One night, during a time of revival in the UK between 1949-1952, something unforgettable happened across the Isle of Lewis, the largest of the Hebrides Islands of Scotland. Don Whitney recounts that,
“People came under deep conviction of sin during the preaching of the gospel. From every part of the crowded building, came cries for mercy. Voices of those in spiritual distress could be heard outside in the road. A man beneath the pulpit wept aloud, “O God, hell is too good for me!” As the meeting concluded and the last person was about to leave, a young man began to pray. People started returning to the building, and the meeting resumed and did not end until 4:00 A.M. Just then someone came to the preacher and said excitedly, “Come with me! There’s a crowd of people outside the police station; they are weeping and in awful distress. We don’t know what’s wrong with them, but they are calling for someone to come and pray with them.”
The minister later described the scene: “I saw a sight I never thought possible. Something I shall never forget. Under a starlit sky, men and women were kneeling everywhere, by the roadside, outside the cottages, even behind the peat stacks, crying for God to have mercy on them!”
How Did this Happen? Can this happen Again?
Reading accounts like these, and there are many throughout church history, raises the questions, “How did this happen?” and “Could something like this ever happen again?” As for the beginning of this revival on the Isle of Lewis, the answer is remarkably ordinary: “The united prayers of the church. For months a small group of men and their minister had met in a little wooden barn three nights a week to ask God for revival.” Nothing fancy, nothing flashy, no marketing, no church growth strategy, no cutting edge programming, simply the committed, faithful prayer of Christians to our Almighty God. Errol Hulse writes, “It is true that revival is the absolute prerogative of a sovereign God, yet in a strange way His purposes are joined to the prayers of His people.”
A survey of the book of Acts reveals the truth of this, for prior to each gospel advance – Peter preaching at Pentecost, the Lord adding to the church daily, bold witnessing, Barnabas and Paul’s sending off, the Philippian jailer’s conversion – we find God’s people in prayer together. And so I call you, brothers and sisters in the Lord, fellow members of Hespeler Baptist Church, to pray, believing that the Lord can so work again.
When will this happen? Beginning Sunday, May 27th, to August 26th, from 9:30 sharp to 10:10, we will meet to pray. 40 minutes for 14 weeks over the course of the summer, let’s meet to pray.
Now, in an ideal world, no appeal would need to be made because we would all be enthralled by the sheer joy and privilege of gathering to seek God’s face together. Indeed, some of us will read this call to prayer with delight, looking forward to these times of congregational prayer with eagerness and anticipation.
But, some of us will be reading this and have already decided to ignore this call to prayer. The reasons for doing so are legion. It’s the summer. It’s too early. I don’t like to pray in front of others. I don’t know how to pray. I can’t pray as well as others can. I can pray just as well on my own. This will make the morning too long when I’m already going to church. My relationship with the Lord is a mess so I shouldn’t come and pray. My kids will squirm and make noise. The silences are awkward.
On one hand, I want to be gentle to those from whom getting out the door in the morning is difficult. Young families are wrangling children. Health challenges make even church attendance difficult. Some of these weeks we’ll be away on vacation, myself included. If that’s you, I do not want to lay an even heavier burden on your shoulders.
But, on the other hand, for many of us, our list of excuses to not gather with the church to pray are lame and self- centered. Yes, that’s blunt, but is it not true? In an effort to spur us all on until such a time as corporate prayer grows into a delight that we actually miss, let’s be reminded of our duty.
Duty that Leads to Delight
Prioritizing prayer was a mark of the early church: And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). Many of the injunctions to pray in the New Testament are not made to individual Christians but to entire churches. If we at all lament the spiritual health of the Church in Canada, and we would never imagine our local church is a perfect one, then let us be marked as the early church was in this way.
Along with the biblical call to pray, which is a matter of obedience, we accepted the following expectations when we entered into a covenant of meaningful membership with Hespeler Baptist Church:
that you will keep yourself from all ungodliness, cultivate your spiritual life by personal and family devotions, and assemble regularly with the church at worship and prayer.
And so I call you to pray because it is our duty, and because we committed to doing so. But more than this, I call you to pray because we have the greatest audience ever through our Lord Jesus Christ. To pray because we know God has saved us by His grace and for His glory. To pray because we know God hears us. To pray because our Father loves His children. To pray because apart from Christ we can do nothing. To pray because we desperately need to. To pray as an expression of love for one another. To pray as an expression of love for our City and Country. To pray as an expression of our faith in God, our hope in God, and our love for God.
And as we pray, we can disciple one another to better align our prayers with Scripture, to work through our coldness towards prayer, to get over ourselves and what people think of our prayers because we begin to care more what God thinks of our prayers. Brother, sister, let’s seek the face of God and learn in the school of prayer together.
In the meantime, until May 27th, and over the summer weeks, pray that the Lord would grow our hunger to gather to pray. In a recent Gospel Coalition Canada post, Pastor Clint Humfrey cast the following vision:
“There’s no need to be ashamed or afraid. If [let’s say when!] you go to the next prayer meeting at your church, maybe it can be the start of a new discovery, namely God’s glorious supply of his Spirit in Christ.
If people in your church start to discover God’s supply, then prayer meeting attendance will be too big to count. Picture it, “Standing room only” at the prayer meeting. Picture it, then pray that God would make it so.”