Praying in the Gap (1)
Some people are gifted with a good memory, others are not. But all of us can remember more than we do if we work at it. One invaluable aid to recollection is to see or hear something in a compact form and to keep seeing or hearing it until it becomes embedded in our memories. I want to make sure this happens with all that we have been learning about Global Vision. And so I repeat, again, we must catch and maintain a vision for God's unchanging purpose for the nations; God's view of the nations is as largely lost and poor; our personal global responsibility for the nations and God's promise to Christ is that He will glorify His name in all the earth through us. Having caught the vision, that we have only two options in obeying the vision: either we serve cross-culturally or live right here counterculturally. Determining whether or not we are to serve cross-culturally is not so much a matter of receiving the mystical "call" as taking some very practical steps-make ourselves available to serve, get more information, get involved right here and now, prepare ourselves by filling at least the general requirements of one or more missions organizations and, finally, evaluate as we go along.
If, by virtue of this process, we conclude that we are not to serve cross-culturally, then we have automatically decided to live here counterculturally. By that I mean resisting the pressure of the surrounding culture (which is totally opposed to Global Vision) and living in such a way that we become co-operators with those who do serve cross-culturally. Where do we begin?
Ezekiel 22:30 states, "I looked for a man to stand before me in the gap." So far we have been talking about following Christ into the gap between a holy God and lost men. But as Bryant points out, Ezekiel says God is looking for a man to stand before Him in the gap. To stand before God means one thing throughout the Scriptures-intercessory prayer. So that becomes the first and most crucial ingredient of countercultural living. (By the way, intercessory prayer is just as crucial for the cross-cultural servant.)
Bryant tells about a friend who returned from a tour of mission stations throughout the Muslim world. Wherever the gospel was making significant inroads into the Muslim community, he found that missionaries were giving themselves to hours of intercessory prayer every day. Where they were not, the results were correspondingly absent.
Some may say, "I've read almost everything there is to read on prayer. What new thing can you tell us about prayer?" Whenever I face such situations I am reminded of what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 13:52, "The teacher who is well instructed in the affairs of the Kingdom is like a householder who brings forth from his treasures both old and new." That's a good summary of what is presented in this chapter-old and new.
Why do we need to hear the old? Recently I was discussing with a young man the biblical mandate to pray. At the end of the session he said to me, "Sunder, this is a real eye opener to me. Do the folks 'out there' (meaning our congregation) know about this?" To his surprise I said I had preached the same material not only in sermons to the whole congregation, but to him in a discipleship class. Yet here it came to him with freshness. That's why we often need to hear the old. But we also need to hear the new.
ZECHARIAH'S PRAYER VISION
Historically, Zechariah 8 is a very significant passage because of its impact in the formation of many great prayer movements. The great philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote a lengthy call to prayer based on this passage. In recent times, David Bryant, in his book, With Concerts of Prayer,1 summarized the essence of Edwards' labour for our benefit. Zechariah was a prophet sent by God to the exiles of Judah 16 years after they had returned from captivity in Persia. But they had grown discouraged and had stopped building the temple. Zechariah teamed up with another prophet, Haggai, to correct the situation. Zechariah's prophecy is built around several visions, all of which come to a climax in chapter 8. It begins with God's assurance to Israel of His zeal and concern for them as a nation (v.2). Then in verse 3 He promises to restore their fortunes. What He does will be beyond anything they had imagined (v. 6). At the centre of this restoration will be the rebuilding of the temple and resumption of Israel's worship of Jehovah (v. 9). Thus, their mournful fasts will be turned into joyful feasts.
These people had become so discouraged that all they could do was fast four times a year to lament the glory of the days gone by and the apparent failure of God's promises. No more of that, said God (v. 19). But then comes the clincher: Why will God do all this work of renewing? So that the nations will be blessed (v. 13). But what does all this have to do with prayer? In the amplification of the "blessing to the nations" in verses 20-23 you will notice a significant sequence. To reach the nations, God first revives the worship of His people and creates within them a longing for corporate gatherings of prayer. As a result, the nations join them in worshipping Israel's God. Look at verses 20-23 a little closer. Bryant calls this "the anatomy of corporate prayer."2
a) Attitude. "Let us go at once!" that's urgency. Let's go to entreat the Lord. The word "entreat" literally means "to travail" and was used to describe the labour pains of a woman about to give birth. So to urgency add intensity.
b) Agenda. From attitude we move to agenda. For what would they "seek the Lord" (a phrase elsewhere translated "seek His face")? This request to seek the "face of the Lord" in the Scriptures is nothing less than a desire for the manifest presence of the Lord amongst His people in a way that all shall know of it. It is His presence to save and to bless.
c) Impact. What will be the impact of such a presence of the Lord amongst His people? Many people and powerful nations wish to seek the Lord. This won't be a casual turning to the Lord; it will be passionate (v. 23).
