devotional. One of the great hindrances to prayer is the propensity to talk about prayer without actually praying. Neither is there a coffee break, intermission or any other break that would distract from the main task of prayer. A 15-minute break often turns to 25, making it very difficult to regain a focused attitude of prayer.
If your heart is stirred to prayer by this sample prayer program, call one or two other likeminded believers and set a time and place to lift your voices to heaven. It will be an hour well spent. In fact, it may be an hour that changes your heart forever.
Ralph Tone is a Phoenix-based church partner for LifeWay Christian Resources and blogs at RalphTone.com. Baptist Press reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).