PRAYER: Sermon Series II

Do We REALLY Believe God Answers Prayer?
History of Modern Concert of Prayer Movement

John 14:12-13, 15:7, 16:24

Prayer is an area that most people feel some guilt or some inadequacy in. They feel guilty because they don’t pray enough or because they didn’t pray for people or situations they should have. They feel inadequate because they aren’t sure they are doing it right and not convinced it makes a difference.

So last week (Prayer: Sermon Series I), we tried to give you a picture, from Jesus’ own words, that would free you to pray without guilt and with a sense of competence. Jesus calls us to pray as a little child to the Father; “When you pray say Father.” We are free to bring our heart-felt requests to God without worrying about the words or the approach or even the possibility of the request. Our attitude should be child-like rather than childish. Childishness tries to manipulate, child-likeness trusts. Childishness gets mad or throws a fit when God’s answer is different than we expected. Child-likeness trusts that God is far wiser than we and this different answer is for a higher purpose. The key to prayer is not the words – it is the relationship. We pray as a child, forgiven by Jesus’ death on the cross and adopted to be a beloved child of the King of the Universe.

Many of the prayers that spontaneously come from our heart are ones for help – help me or help someone else who is having difficulty. Yet most of the requests Jesus taught His disciples were beyond this – like “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We feel relief when God answers “rescue type” prayers, but our hearts yearn for more than that. Today we want to look at a type of prayer that God loves answering – it is a type of prayer that fires up vision and encourages fulfilling actions in our lives. Most of all, when we see God’s answer this kind of prayer brings an awe to our mind and a deep joy to our heart.  

Proposition: When we commit to praying regularly and unitedly for revival in the church and advancement of Christ’s Kingdom in the world, God will answer in His time and we will know great joy.

1.  Scriptural promises on prayer

Let’s start with a quick reminder of some of Jesus’ teaching on prayer at the last supper.

A. Power of Prayer                                                                                 John 14:12-14

READ John 14:12-14. Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.”  He wants us to understand the POWER of prayer – anything and God will do it. Interestingly, the context here is our witness & service for Jesus – we will do what Jesus has been doing – working to bring the message of God to everyone. In the midst of that work we will feel inadequate so Jesus wants us to be confident in the power of prayer TURN TO John 15:7.

B. Promised to the dedicated believer                                                  John 15:7

READ John 15:7. Jesus repeats this theme of the power of prayer. But He adds this condition “if you remain in me (that means our personal relationship with Jesus is genuine right now – we are a part of His local church, we are having quiet times with Him) and my words remain in you (that means we are regularly learning, memorizing and meditating on the Bible). So this is a promise to a dedicated, growing believer – not a superstar, important or famous believer nor a name only Christian but a committed follower of Jesus Christ TURN TO John 16:24.

C. Joy results                                                                                     John 16:24

READ John 16:24.  Again we see the power of prayer; remember God loves to answer prayer. Those answers overwhelm us with God’s greatness and bring joy into our lives. Those things don’t come from quick prayer requests that we don’t even remember next Sunday. These are things we struggle with in prayer for weeks, months, and years. It is then that God’s marvelous answer transforms us and our perspectives. If we don’t have some long term, heart-breaking, regular requests of God, we won’t know this joy. That’s a different way to look at our problems isn’t it!!!

Notice the condition given here: “ask in Jesus’ name.” “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.” The disciples had asked God for many things already – so what does it mean to “ask in Jesus’ name?” It means we are asking on Jesus’ behalf. Many times I have told people to go to a person or business & say “Neal sent you” so they will do something for us. They went “in my name.” God will always answer a request we make in Jesus’ Name – not because there is anything magical about saying “I pray in Jesus’ Name, Amen.” No, we say those words in our prayers simply to remind ourselves that I am asking all this “on Jesus’ behalf.” And if this is something that won’t help Jesus’ work in this world, then God please don’t answer it no matter how much I personally want it. The privilege & power of prayer is not there primarily to make my life easier now – it is there to empower the advancement of Jesus’ work here in this world. 

Let me show you an example of this kind of praying on Jesus’ behalf from history.  For 120 years our ancestors prayed this way is what is called “a concert of prayer.” From the French and Indian War until the Civil War, many Americans intentionally took time to pray a prayer beyond their own needs. God answered in a way that radically changed our country’s history and more importantly, advanced the Kingdom of Jesus in this world.