d) Ignition. What ignites the whole process is the key: the three words at the end of verse 21-"Let us go!" Revival praying that ends in the fulfillment of Global Vision begins with one person going to another and inviting them to join them in seeking God's face. This has nothing to do with spiritual one-upmanship. This is not one person saying to another, "Hey listen! I have arrived; I have a secret. If you come with me I'll show how you can get it too." Nothing of the sort. Rather, this invitation to prayer comes from one who has been gripped by Global Vision, however imperfectly, and says to another, "Come, let's both lay hold of God to manifest His presence in His church in such a way that the nations will be drawn to the Messiah." So gripped is this individual in Zechariah's vision that he says, "I want you to come but even if you don't, I myself am going." So it must be in church. I urge you, I invite you, but I must also say I am going to pray whether you come or not. I have to say the same to my wife and kids: "Come with me, let's pray and seek the Lord. But come what may, I myself am going." That's the percussion that ignites such a movement of prayer.
History has amply testified to the truth of this passage of Scripture. During the latter part of the 19th century, there arose a great missions surge among students. Known as the "student volunteer movement," it resulted in the formation of the World Christian Student Federation which sent out thousands of missionaries over 30 years. Its brilliant leader, John R. Mott, travelled the world, visiting these student groups. In every case he found that the source of this great missionary awakening lay in united intercessory prayer. Mott's primary call in his travels, then, was for more and more of these prayer groups.
A century before, there lived a German aristocrat, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. Sensitive to the claims of Christ from youth, he had a dramatic confrontation with the Lord one day as he contemplated a painting of the crucified Christ in an art gallery. Zinzendorf founded the famous Hermhut community: 200 refugees from different religious and social backgrounds gathered in Moravia. To heal the inevitable tensions in such a group, Zinzendorf and a few others started to seek the Lord's face. God answered and began a prayer meeting that lasted 24 hours a day for 100 years. The net result was 2,150 missionaries over that period of time.
But do such things happen today? Most have heard about the dramatic growth of the Church in Korea. What you may not have heard is the single most influential reason for this growth: prayer meetings at 5 a.m. every morning in most churches, large and small; all night prayer meetings every Friday night; an additional one on Wednesday nights; pastors spending a minimum of an hour a day in prayer with 47 percent praying for more than two hours daily; prayer retreat centres where 80,000 Christians a year go to pray; a "prayer mountain," with 100 "prayer caves" where individuals spend 24 hours praying. These caves are full all the time. It can and does happen today. (Statistics from Wagner.3)
A final illustration of the truth of Zechariah 8 comes from my own beloved country, India, which is increasingly becoming closed to foreign missionaries. Several years ago, a group of people from south India (where Christianity is relatively stronger than in the north) founded an organization called The Friends Missionary Prayer Bands. They meet every Friday night to fast and pray for revival in India's churches, and for labourers to be thrust out into North India, which for hundreds of years has been a spiritual wilderness. Today, over 20,000 people meet in prayer bands in over 500 prayer cells all over India. They also have about 400 Indians serving cross-culturally in north India.
During a recent visit to India, I sat across the table from one of the leaders of this movement. He shared with me some unpublished data on what God is doing through their mission. What he said simply reaffirms that sustained prayer is the key to penetration of unreached people groups by new teams of cross-cultural servants. Zechariah 8 remains just as true today as it ever was. Sustained corporate intercession is where the real explosion can, must and will take place. The battle is too intense for us to fight alone. We must close ranks.
If we heed such a call to pray corporately, what are we to pray for?
AN AGENDA FOR CORPORATE PRAYER-
Our prayer agendas must go well beyond prayer for headaches, jobs, and for sunny days for Sunday School picnics. It must be the agenda outlined in Zechariah's vision. To return to Bryant's analysis, there are two broad aspects to this agenda: a prayer for renewal of Israel's worship, which Bryant calls a prayer for "fulness"; and a prayer for the nations to be attracted to Israel's God, which he calls a prayer for "fulfillment." This is not personal fulfillment or self-actualization, but fulfillment of God's global purposes.
Bryant then shows how this dual theme of fullness/fulfillment runs right through Scripture. For example, in the Old Testament, Zechariah's vision was centred around the rebuilding of the temple and a prayer for the manifest presence of God. Go back to the first and most magnificent temple of them all, the one built by Solomon described in 2 Chronicles 5.11. The temple had been built and the ark representing the presence of God had been brought to its proper place within the Holy of Holies. The triumphant worship of the people with voice and instruments resulted in the glory of God descending on the temple with such intensity that the priests couldn't proceed with their usual tasks. Then follows one of the most moving prayers in the Bible-Solomon's prayer of dedication. This prayer ends with a request for God's presence (6:40-7:2). That is a prayer for fullness. As a result of this fullness, in 2 Chronicles 9 we read about the visit of the Queen of Sheba. When she left she praised the God of Israel-that is fulfillment. And it didn't stop with her. In 9:23 we read that all the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon. Once again, fullness leads to fulfillment, the glorification of the God of Israel in the sight of the heathen rulers.
