Recently I spent fifteen days in San Francisco with Church Intensive, a training and equipping ministry of We Are Church, the house church movement in San Francisco. My goal was to learn more about the house church movement there. Seven participants, including myself, met with elders, pastors, and other leaders from the house churches. The experience profoundly affected me.
I was expecting to meet like-minded people. I did. I was expecting to get a better understanding of the structure of their organization. I did. I was expecting to learn about their values and practices. I did. But I was not expecting a move of the Holy Spirit in my own life that continues within me today. And it all began with prayer.
Every morning we met together for prayer. But it was not like any prayer meeting I have ever attended. I struggle to describe it.
Our group sat in the living room of the building where we were staying. Usually, I cradled a cup of coffee in my hands. We sat in silence until someone in the group prayed. When someone prayed, the rest listened carefully, praying silently with them. When someone finished praying, we sat silently waiting for the Spirit to move someone else to pray. We became comfortable with long moments of silence. There was no prayer list. We prayed as the Holy Spirit led. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would bring to mind a passage of Scripture to someone, and they would read the passage to the group. Other times the Holy Spirit would bring to mind a worship song, and someone would play it on their cell phone. We sang along or sat and listened to what the Holy Spirit was saying through the song. The cadence of prayer moved back and forth from heaven to earth and back again. We prayed as the Holy Spirit led. The Holy Spirit spoke through the prayers, Scripture, and song. We responded in prayer. On it went. Over time the Holy Spirit wove a theme of what he was saying to us. Sometimes the prayer time lasted almost two hours. No one wanted to quit. We soaked in the presence of God during those moments. For fifteen days we met like this. On the last day, when the final amen was spoken, I was profoundly saddened to know this experience was ending. In my short fifty-three years, I’ve never experienced the Holy Spirit moving in prayer as I did in these gatherings. I will never be content to just go through the motions again.
These prayer times are the one thing I intend to replicate here at home. I believe it is the key to my life and ministry. It is the key to the renewal of the Church in North America. Prayer. Simple, Holy Spirit led prayer.
Over the past several months, I’ve blogged about prayer. God has taken me on a personal journey in this area. But this time I saw prayer in the context of the Church. Now I am beginning to understand what prayer could look like in our gatherings. Imagine what would happen if our churches prayed like this.
I long to see churches pray with passion. Not just going through a list, but humbly pleading with God to revive their church, their families, and their homes. I long to hear reports of people confessing their sins to one another and praying for one another. I long to hear of marriages restored because someone begged God to intercede. I long to see the fullness of the Holy Spirit poured out in my generation, for my country, because people prayed. I long to hear of buildings shaking because the Holy Spirit moved as people prayed. It has happened before. Why should I be content with less?
Please hear my heart. I love the Church. I hurt for the Church in North America. A few of our churches are healthy. Perhaps your church is one of the healthy ones. I celebrate with you. But in North America, most of our churches are unhealthy. Most are slowly dying. Instead of injecting the renewing work of the Holy Spirit into our dying churches, we’ve caked layers of makeup on the dying bodies. We repaint the sanctuary. We install chairs instead of pews. We change the music. We try the latest program. We try anything but prayer. Frankly, I am broken over this. Meanwhile, God is calling us to the simplicity of prayer. Will we heed the call?
Consider these passages:
“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (Luke 19:46, ESV).
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another…” (James 5:16, ESV).
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7, ESV).
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, ESV).
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12, ESV).
“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18, ESV).
“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer…” (Acts 1:14, ESV).
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31, ESV).
Throughout history, every move of God has started with prayer. In the generations before us, revivals swept continents because someone prayed. Think about that.
I returned home from San Francisco. I unpacked my suitcase. I made a cup of coffee and made my way over to my favorite chair. I sat for a moment in silence. I bowed my head, and a simple prayer pursed my lips.
“Lord, teach us to pray.”