2.  History of Modern Concert of Prayer

A. PRECURSOR: Prayer societies

1) Out of Pietist movement

The seeds for this were sewn back in the Pietist movement which started in Germany in the early 1600’s (when the Puritans started coming to America). Because of the reformation 120 years before, the state churches had become orthodox in their belief. But now that Christian belief was just intellectual, so there was little spiritual vitality in the church or people’s lives. The Pietist movement stressed the need for a vibrant living faith, a personal relationship with God through Christ, and doing good works (but not as a way to salvation). 

2) Included Bible Study, prayer, and accountability

To help spiritual growth, they initiated and formed “prayer societies”.  Unlike what you might think, these weren’t just prayer meetings – but there were a combination of Bible Study, prayer, accountability, and fellowship in a small group setting that met during the week, very much like our Bible Studies today.  The reason it was called a “prayer society” was because their goal was to “KNOW GOD BETTER”.  When I encourage you to make the goal of your daily quiet time simply ‘meeting with the true God of the Universe,’ instead of how many verses you read or minutes you took, I am reflecting a positive part of the Pietist movement.

3) Encouraged & enhanced renewal through small groups

On-going spiritual renewal was enhanced and encouraged through these small group. These renewal small groups had been going on for 100+ years when we shift to Cambuslang Scotland.

B. START: William McCullough, pastor of Cambuslang, Scotland

1) “Ale minister”

There in 1731, William McCullough came to be the pastor.  He was a godly man, intelligent with a strong faith, but he wasn’t a dynamic or great preacher.  In fact, they nicknamed him the “ale minister” because people would actually walk out of the service when he got up to preach and go down to the local pub – that was a lot more fun. God often does His greatest work through the “nobodies” of this world – so God used this very ordinary Pastor to initiate a movement which would go on for 150 years in Europe – 120 in US.

2) Long to instill spiritual hunger

By 1735, he was pretty discouraged. All he saw was the spiritual decline and very few of those small groups or prayer societies. He longed for spiritual renewal in his church and town. Encouraged by reports of revival in America, his passion and prayer became that God would instill a hunger for Jesus and spiritual things in people’s lives. 

3) Devastating Hurricane (1741)

Six years later a devastating hurricane hit in January 1741 – the damage was so great that it lead to riots and starvation. Little did he realize, God was using this to soften up those hard hearts in his area. Don’t be surprised if God must make things worse before better if we pray for real revival.

4) George Whitefield’s first visit (1741)

In the middle of this time, George Whitefield came to Cambuslang for the first time – Whitefield is that famous evangelist of the first Great Awakening in the US that McCullough had heard about 6 years before. At those meetings, McCullough witnessed a remarkable hunger for God within his church, the likes of which he had never seen before.  In fact, in early 1742, 90 families signed petitions asking the Pastor to have mid-week teaching times and committing to being there. Remember he isn’t an entertaining teacher.

5) Prayer societies established (1742)

McCullough was so excited – not only did he start that teaching, but he organized these 90 families into those small group prayer societies to encourage growth and accountability.  By May 1742, 300 had been spiritually awakened - with many being first time conversions.

6) George Whitefield’s return (1742)

By summer, Whitefield returned, amazed at all those prayer societies and how serious the people were about spiritual growth.  This time, 20,000 showed up for the meetings and 1,700 took communion. This is a Presbyterian revival.  I forgot to tell that that Cambuslang is a small town of only 1,000 people.  The connection between this wider revival and those prayer societies didn’t escape McCullough’s notice. So he wondered what would happen if the many small groups from different churches would coordinate their prayers and pray the same thing IN CONCERT.  So the first modern CONCERT OF PRAYER happened.  George Whitefield returned one month later and a spiritual earthquake exploded as 30,000 people came and 3,000 took communion just 30 days later.

Can you sense the excitement?  An ordinary pastor longed for revival – for 6 years he prayed fervently & didn’t give up even though no results. Then the gates of hell were shaken open: many came to Christ and many were revived.

C. BASIS: Agreement in prayer

Out of this, 12 Pastors covenanted to pray in CONCERT – not meaning being in the same place, but to pray the same thing – or pray in agreement.  CONCERT here means agreement.  It was this issue of agreement in prayer to see the power of God unleashed that they sought rather than being in the same place at the same time.

1) Simple content of prayer for UNITY

And the way they did this was to make the content simple but visionary.

a) For revival of Christian church

Since the church is the principle agency (not individuals) through which Jesus Christ works and manifests His glory on this earth, that should be focus of prayers – Lord, fire up the church and those in it so they want to obey you and know you better. They agreed to pray regularly for the revival of the church.

b) For the advancement of God’s Kingdom (including evangelism)

Second they agreed to pray for the advancement of God’s Kingdom here on earth. In other words, they were praying that Christianity would take over new territory – people would be saved, Christian values lived in society, and evil thwarted – later worldwide missions added.  THESE WERE TO BE FOCUSED PRAYERS so during these times, they would not also pray for personal things Aunt Helen’s arthritis, or Uncle Joe’s heart attack, no matter how valuable that might also be. They saw themselves as Jacob in the OT not letting go of prayer until given a blessing.