We see this sequence also in the New Testament. The ultimate fulfillment of the prayer for God's manifest presence among His people was none other than the incarnation-the coming of God in the flesh to live amongst His people. But even that was only a preparation for the real climax-the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus and the beginning of yet another prayer meeting. Daily the disciples went to the temple to worship the Lord. One hundred and twenty of them, not satisfied with this, also gathered privately in a small dingy room and prayed even more fervently for the Comforter that Jesus had promised. Then it happened. Once again, the temple was filled with God's glory; only this time it was not a temple made with hunks of stone, but human beings, living stones constituting the new temple of God. As for the glory of God, it wasn't smoke but the Holy Spirit that came down upon the gathered intercessors. The prayer for fullness was answered. The result was a relentless outward movement of the gospel from Jerusalem until, 28 chapters later in the book of Acts, we see it preached boldly and without hindrance by a short, half-blind prisoner under house arrest-the Apostle Paul. Fullness had again resulted in fulfillment and the nations were worshipping the Lord Jesus.
To make sure we don't miss this double agenda of Zechariah's prayer vision as the proper agenda for our corporate intercession, the Lord Jesus emphasized it in His answer to the disciples' request, "Lord, teach us to pray." He gave them The Lord's Prayer. The first part of the prayer, "Our Father, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come" asks God to reveal His glory so that men may praise His name. That's a prayer for fulfillment. Then, "Thy will be done on earth as in heaven!" That's a prayer for fullness of obedience. Both are necessary. Bryant sums it up succinctly: without fulfillment praying, we cop out. But without fullness praying we burn out. Under this twofold agenda, prayers for personal needs become very appropriate. By all means let's pray for daily bread, for jobs, food and shelter. By all means let's pray for forgiveness of sins and harmony in relationships, (forgive us as we forgive others). By all means let's pray for victory over daily trials and temptations (lead us not into temptation). But why do we want all these things? So that, with sufficient food, shelter and clothing, with domestic harmony and freedom from hassles, we can give ourselves to the pursuit of fullness and fulfillment.
If we grasp this twofold thrust, we will never again be satisfied with merely praying for Mrs. Joe Smith's right toe, however painful it may be. It doesn't mean that such prayer requests are not appropriate; but how we conceive even such prayers is critically important.
As Bryant illustrates,4 let's say you are a college student whose father has suddenly become unemployed. There isn't enough money to go around and so it looks like you might have to leave college to work for a while. What do you pray? That God will comfort your father and give him another job soon so you don't have to drop out? That's quite appropriate. But if you were to tie your personal needs to fullness and fulfillment issues you might also pray that God would use this situation to teach your family how to trust God in new ways that you can later share with others. Or you could pray that God would teach you how to identify better with the suffering and the oppressed peoples of this world through your temporary financial struggles.
Of the two, fullness and fulfillment, which should come first? The biblical pattern tells us that if we are ever to see the fulfillment of God's global agenda, we must have His fullness in us. Bryant compares this process to being woken up by bright morning sunlight streaming into our bedrooms with such intensity that we can no longer go back to sleep. As he puts it-
Enough awareness invaded your consciousness that you realized it was best to get out of bed, into your clothes and get on with the day. . . In the same way, enough of the Person of Christ and His purposes and the needs of the world must invade our consciousness so that we are able to sleep no longer . . . we awake to get on with God's redemptive purposes.5
It's no wonder the Scriptures are full of exhortations to get up. Ephesians 5:14: "Wake up o sleeper and rise from the dead." Romans 13:11: "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber." As Bryant says, before we can see the hidden people of the world well enough to care for their lostness, we have to see the hidden person Jesus Christ more clearly. A movement of prayer for fulfillment must first of all target on our spiritual blindness and our slothfulness, so often the causes of our prayerlessness, whether private or corporate. That is why, at the very beginning of his magnificent epistle to the Ephesians, Paul begins with a prayer for fulness and ends with a request for prayers of fulfillment: "I pray that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened so you might know the hope of your calling, the riches of His inheritance in the saints and the incomparable greatness of His [resurrection] power." The hope to which they have been called-Global Vision; the agents who will fulfill Global Vision-the saints of God, you and me. The guarantee of success-the resurrection power of Christ. Our eyes must first of all be opened to this.
In the next chapter, we'll flesh out in detail what it means to pray for fullness and fulfillment. But the key is to remember how it all got started, the ignition point in Zechariah's vision: "I myself am going. Come let's go to seek His face." To the many people in our churches today who have no better reason for "not going" than television, movies, banquets, shopping or plain laziness, the word of the Lord through Zechariah challenges, Wake up! Arise! Take a step you have never taken before. When someone comes to you and says "Let's go and seek the Lord," accept the invitation.
1. David Bryant, With Concerts of Prayer (California: Regal Books, 1984). p. 57 ff.
2. Ibid., p. 62ff.
3. C. Peter Wagner, On the Crest of a Wave (California: Regal Books, 1983), p. 124 ff.
4. David Bryant, With Concerts of Prayer (California: Regal Books, 1984), p. 183.
5. Ibid, p. 75