2 Corinthians 5:11–21
Last week we celebrated Pentecost. That was the day when the Holy Spirit came down on the first disciples as fire. They saw what looked like fire and their hearts were set on fire. They were filled with passion, and they went out and started Christianity.
Pentecost came at the end of 10 days of prayer. This was not a coincidence.
In 1999 a prayer meeting started in the United Kingdom. That prayer meeting has now been going for 16 years without a break.
I don’t know how you feel about prayer meetings, but some people find the whole idea boring. They cannot imagine spending ten whole days doing nothing but praying. Never mind 16 years!
In fact some people struggle with just a few minutes of prayer. They put up with it in church services because that is what you are supposed to do.
Have you heard people say it doesn’t work. It doesn’t change anything. If you try to tell them it does work, they will tell you how it didn’t work for them. In many cases these people totally believed they would get what they asked for, because what they asked for was a good thing. Or because they asked fervently and humbly. I wonder if some people think that after they have done their duty of asking, God then has to do his duty of giving.
The ten days of prayer that ended at Pentecost had an amazing answer. Of course it was a different kind of prayer. It was prayer all about God’s will. Those are the prayers that get answered dramatically.
We read this morning in 2 Corinthians: ‘We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”’
The purpose of the 16-year-long prayer meeting in UK is, they say, to prioritise Christ’s two greatest commandments. They are to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30). Their aim is to pray and work for reconciliation at three levels. Spiritually – where there is broken relationship with God. Socially – where there is broken relationship between people. And environmentally – where there is broken relationship with our world. Prayer exists, they say, because ‘God has given us this task of reconciling people to him’. They seek to do this by mobilising the church in prayer, mission and justice.
Three hundred years ago, or almost two hundred years before Jinju Church was established, history notes certain events. In Paris in 1715 the first folding umbrella was made. In Rome, Pope Clement officially condemned ancestor worship in Korea. When he came to the throne in Korea a few years later, Emperor Yongjo was strongly anti-Christian because of this.
At this time in Europe there was something happening that most people did not notice.
A rich young Austrian was inspired to form ‘little churches within the church’ to act as a leaven, revitalising and unifying churches into one communion. Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf believed that in the 200 years since Martin Luther posted his 95 theses that institutions and dogma had, in many people’s minds, choked the life out of the Reformation.
On his estate in Germany he gave a home to refugees from religious persecution and they formed a religious community. Together in 1727 they began a prayer meeting that continued non-stop for over 100 years.
They began the prayer meeting because for over five years the fellowship had been suffering dissension and bickering. There was almost no sign of spiritual power.
The reason the prayer meeting lasted over 100 years is not that nothing happened until then. Think about the disciples in the upstairs room. They had an amazing experience of God’s power after ten days, but they didn’t stop praying then. They kept on praying and amazing things kept on happening, such as Peter’s miraculous release from prison.
There is no thought here of praying for what we want, and then stopping when we get what we want. And only praying again when we want something else.
This is continuous prayer for God to do amazing things and release his power in the world through us. What did we just read in 2 Corinthians 5? “We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.”
Count Zinzendorf and his friends kept praying for over 100 years because it made such an enormous difference. Within four months these praying Christians were aglow with new life and power, dissension vanished and unbelievers were converted. Their average age when they started was about 30, and Zinzendorf himself was just 27.
One very practical decision they made at the beginning was to break the prayer into one-hour chunks. There was never any plan for how long the prayer would be sustained, only the aim to keep the sacred fire burning on the altar. They took their cue from Leviticus. “The fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times. It must never go out.” (Leviticus 6:13)
They began an hourly intercession of scheduled prayer. Someone would pray for one hour somewhere in the world every hour of every day. They went out around the world from this prayer meeting. They sent missionaries to the colonies of America. Thousands came to faith.
Within 65 years they had sent out 300 missionaries.
In 1739, twelve years after the prayer meeting began, John Wesley met and was so inspired by these missionaries that he started to pray through the night. The power of God came upon Wesley and his friends at three in the morning.
This 3am encounter impacted Wesley’s life profoundly, propelling him out from the prayer room like a meteor.
John Wesley, his brother Charles Wesley and young fire-brand George Whitefield would continue to impact Europe and North America for generations to come, until to this day. John taught and strategized, George preached and Charles composed some of the greatest hymns of all time.
The Great Awakening of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield stimulated the formation of many of America’s great universities. It happened because of prayer. It happened because with prayer the Holy Spirit gave people the power to tell others about Jesus.
What does this mean to you? Does it make you want to be part of a prayer meeting? This is why we have made prayer cards. Our goal is for us all to pray together once a day. Every day. Maybe we will find more people want to become involved and this will grow. The first thing to do though is to start.
As we give ourselves to this season of prayer we don’t know what the future holds. Perhaps there will be a spectacular outpouring, or perhaps there will be quieter consequences of so much prayer. That’s up to God. We pray, because Jesus asked us to. ‘He said to Peter,“Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”’ (Matthew 26:40–41)
It was his darkest moment, there in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus needed his three best friends like never before. Instead, they slept. As we keep watch through the hours, the tides and the seasons of testing and turmoil, we draw near to Jesus in a very special way.
This model of watchfulness and presence was the very heartbeat of tabernacle and temple, represented by the flame that burned continually on the altar. The priests, with their faithful schedule of worship and sacrifice, kept that flame of God’s presence burning perpetually for many generations. They did this because to them, this flame represented the very heart of the nation’s identity, rooted as it was in relationship with Yahweh. As we pray we too are tending the flame of God’s presence at the heart of our community, fulfilling a priestly role for the people all around.
Isaiah predicted a watchman people who would one day give themselves no rest and give God no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes her ‘the praise of the earth’. Jesus himself lived a life of perfect watchfulness, continually attentive to his Father. Practically, this often meant praying right through the night (Luke 6:12).
Beginning with the Upper Room in Jerusalem, God’s people have been inspired to maintain a prayerful vigil. In this Holy Space we can walk and talk with God as we did once upon a time in the Garden of Eden and as we will again in heaven, one day soon.
As we increase in prayer, God’s presence will increase among us. Don’t you want that?