2) Persistent (regular)

3) Use in current contexts at certain time

WHEN DID THEY DO THIS?  Rather than make new meetings, they simply used some of the current gatherings and contexts of their day. Those who were in weekly PRAYER SOCIETIES were asked to pray this way one meeting a month. Those doing daily devotions were encouraged to dedicated just one day a week to these two requests. The majority quickly chose a ½ hour on either Sat night or Sunday morning which also served as their preparation for worship.

4) VISIBLE joint prayer quarterly

Then, just once a quarter – once every three months – the different churches would come together in a single, visible, and corporate place across denominational lines but with a singular purpose: To unitedly ask for God to revive His church and to advance Christ’s kingdom throughout this world.

5) Started with a two year experiment

This started just as a two year experimental commitment between churches in Central Scotland in 1742. A pilot project. After two years – that’s only eight joint meetings – they were so encouraged with what God was doing, that they sent invitations to Christians all through the evangelical world to join them in regularly and persistently praying for the revival of the church and the advancement of God’s kingdom in this world (including John Wesley).

D.  EXPANSION: Jonathan Edwards in USA

In America, Jonathan Edwards was a key person who received an invitation (actually he received 500 to pass around). Jonathan Edwards is America’s most famous pastor and a key person in our First Great Awakening.  So excited was he about this concept that in 1747, Jonathan Edwards wrote a book to promote it entitled: “An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement & Visible Union Among God’s People, in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scriptural Promises, and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time.” It caught on slowly in America but became a must-read book in England.

3.  Examples

Did it make any difference? That concert of prayer – the agreement to pray in a focused, persistent and united way for the revival of the church and the advancement of God’s Kingdom in this world – that concert of prayer became the common denominator in three massive traditional awakenings, the modern missionary movement, and hundreds of localized revivals.

A. 1790’s in USA

Here in USA (and England) the 1780’s and 90’s were a time of spiritual decline much worse than our day today. Churches were empty with a smaller percentage attending than today. The Unitarian and Universalists were gobbling up churches and those that remained evangelical saw many of their people leave to go to those churches which didn’t believe Jesus is God.  The political and educational positions of power were taken over by deists and secular humanists – so confident were they that Voltaire (in Europe) boasted Christianity would die before he did. 

B. James McCready – South

James McCready – a bombastic NC preacher, in fact run out of his area ended up in the backwaters of Logan Country, Kentucky after further training in Pittsburg. There he was assigned to three churches all too small to support a pastor.  Right off, he called them to concerted prayer

  • pray PRIVATE OR INDIVIDUAL PRAYER every Saturday night – once a week to pray for the revival of the church and the advancement of God’s Kingdom here.
  • then gather together once every three months for CORPORATE PRAYER about the same two items. He didn’t have any weekday small group meetings.
  • He then added one more thing Scotland didn’t do. Gather one time a year for communion. One year passed and he was ecstatic with the result.  Two years and he couldn’t believe the joy.  Then in year three, God opened the flood gates of Heaven and in this county of only 2,000 families, 30,000 gathered – and ignited the Second Great Awakening in the Midwest and South – that transformed our country.   

C. William Cary – Beginning of Modern Missionary Movement

They faced the same dismal situation back in England. In 1784, Pastor Fuller of Northhamptonshire saw no positive signs of the advancement of Christianity anywhere in the world, so he called his congregation to see through the eyes of faith. He called them to regularly pray for the revival of the church and the advancement of God’s kingdom through the world and believe God would answer. Did it make any difference? One of those who came to Pastor Fuller’s concert of prayer was – William Carey, a cobbler – and also the founder of our modern missionary movement which has changed the world. Carey committed himself to become a missionary at a Concert of Prayer. He was invited to India by Claudius Buchanan – a Scotsman who grew up in Cambuslang Scotland under Pastor William McCullough. Buchanan’s father came to Christ under George Whitefield’s preaching. Now you know the rest of the story.

