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  • Writer's pictureMark Walker

A Call to Extraordinary and United Prayer

In recent days, we at The Cell Church have sensed the Lord’s leading to call upon the prison churches to unite with one another and with us for a season of extraordinary prayer. We desire to call on God for a fresh movement of His Spirit among the prison churches. We long to see a great revival or awakening begin which will spread through the prison system and into the community, that the kingdom of God might advance and the name of Jesus be exalted. The following call was sent into Colorado prisons in mid-June, 2015. We hope that many of our supporters in the community will join the prison churches in a season of prayer for God's favor.

After consultation with brothers in several of the prison churches, we have decided to call on the brethren in all the churches to join us in a week of focused prayer, from Wednesday, July 8, 2015 through Tuesday, July 14, 2015. The idea is not necessarily to spend every moment of the week in prayer, but simply that we all make an effort to set aside as much time for prayer during the week as possible, and that when we do pray we all focus together on petitioning God for a great movement of His Spirit among the prison churches, that laborers might be raised up, believers might be revived and empowered, and unbelievers might be converted on a large scale. We encourage those who are medically able to consider fasting on the first and seventh days as well, but merely as a suggestion – please do as you feel led by the Spirit. The main thing is to set aside this specific period of time so that we might all petition God together, with one mind and in one accord, for His blessing.

We did not select the dates for this week of prayer at random. On July 8, 1741, American theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon at Enfield, Connecticut that God used mightily to fan the flame of the huge revival known as the Great Awakening. As the Spirit swept across New England, as many as 50,000 people came to faith in Christ and joined churches. There is nothing special about July 8th, but we would like to begin our week of prayer on that date as a reminder that we appear before the throne of the same God Edwards served, the God whose Spirit of power awakened 50,000 souls during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. He can do the same thing in the prisons of Colorado today.

Edwards viewed corporate prayer as a key element of the revival. “Prayer societies, while not new, were essential parts of the evangelical awakenings. Edwards had organized meetings for prayer and praise for various groups and districts of Northampton since before the revival of 1734-35.”[1] When the Great Awakening began to dissipate and religious life in New England once again started to decline, Edwards longed for a renewal of the spectacular work of God which he had witnessed, and issued a call to united prayer:

"When the New England revivals began to fade in the mid-1740s, Edwards and other evangelicals looked for ways to reinvigorate the religious situation. One proposal that attracted his attention came from ministers in Scotland with whom he corresponded. They proposed and Edwards accepted their plan for a 'concert of prayer.' They called for the establishment of prayer societies on both sides of the Atlantic to pray for the advancement of the kingdom of God. They agreed to unite in prayer at designated times, confident that God would pour out his Spirit on those so engaged. The result would be times of renewed revival."[2]

"In these times of religious decline and imperial strife, he joined with other evangelicals in Great Britain who were proposing that prayer might well be the means for promoting the kingdom of God. A number of ministers in Edinburgh were organizing a 'concert of prayer' in which Christians from all corners of the world would unite on a given day to pray for an outpouring of the Spirit…In 1747-48 Edwards wrote a treatise in support of the concert of prayer, the title of which summarizes its substance and eschatological framework: An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies concerning the Last Time…Edwards assembled a variety of reasons for participating in the effort, including the notion that God promised to pour out the Spirit in great abundance in the latter days…"[3]

In his Humble Attempt, Edwards argued from Scripture for the efficacy of such united prayer on the part of God’s people. He focused in particular on a passage from chapter 8 of Zechariah: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD” (Zechariah 8:20-22 ESV). Discussing Zechariah’s prophecy, Edwards wrote:

"But it appears to me reasonable, to suppose, that something more special is intended, with regard to the duty of prayer; considering that prayer is here expressly and repeatedly mentioned; and also considering how parallel this place is with many other prophecies, that speak of an extraordinary spirit of prayer, as preceding and introducing that glorious day of revival of religion, and advancement of the church’s peace and prosperity, so often foretold (which I shall have occasion to mention hereafter)[4] and particularly the agreeableness of what is here said, with what is said afterwards by the same prophet, of the 'pouring out of a spirit of grace and supplications,' as that with which this great revival of religion shall begin (Zech. 12:10)."[5]

Jesus’ teaching on prayer confirms that the greatest blessing we are to seek from the hand of God in prayer is the Spirit Himself:

"And he said to them, 'Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him"; and he will answer from within, "Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything"? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'” (Luke 11:5-13 ESV).

