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The Forgotten Urgency of Corporate Prayer

Little known fact…the date was August 11, 2000 and I stood at the top of one of the Twin Towers in New York City, overlooking downtown Manhattan, and taking in the wonder and beauty of the city. Exactly one year and one month later, to the very day, that very building I stood in that towered over the city, even the world, came crashing down to smithereens, when terrorists would fly a commercial plane right through the middle of it. It was an event that would bring America to its knees, change the world, and change the way we travel…forever.

The reason I was in New York City at the time was because a good friend of mine and I were there meeting with leaders of the famed Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. We were young in ministry at the time, and we were just gleaning everything we could about church life and ministry. We had read the books about how God had moved in the church from its beginning, books like “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” and others. The leaders of the church were gracious to accommodate us. On our visit, we learned that what the books had testified to was absolutely true. The Brooklyn Tabernacle was not built so much on its Choir, its programs, its strategies, or anything of the sort, although God certainly used those things to reach many. But ultimately, what gave the church its vitality and life was one primary thing…their commitment to prayer.

Our visit was to conclude with attending their Tuesday night weekly Prayer Service. The service was to begin at 6:30pm. Our schedule included dinner at 4:00pm, meeting with the Pastors at 5:30pm, then we would be ushered into the service to our assigned seats. I asked, “Why would we need assigned seats?” To my surprise, they responded, “Because there won’t be an empty seat in the house.” That’s correct, no empty seats for a prayer service on a weeknight. I could only dream of such a thing where I came from…still today. Incidentally, there was no parking lot at the church building because it’s in the middle of downtown Brooklyn. The only way to get there is to walk or take the Subway…after work. Thousands of them did this each week.

The astonishment did not end there. In the middle of a Q&A Session, the Pastors abruptly ended our session, saying that they “could not wait any longer to get into the Prayer Meeting!” The time was 6:10pm. It was still twenty minutes until the service started, and their excitement could not keep them out of the room. Wow, what if church folk felt that way about every prayer and worship service? Next, much to my amazement, they opened a back door to the sanctuary of the church building to usher us into the room.

The first thing I saw when the door opened was a young man wearing a Patrick Ewing New York Knicks jersey, on his knees, at the altar, hands lifted high, praying. There was not an empty seat in the house. I remind you, this is twenty minutes before the prayer service started. The entire sanctuary was full and the church had already started praying before the service had started. The collective murmur of prayers being lifted up was jarring, and yet incredibly pleasing all at the same time. It washed over me in an indescribable way. I thought, is this how Heaven will be? When the congregation began to sing so loud it shook the walls, I knew, “Yes, this has to be how Heaven will be!”

There are two times in my life when I’ve been in worship services that were so loud I literally could not hear myself sing. One was when the sound was mixed so loud by the soundman it was almost unbearable. But this one was totally different. It was so loud, not because of a guy turning up knobs on a soundboard, but because the people were singing so loud and with such joy. This sound was heavenly and made you feel like you were about to leap through the roof in joy and expectation.

I learned something very important on that trip. The Holy Spirit is not geographical. The Brooklyn Tabernacle didn’t have the market covered on where God moves and where He doesn’t. It’s actually quite simple…where God’s people hunger for Him, He will respond, and He will move. I came back and weeks later started a monthly prayer service. Honestly, I didn’t think people would make the commitment to come weekly and come on Sunday also. To this day, I’m still waiting for the day when I show up to a Church Prayer Service, and there’s not an empty seat in the house because the people couldn’t wait to get there. Truthfully, for most today, a prayer service is more like something they just don’t have time for on their already busy schedule.

I will indict myself as I conclude this particular Insight. Our church currently has four scheduled Prayer Services a year. That is one per quarter. That is four out of 365 days in a year. That’s approximately 1.1% of anyone’s time. Before COVID, we were a church of about 600 people. I’m really not sure what we are now because they’re all scattered for various reasons. At our most recent prayer service this week, we had around 35-40 people. Not too bad I suppose. I know, I know, people are busy, they have schedules, they need somewhere to put their kids, and COVID is going on and people don’t want to risk it. Okay fair enough, but that’s only a little less than all we’ve ever had for a prayer service, even when things were normal…four times a year. I also know that people can pray individually wherever they are, but I’m not talking about private prayer. I’m talking about the powerful prayer that happens when believers collectively come together. Where is everyone?

As I drove home this week after the Prayer Service, I labored over this thought. In the middle of a pandemic that shut the world down, drove people into isolation, crippled them with fear, in the middle of one of the most pivotal elections in our history, in the middle of one of the most divisive times in our world, and one of the most challenging years in anyone’s lifetime, what would take priority over a large group of people gathering for prayer in such a time as this? But the truth is, I’ve been wondering that ever since I walked out of that Tabernacle in Brooklyn. But more specifically, I have to ask myself, what is it about my leadership that has failed to the point that no one feels the passion or motivation to come out for prayer? I am left with that struggle today, and I have to own my part of it.

We desire revival and spiritual renewal so greatly for our Nation, yet when things seem to be unraveling all around us, we wonder why it still tarries. We can’t even get a crowd together to pray in the most desperate of times. So, without trying to be too aggressive or pushy, I labor with that responsibility today, looking at no one but myself first.

Just one year and one month later to the day, when I was changed in a Prayer Service in New York City, nineteen men came over here and tore our country to shreds. Just nineteen men, committed to their cause, sold out to their god, brought the most powerful nation in the history of mankind to a standstill and changed everything forever. So I’m left to wonder, if just nineteen men could do that, what could millions of church folk who were committed to prayer, and sold out to their God, the actual One-True God, do to change a nation? Maybe one day I’ll do more than wonder. But it has to start with me first, my purpose, my passion, my priority…TODAY.


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