15 years ago I felt the encouragement of God to call our city to spend 40 days focused on praying together for revival in our city. For a couple of years leading up to this our church had undertaken some prayer seasons like this. Generally, our church had found such seasons very helpful. We had felt encouraged in our faith and after one such season we saw our evening service grow from about 30 regulars to well over 120 people in about 3 months with many of the city’s youth coming to faith. It felt like a mini revival.
The funny thing was that our little country church, which was an Anglican church, was full of Pentecostals. Part of this was due to the ministry team being broad in our churchman-ship and partly that everybody who found themselves in a theological and stylistic middle ground gravitated to that church. It was a great mix. We found ourselves appreciating all that the seemingly different traditions and styles brought to each other.
I had a feeling however that this sense of unity and humble appreciation wasn’t the case outside of our four walls.
Years before I had been on a ministry team in a Pentecostal church plant in suburban Sydney. The pastor had started the plant with a local letterbox drop outlining why the Pentecostal church was superior to any of the established local churches. In moving in these circles I found out that this feeling wasn’t just localised to our church. On the other hand, having spent 8 years in Anglican ministry after this had shown me that these feelings were generally reciprocated. Any chance to criticise the Pentecostals in either sermons or conversations were generally taken.
So it was into this uneasy context that I felt the encouragement to take this prayer season beyond our four walls and into the wider body of Christ in our city. The plan was to meet with 10 pastors individually one by one across our city and share how we had experienced our seasons of prayer and ask them to consider joining other churches as we prayed and fasted for 40 days for our city.
As I arranged each of the meetings and they approached I felt about as nervous as I ever had. I had a genuine fear from the friction that I had observed over many years in church life. It seems so much easier to divide that to unite. Humans tend to feel comfortable grouped with like-minded people and creating echo chambers that confirm how right we are and how misguided others are. I know I do it and I suspect none of us are immune.
I don’t think many of us would disagree that the church is called to pray. I don’t think that many of us would disagree that the church is called to unity. But if we were to marry these ideas we become quickly unstuck. Pentecostals and Anglicans tend to avoid each other. In fact, really we all do it. Baptists, Apostolic, Presbyterians, Salvos, all of us. We so often elevate our style to a godlike state so that we miss out on seeing the whole.
Jonathan Edwards encountered a similar mindset hundreds of years ago. He was so passionate about pushing against this that he wrote a well named book in 1746 called An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer, For the Revival and Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. In this book he proposed that “In Zechariah 8:20-22 we have an account of how this future advancement of the Church should occur. It would come to fruition as multitudes from different towns resolve to unite in extraordinary prayer, seeking God until He manifests Himself and grants the fruits of his presence”.
Edwards was no stranger to united fervent prayer and he was no stranger to the extraordinary outpourings of revival that this type of prayer gives birth to.
So as I met with each pastor and shared our story I was amazed at what transpired. Every single church that I asked joined with us. We had 4 Anglican churches, 3 Pentecostal, a Baptist and some Uniting churches all setting aside 40 days to seek God for their city in a united cry. In fact other churches found out about this and asked to join. All up 13 churches in a city with a history of church splits and individualism came together for an extraordinary time of prayer.
If you talk to people who are seeing revival like situations across the planet today there seems to be a theme. That theme is that those who wouldn’t normally prayer together hold their style a little bit more loosely and find each other in extraordinary united fervent prayer. As we long for outpourings like the Great Awakenings, Edwards calls to us from the pages of history “come together like never before”.