the war room neighborhood initiativeI was deeply moved by the lead Miss Clara in the movie War Room, an elderly passionate intercessor.  Her role exhibits the effect on the world around them when someone goes into their closet (War Room) and fervently prays.  Hopefully, it will move us in the church today to pray with the same kind of fervency and expectation.

A literal war room is a room at a military headquarters in which strategy is planned and current battle situations are monitored.  This is how Miss Clara prays in the movie.  She is constantly monitoring what is going on in the spiritual battlefield, and praying specifically, and watching to see what God is doing in response to her prayers.

We must clearly see that we are in a battle.  As Paul states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:12, 18).  It is in prayer that we are able to monitor what is going on in the battle and participate in God’s strategy for our cities.

Spiritual warfare associated with what God is doing in bringing His church together incarnationally in neighborhoods is very real.  I hesitate to say too much about this.  I agree with what C.S. Lewis said in Screwtape Letters, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p. 3 1941).

Following after the Lord with this good work has not come without a price.  The enemy is not pleased with the Lord’s church becoming incarnational.  He would be happy if we continue on with our church programs and stay in our buildings.  However, this is not the future of the church; there is a glorious church just around the corner that will shine brightly like our dear Lord when he walked and ministered here on earth.  I believe this with all of my heart, but it will not occur without patient endurance and faithfulness to our Lord.

Without prayer, which is a key weapon in our war chest, we are like a soldier going to battle without a weapon.  Prayer is a mighty instrument that God has given us to tap into His power (Ephesians 3:14-21).  Mary, Queen of Scots was well aware of the power that was released when a faithful man of God prayed.  “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe” (Bruce Atkinson, Land of Hope and Glory, p5, 2012)

John Knox is considered to be the greatest Reformer in the history of Scotland.  “Perhaps more than anything else, John Knox is known for his prayer ‘Give me Scotland, or I die.’ Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church” (Burk Parsons, “Give Me Scotland, or I Die,” Ligonier Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org, March 1, 2014).

Knox, like many other notable church reformers and movement leaders, had a passion for God and His ability to bring reformation and change to a nation.  A.T. Pierson, leader of the modern missions movement, declared,  “From the Day of Pentecost, there has not been one great spiritual awakening in any land which has not begun in a union of prayer, though only among two or three; no such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meetings have declined” (Arthur Wallis, In the Day of Thy Power, p112, 2010)

In the human soul there is resistance to this powerful weapon.  Let’s be honest.  We pastors and leaders and those in God’s church would prefer to do almost anything than to attend a prayer gathering.  Our flesh loathes the thought of prayer.  We have all attended prayer gatherings that have dwindled in size.  Enthusiasm is stirred initially, but after a time there are only the faithful few left standing.  Why?

General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army movement, gives answer to this question.  “You must pray with all your might. That does not mean saying your prayers, or sitting gazing about in church or chapel with eyes wide open while someone else says them for you.  It means fervent, effectual, untiring wrestling with God…This kind of prayer be sure the devil and the world and your own indolent, unbelieving nature will oppose. They will pour water on this flame.” (the Life of General Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army, Volume 1,  Harold Begbie, Pg 84, Macmillan, 1920)  These three, the devil, the world, and the flesh, war against us believers getting into our “war room,” or gathering with other saints to participate in the most powerful activity in this world.  And yet when we evaluate it on the surface, it seems so inconsequential.  However, our Lord says, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).  That reward comes now, in this life.  A life of prayerlessness yields nothing.

Jesus’ half-brother James, “camel’s knees” as he was referred to in his day because of his life of prayer on his knees, states, “…The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16 NKJV).  It says “much.”  This kind of praying is effective.

What kind of praying?  Fervent praying.  The word “fervent” that James uses here literally means “boiling, hot, glowing.” Figuratively it means “violent, impetuous, furious, or empassioned.” James is talking about passionate praying.  If you watch the movie War Room, Miss Clara embodies this passion when she prays, a kind of prayer that is missing in most churches today.  James also uses the word “effectual.”  He is saying passionate the praying of a righteous person is successful in producing a desired or intended result.  Miss Clara’s passionate prayers produced desired results.  What is the church missing out on?  It is missing out on the great things God wants to do through us collectivity.  But it begins with the kind of person and kind of prayer that James is speaking of here.

In the early days, where I was a college pastor, we as a congregation went through a very lengthy sustained season of prayer and we saw incredible things happen in and through our congregation.  We would come together on Wednesday evenings for teaching.  Afterward, we would gather for an extended time of prayer.  There was a great sense of God’s presence and a strong desire to come together to pray.  It was something that wasn’t man centered, but a unique move of God.  It was during the early days of the Jesus Movement.  God was moving in a powerful way.