Commenting on this passage, Edwards noted:

"The Spirit of God is the chief of the blessings, that are the subject matter of Christian prayer; for it is the sum of all spiritual blessings; which are those that we need infinitely more than all others, and are those wherein our true and eternal happiness consists. That which is the sum of the blessings that Christ purchased, is the sum of the blessings that Christians have to pray for; but that, as was observed before, is the Holy Spirit: and therefore when the disciples came to Christ, and desired him to teach them to pray (Luke 11), and he accordingly gave them particular directions for the performance of this duty. The conclusion of his whole discourse, in the 13th verse, plainly shews that the Holy Spirit is the sum of the blessings that are the subject matter of that prayer about which he had instructed them. 'If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?' From which words of Christ, we may also observe, that there is no blessing that we have so great encouragement to pray for, as the Spirit of God; the words imply that our heavenly Father is especially ready to bestow his Holy Spirit on them that ask him. Of the more excellent nature any benefit is that we stand in need of, the more ready God is to bestow it in answer to prayer: the infinite goodness of God’s nature is the more gratified, and the grand design and aim of the contrivance and work of our redemption is the more answered, and Jesus Christ the Redeemer has the greater success in his undertaking and labors; and those desires that are expressed in prayer for the most excellent blessings are the most excellent desires, and consequently such as God most approves of, and is most ready to gratify. The Scriptures don’t only direct and encourage us in general to pray for the Holy Spirit above all things else, but it is the expressly revealed will of God, that his church should be very much in prayer for that glorious outpouring of the Spirit that is to be in the latter days, and the things that shall be accomplished by it."[6]

In many other places Edwards argues for the necessity and efficacy of united prayer for revival:

  • “God speaks of himself as standing ready to be gracious to his church, and to appear for its restoration, and only waiting for such an opportunity to bestow this mercy, when he shall hear the cries of his people for it, that he may bestow it in answer to their prayers. Is. 30:18-19.” [7]

  • “From the whole we may infer, that it is a very suitable thing, and well-pleasing to God, for many people, in different parts of the world, by express agreement, to come into a visible union, in extraordinary, speedy, fervent and constant prayer, for those great effusions of the Holy Spirit, which shall bring on that advancement of Christ’s church and kingdom, that God has so often promised shall be in the latter ages of the world.” [8]

  • “Scripture instances and examples of success in prayer give great encouragement to pray for this mercy. Most of the remarkable deliverances and restorations of the church of God, that we have account of in the Scripture, were in answer to prayer.” [9]

  • “As ‘tis the glory of the church of Christ, that she, in all her members, however dispersed, is thus one, one holy society, one city, one family, one body; so it is very desirable, that this union should be manifested. And become visible; and so, that her distant members should act as one, in those things that concern the common interest of the whole body, and in those duties and exercises wherein they have to do with their common Lord and Head, as seeking of him the common prosperity. It becomes the members of a particular family, who are so strictly united, and have in so many respects one common interest, to unite in prayer to God for the things they need…Such an union in prayer for the general outpouring of the Spirit of God, would not only be beautiful, but profitable too. It would tend very much to promote union and charity between distant members of the church of Christ, and a public spirit, and love to the church of God, and concern for the interest of Zion; as well as be an amiable exercise and manifestation of such a spirit.” [10]

  • “As there is so great and manifold reason from the Word of God, to think that if a spirit of earnest prayer for that great effusion of the Spirit of God which I am speaking of, prevailed in the Christian church, the mercy would be soon granted; so those that are engaged in such prayer might expect the first benefit. God will come to those that are seeking him and waiting for him (Is. 25:9 and 26:8).” [11]

So we close our own call to prayer with the following encouragements from Scripture:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 36:37-38 ESV).

"On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth." (Isaiah 62:6-7 ESV)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

"And he said to them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” (Luke 10:2)

"And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him." (1 John 5:14-15)

After calling God’s people to prayer for revival, Jonathan Edwards died in 1758. In 1790, the Second Great Awakening began in America. It was much longer than the first (lasting around 40 years), and had a greater impact on American society than any other revival in our history. Who can measure the influence of united prayer on the outpouring of God’s Spirit during the Second Great Awakening? Let us seek God together, taking no rest and giving Him no rest, until He grants us a similar work of His Spirit among the prison churches today. He is well able to bring it to pass, for the fame of His name!

"When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it." (Isaiah 41:17-20 ESV)

[1] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 334.

[2] Stephen J. Stein, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 190.

[3] Sang Hyun Lee, ed., The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 234.

[4] We do not agree with the postmillennial eschatological conclusions which Edwards draws from this, and other similar biblical prophecies. However, we believe that his point about the scriptural theme of great seasons of prayer preceding great revivals is biblical, and that is our focus here.

[5] Jonathan Edwards, “An Humble Attempt,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 5, ed. Stephen J. Stein (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977), 315.

[6] Edwards, 347-348.

[7] Edwards, 354.

[8] Edwards, 320.

[9] Edwards, 355.

[10] Edwards, 365-366.

[11] Edwards, 356.

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