D. Four churches of Ipswich, Mass.

Here in New England, the four churches of Ipswich Mass, by Boston, exemplify this.  In 1747, John Cleveland came as Pastor, protégé of Jonathan Edwards.  In 1760, he started CONCERTED PRAYER for these two areas.  Three years later, God brought revival so that other Pastors had to be imported to help with follow-up.  After eight years, they invited three other churches to join them – for 100 years they kept that Concert of Prayer going quarterly between them.  About every seven to eight years God sent a measurable outpouring of His grace on the area and unlike so many others in the area, they were not swept away by Universalism or Unitarianism.  The Concert died during the Civil War – by 1875 all four churches were Unitarian/Universalist and for over 100 years after that, not one evangelical pastor in any of their pulpits.  And there hasn’t been a move of God in that area in Northeast Mass until possibly recently as a quiet revival is going on in Boston (led by ethnic groups).

4.  What are the distinguishing marks of past prayer movements

A. The union of different kinds of Christians - Cong., Meth., & Baptists all together.

B. The pattern of Prayer was woven into the fabric of church life rather than try to start a separate ministry. Wherever there was prayer, they would ask that the people to set aside about one out of every 4 of those times just to concertedly focus on asking God to revive the church and advance God’s kingdom in this world. It was more universal than we realize. In 1846, Dr. Samuel Miller of Princeton wrote a small book about the Concert of Prayer bemoaning that Presbyterian churches were beginning to have only 50% of their people show up at the quarterly, interchurch, joint CONCERTS OF PRAYER. He wondered how it could have gotten that low.

C. They made long, term commitment to prayer – they were going to pray for years confident a harvest would come as God promised. After all it truly was in Jesus’ Name.

D. They prayed with vision – they began to get excited about what it would look like when God poured out His blessing.

5.  What’s Our Experience

A. After several failed attempts, in 1993 five Barre area Pastors began meeting regularly to pray for revival in our area: Albert Collins from Websterville Baptist Church, Joe Hicks from Barre Alliance Church, Steve Doe from Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Terry Dorsett then from Washington Baptist Church and myself. That group now has more than a dozen regulars from the greater Barre area and we continue to meet monthly. We start with prayer instead of sharing, so God can lead us to focus on items that would revive the church and advance Christ’s Kingdom in this area. A subset of pastors meets twice monthly to discuss a Christian book & also prays (but more personal needs).

B. In Jan 1995, I preached this topic and asked everyone to commit to praying for the revival of the church and the advancement of God’s Kingdom. I asked you to set aside one personal time each week just for this and not other things. Several years later, we combined that with our visionary prayer requests which is the basis of our long term planning. We still ask everyone to pray that just once a week. We also established those two requests as a foundation of our public Sunday morning prayers. Starting in 1997 we added the persecuted church & in 1999 we added praying for the other churches or pastors. So in at least 90% of our worship services since then 1995 have publicly prayed for the revival of the church, the advancement of God’s Kingdom in this world, the persecuted church and for God to bless the other Bible-believing churches in our area. We were unsuccessful in getting small groups to take one prayer/share time a month to just pray for these two items.

C. In 1995, we also started a inter-church concert of prayer in May on the National Day of Prayer. We have hosted that annually since then with as many as 11 different churches represented at one time and more than 20 churches overall. Our goal was “4 a year” like in Scotland. For many years, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church sponsored one in November before elections and a couple times the Websterville Baptist Church sponsored one in late August with an emphasis on schools and youth. But we never managed 4 a year. Then in 2006 several newer pastors to our group spontaneously step forward to host joint church prayer times – Mike Lewis at Grace in Williamstown; Tim Sargent at East Barre Congregational; Tom Friedrichs at Orange Alliance; Craig Thompson at First Baptist and Ralph Howe at Hedding Methodist. The first 6 months of last year (2007) were had a different church leading a joint-church prayer meeting each month. While not specifically concerts of prayer just on these two agreed on subjects – they are each a joint agreement for God to work in our area; a concert of prayer. Today at 3 pm at the Methodist Church is the next one; in your newsletter next week you’ll have a calendar of others through June. (NOTE: Dave Newlun of Morning Star Fellowship has also  sponsored an interchurch prayer meeting, but he isn’t a new pastor – just new to our fellowship of pastors)

D. Any results? We’ve been part of a quiet revival. While the spiritual fervor of the Montpelier area has steadily declined and only 100 are in attendance in all the Bible believing churches; we have been on a steady growth and have nearly 1,000 each week here in the Barre area Bible believing churches. We have begun to see mainline churches turn back to their historic faith in Jesus. We have a uniquely close group of pastors from many, very different denomination that share the belief salvation is in Jesus Christ alone. God has begun to answer that prayer in an astounding way that brings joy to us “old-timers”. SO I encourage you to join us in regularly praying for the revival of the church and the advancement of God’s Kingdom: evangelism, mission, morals.