At the heart of this sustained season of prayer was an elderly woman, Grandma Kelly as we fondly called her.  I remember her saying, “I feel like this young woman trapped in this old body.”  She was spiritually alive.  She would wake early each morning and pray for hours for our pastor and staff and our church.  She was one amazing woman of God.  I am sure she received a “rich welcome” when she entered into heaven.  I believe her passionate prayers had a great deal of influence in our season of sustained prayer.

Eventually, the prayer gatherings dwindled and died out.  I believe it was after Grandma Kelly had past.  From time to time we would try to start the prayer meetings up again, but there was no momentum anymore nor interest like what we experienced in those early days.

Jeremiah Lanphier, a man like Grandma Kelly, who understood the power that is released when God’s people come together to pray.  Here is his story.

This is a record of something God did 130 years ago in New York City. It illustrates how God has started every harvest time in history, through the concerted prayer of his people. Toward the middle of the last century the glow of earlier religious awakenings had faded. America was prosperous and felt little need to call on God. But in the 1850s .

Secular and religious conditions combined to bring about a crash. The third great panic in American history swept the giddy structure of speculative wealth away. Thousands of merchants were forced to the wall as banks failed, and railroads went into bankruptcy. Factories were shut down and vast numbers thrown out of employment. New York City alone having 30,000 idle men. In October 1857, the hearts of people were thoroughly weaned from speculation and uncertain gain, while hunger and despair stared them in the face.

On 1st July, 1857, a quiet and zealous business man named Jeremiah Lanphier took up an appointment as a City Missionary in down-town New York. Lanphier was appointed by the North Church of the Dutch Reformed denomination. This church was suffering from depletion of membership due to the removal of the population from the down-town to the better residential quarters, and the new City Missionary was engaged to make diligent visitation in the immediate neighbourhood with a view to enlisting church attendance among the floating population of the lower city. The Dutch Consistory felt that it had appointed an ideal layman for the task in hand, and so it was.

Burdened so by the need, Jeremiah Lanphier decided to invite others to join him in a noonday prayer-meeting, to be held on Wednesdays once a week. He therefore distributed a handbill:

 

HOW OFTEN SHALL I PRAY?

As often as the language of prayer is in my heart; as often as I see my need of help; as often as I feel the power of temptation; as often as I am made sensible of any spiritual declension or feel the aggression of a worldly spirit.

In prayer we leave the business of time for that of eternity, and intercourse with men for intercourse with God.

A day Prayer Meeting is held every Wednesday, from 12 to 1 o’clock, in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and William Streets (entrance from Fulton and Ann Streets).

This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and business men generally an opportunity to stop and call upon God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who may find it inconvenient to remain more than five or ten minutes, as well as for those who can spare the whole hour.

Accordingly at twelve noon, 23rd September, 1857 the door was opened and the faithful Lanphier took his seat to await the response to his invitation.. Five minutes went by. No one appeared. The missionary paced the room in a conflict of fear and faith. Ten minutes elapsed. Still no one came. Fifteen minutes passed. Lanphier was yet alone. Twenty minutes; twenty-five; thirty; and then at 12.30 p.m., a step was heard on the stairs, and the first person appeared, then another, and another, and another, until six people were present and the prayer meeting began. On the following Wednesday, October 7th, there were forty intercessors.

Thus in the first week of October 1857, it was decided to hold a meeting daily instead of weekly ..

Within six months, ten thousand business men were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts were added to the American churches ..

Undoubtedly the greatest revival in New York’s colourful history was sweeping the city, and it was of such an order to make the whole nation curious. There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray

(J. Edwin Orr, The Light of the Nations pp. 103-105, 2006).

 

A movement like this is undoubtedly needed in our nation today.  It starts with those who are convinced that God works powerfully through the prayers of His saints.

 

When people from my present congregation started all-night prayer meetings for our city back in May of 2000, Dallas Willard said, “Give it five years.”  At the time it didn’t set well with us.  The all-night prayer meetings continued for a season and eventually transitioned into pastors and leaders praying together weekly.  Our objective was to come together to pray for churches throughout our Valley and for our city, to develop caring relationships with one another, and to wait on the Lord to show us what He wanted us to do together in our city.  After more than a decade of prayer, Neighborhood Initiative surfaced as God’s desired plan.

 

We have continued to pray together over all these years.  There are ebbs and flows to the number that join us each week: but the point is this, we have remained faithful to Him in prayer and are waiting and watching to see what He will do in response to our years of praying together.

 

If we want to see God move in our cities, we need to go into our closet and come together and pray like those reformers in the past did.   With the anti-Christian sentiment growing in our nation today, we pastors and leaders need to gather and pray like those in the early church.

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:29-31).

 

This is our starting point for a neighboring movement in our cities.  It was in this context that the church was birthed and continued to advance throughout the known world.

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