NASHVILLE (BP) -- In 1995 a Texas pastor called and asked me to pray for his church and give some counsel. From the evidence of love and unity in the congregation, the pastor believed the church had experienced a revival -- not a series of services but a return to right relationships with God and one another. The church had two concerns: first, they wanted to become more of a people of prayer; and second, they wanted to be part of a spiritual harvest.
Easter to Pentecost: 50 days of praying
This Texas congregation began 50 days of prayer starting Easter Sunday and continuing through Pentecost Sunday. Families were given a 50-day calendar with a Scripture for each day. They were asked to gather as a family to read and discuss a Scripture each day, decide what they needed to do to apply the truths to their lives, and pray. With a focus on reaching lost people, they began making a list of people in their circles of relationships who were not Christians. Families (some praying together for the first time) faithfully lifted these names to the Lord in prayer.
The church also held a six-week study of prayer in all their Sunday School classes from sixth grade through senior adults. They used a workbook now titled "Growing Disciples: Pray in Faith." Participants were learning to pray during the week, and then they conducted prayer meetings in their classes to practice what they were learning. One lesson each week helped them learn how to pray together more effectively. During the worship services, they collected prayer request cards. A team of intercessors prayed during the services for the spiritual needs of the people present.
Following the model for "Pentecostal Prayer Meetings" described by Andrew Murray of South Africa (in "The Prayer Life"), the church conducted 10 days of corporate prayer meetings on the days leading up to Pentecost. One night they commissioned a mission team that left for Russia. Another night they invited the other Baptists in their small county to join them for prayer. They invited other denominations to join them one night in praying for their town. Other corporate prayer experiences included cottage prayer meetings, prayerwalking around town, prayer-driving in the county, and other kinds of corporate prayer.
I had the privilege of joining this church for their celebration of Pentecost, including wonderful testimonies and a Baptist feast (dinner on the grounds). They even received a special "first fruits" offering to provide ministry to needy people outside of the church membership. I was amazed at the quality of corporate prayer I observed.
People were expecting a huge response at invitation time, but only one young boy made a public profession of faith. Their enthusiasm for a spiritual harvest seemed to burst. Only one other "first fruit" of spiritual harvest happened that afternoon as a woman from the community came to seek counsel from the pastor. She had seen the service on the local cable channel. She wanted to know God the way people described their experiences in their testimonies that morning. I returned home a bit discouraged.
An abundant spiritual harvest
Three months later, I received a follow-up report from the pastor that reignited my heart. Their mission team to Russia had led more than 400 people to the Lord. Additionally, although the church had been involved in prison ministry for many years, that summer they saw nearly 300 prisoners accept Christ. And in their small community, 25 of the lost people for whom they had prayed between Easter and Pentecost professed their faith in Jesus Christ! Many members said, "Pastor, we can't go back to the old way of doing things."
I recently told that story to a pastor in Alabama who has been leading his church to return to the Lord. Starting Easter Sunday they are starting their own 50 days of praying up to Pentecost.* He has called and is planning for 10 days of corporate prayer meetings. Then they plan to hold evangelistic services beginning Pentecost Sunday.
Jesus instructed his disciples, "Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest" (John 4:35). The early church experienced a great spiritual harvest on the Day of Pentecost described in Acts 2. But, like the church in Texas, the Jerusalem harvest was preceded by a period of intense personal and corporate prayer.
Claude King is discipleship and church health specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources. He is coauthor of "Experiencing God, Fresh Encounter, The Mind of Christ, Pray in Faith," and other resources. He and his wife Reta have two daughters and three grandsons. *For a free reproducible guide for "Praying Up To Pentecost" click here.
Initial articles about the Call to Prayer that Frank Page has issued to Southern Baptists for 2013 can be read here and here. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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