Everyone will admit we are living in an extraordinary season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The events of the past months have been unprecedented.
I spoke with my 95 year old father and asked if he ever experienced anything like this. He hadn’t. He said the Great Depression was different. It was a huge economic disruption, but we were not required to socially isolate. You could still meet with friends, gather in public places, and go to church. This plague, he said, (that is what some of the older generation call this pandemic), is a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a social crisis.
He’s right, but I would add one more thing. This is also an opportune time. What do I mean? We are in one of those rare moments of spiritual openness. People are acutely aware of their need and are more inclined to look up.
I have experienced three such “opportune moments” in my adult life. The first was the week after the Columbine shooting. The second came in the two weeks following 9-11. People felt vulnerable, they were vividly aware of their neediness and ready to look to God. That is the kind of moment we are right now, and it’s not over. It is still an opportune time.
That’s why I believe that right now we must seek God with urgent, focused prayer. Christian leaders must, right now, mobilize the church to pray. Let me explain why prayer is important now. I give you five reminders.
Prayer is a declaration of desperation and dependence
First, prayer is a declaration of our desperation and dependence upon God. We feel that desperation and dependence now. We learned that we are not in control.
The simplest definition of prayer I know is: prayer is a cry. We cry out to God, just like a baby cries out for her parents.
When the leper came to Jesus for healing, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” It was a desperate cry. (Luke 5.12ff)
Often we do not see how desperate we are, until our health is taken away, or we are up against something so big that we need outside intervention.
That’s us right now. We are in deep need. Not only because of this virus-plague, but because we have forgotten God. We think our greatest need is to get a vaccine, or to get the economy back. These are important. But they are not our greatest needs. What we need more than anything else is a spiritual awakening.
That’s what makes this an opportune time. The question is: will our desperation drive us to seek him? Prayer is a declaration of that desperation.
Prayer is often a precursor to revival
Second, prayer is often a precursor to revival and spiritual awakening. We see this in the book of Acts. It can be argued that the greatest spiritual revival ever was Pentecost, described in Acts 2. But what came before Pentecost? Acts 1.14 says they all joined together “devoting themselves to prayer.”
Is that an anomaly? No. As I study church history, I see that prayer and spiritual awakenings are inseparably linked.
Spiritual awakenings manifest a pattern. That pattern usually begins with a time of darkness and desperation. There is spiritual deadness, rebellion, and moral decadence. But then conviction wells up in some leader or group of people who are aware of their sin and backslidden condition and how much it displeases God.
They begin to cry out to God in concerted prayer. As they seek him they turn to the Bible and rediscover who God actually is. They catch a glimpse of his glory and holiness. This standard of holiness exposes their own spiritual condition. There is a new awareness of sin. There is confession, repentance and a turning away from idols. But there is also a turning to Christ. His saving work on the cross becomes precious to them. The Holy Spirit begins to work, not just in individuals. But in larger groups of people. Their faith is renewed. Their hearts are strangely warmed. As a result there are spillover effects: there’s often a new interest in evangelism, missions, moral reform, and social restoration. This is a recurring pattern in revivals. But central to it all is prayer. A. T. Pierson said. “there has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”
Do we hope to see this again? We must seek God in prayer.
Prayer is a lifeline to divine resources
Why is prayer important? Third, prayer is a lifeline to divine resources. That is, when we pray, God provides. Many of us have experienced this time and again. We see it in Scripture as well.
In Matthew 14.13ff, a large crowd of well over 5,000 people is gathered around Jesus. The disciples want to send them away but Jesus says “give them something to eat.” But supplies are low and all they have are five loaves and two fish. Jesus asks them to bring what they have to him. It clearly isn’t enough. So Jesus takes their meager resources, prays and begins distributing it. They not only fed all the people, but there are twelve baskets left over. There is a lesson for the church—little becomes much when God is in it. Give him what you have. When we give it to him, and we pray, time and time again he multiplies it and provides for us in ways that are otherwise inexplicable. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is good news for churches, ministries, and families. Prayer is a lifeline for divine resources.
Prayer is a spiritual weapon against darkness
Fourth, prayer is a spiritual weapon against the forces of darkness. That’s also why we should pray.
In Mark 9, we read about his disciples who were trying to cast a demon out of a young boy and they were not able to. Then Jesus came and cast it out himself. When his disciples asked why they could not do it, he said “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (9.29). In other words, they were trying to do it in their own strength. But their strength was insufficient. They needed the strength of the Lord.
In Ephesians 6.10, Paul writes, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Why? Because that is the only way we can stand against the powers of darkness. Paul then instructs the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God that we may stand. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. Then comes a description of the armor of God we must wear—the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with a readiness to share the gospel, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation.
Unfortunately, that is where we often stop. We forget that there is another weapon in our armory. We forget about what the Puritans called the weapon of “all-prayer.” Paul writes in Ephesians 6.18,19 that we must pray in the Spirit “on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers, for all the saints.”
In other words, prayer is a spiritual weapon to be wielded against the spiritual forces of evil. Does anyone reading this doubt that we are in an era of intense spiritual conflict? We are often defeated. Why is that so? Perhaps it is because we too are operating in our own strength and not the Lord’s strength. Have we forgotten the weapon of all-prayer?
Prayer is a mark of the people of God
Finally, prayer is an identifying mark of the people of God that leads to deeper fellowship with God.
Do you recall what the very first name given to the people of God in Scripture? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not the name Christian or saints. It is not the name Israel or the righteous. The very first name is found in Genesis 4. In that chapter, Cain murdered Abel and evil multiplied. God gave Eve another son named Seth who had son named Enosh. Then it says that “at that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” There it is. That is the first name of the people of God in Scripture. We are people who call upon the name of the Lord. Which makes me ask: are we still?
These days, every evening in my neighborhood at 8.00 you can hear many people crying out like wolves in solidarity with those health workers on the front lines of this pandemic. But I wonder if God’s people are as intentional about crying out to the living God? Have we forgotten who we are?
Prayer is extremely important. It is a declaration of our dependence and desperation, it is often a precursor to revival and awakening, it is a lifeline to divine recourses, it is a spiritual weapon against darkness, and prayer is an identifying mark of the people of God that leads to deeper fellowship with God. That is why it is important and why it is important now.
As we approach this year’s National Day of Prayer, in this opportune moment, let it not be a one-time event, a one and done. Rather, let it become a spark that mobilizes believers to an on-going movement of prayer, pleading with God to revive us yet again.