Can unified intercession avert national destruction and bring spiritual renewal?
In 1995, in his book The Coming Revival, Bill Bright called 2 million Americans to fast and pray for 40 days because of the dire state of our nation and our great need for revival. He warned: “God does not tolerate sin. The Bible and history make this painfully clear. I believe God has given ancient Israel as an example of what will happen to the United States if we do not experience revival. He will continue to discipline us with all kinds of problems until we repent or until we are destroyed, as was ancient Israel because of her sin of disobedience.”
Sept. 11 came and went. Katrina followed suit. The church’s moral and spiritual decay continues, with entire institutions unclear on the divinity of Christ and the atoning efficacy of the cross but clear on the ordination of homosexuals and the protection of a woman’s right to choose.
A global financial crisis still exists, and along the Pacific Ring of Fire some nations are recovering and others are on edge. Yet, have we connected our hearts to the crisis? Our keen leadership insights and makeshift rebuilding strategies will not suffice in a culture devoid of discernment and prayer.
In the meantime, the number of unbelieving and unchurched Americans has risen sharply. George Barna, in his 2007 article, “Unchurched Population Nears 100 Million in the U.S.,” demonstrated that the number of unbelieving and unchurched Americans has risen sharply.
Thom Rainer, in his 1997 book, The Bridger Generation, revealed a more drastic picture among those born after 1984, maintaining that only 4 percent of this demographic were engaged in the church. This is particularly sobering considering that the United States has the fifth largest population of youth under age 15.
We are long past the hour of authoring books on the latest unique insight for how to grow our churches by a few hundred while our people are plundered by debt, sexual immorality, doctrinal error, adultery, covetousness and divorce.
An individual and corporate confidence in God must be cultivated that can bear the weight of rogue nations with nuclear capabilities, pandemics, water shortages, biological threats, terrorist attacks, virtual perversion, humanism, global financial crises, natural disasters and the confrontation with the Holy One who sees all, hears all and calls all nations to account.
Humans will face many things, yet one of the most difficult to face is one’s present crisis. Rarely do we discern its meaning, and less often do we respond correctly. The Bible is filled with examples of how God’s people lacked discernment and tried everything but humility, repentance and turning to God in prayer. This is not what God intends. He left us a clear pathway to follow in these distressing times and dedicated the entire book of Joel to the subject.
In the book of Joel, we find Israel in the midst of a national crisis. A locust plague had swept through the land, and in a matter of days the agricultural engine of the financial system was shattered. The crops were destroyed, the trees stripped and the next year’s seed was in danger. Drought compounded the problem as fires spread and herds of cattle perished.
At ground zero the prophet Joel drew the nation’s attention to the urgency of the hour through one simple question: “Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” (1:2).
It is as if he cried: “Connect your hearts to the crisis! Stop pacifying the pain with your keen leadership insights and rebuilding strategies, and look at the crisis.”
“Is not the food cut off before our eyes?” Joel asked (1:16), exhorting every class of society to wake up to their situation and wail over the loss. The people must sober up; the crisis is just beginning.
Corporate Prayer and Fasting
In verse 14 Joel gave the only answer to the crisis. At the forefront of the relief and recovery effort must be a call to corporate repentance through gatherings of prayer and fasting. A corporate disaster calls for a corporate response. Shut everything down, and bring the nation together for prayer and fasting.
Wasn’t pulling the entire nation together an extreme measure? Not considering what was ahead. “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty,” Joel lamented (1:15). It was the Lord who had done this! The Deuteronomic curses were operating in the land.
When God’s judgments are evident among the people of God, what is our response to be? At the formation of the nation of Israel, God clearly laid out His way for the people to return to the Lord—a plan that would turn His judgments into blessings. Moses, in Deuteronomy 28-30, established God’s commands; God reiterated His plan to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14; and the prophets—including Joel—called the people back to God’s ways in seasons of compromise and crisis.
Thus, their response to Joel’s call was a matter of life or death. The financial crisis was but a precursor to a more devastating judgment. The people of Joel’s day were at a crucial juncture in history, standing between two crises. They had to discern the season rightly and respond biblically.
Hear and Tell
The window of opportunity between the crises was crucial. The word came to Joel to plead with the people of Israel to “hear ... and give ear” to the word of the Lord and to “tell [their] children about it, let [their] children tell [their] children, and [their] children another generation” (1:2-3). The prophet called them to actively engage with God to interpret the first crisis so that they could respond appropriately and avert the second crisis.
In humility the people were called to agree with God’s assessment of the crisis and teach their children the proper response. Why? Because, if they did not interpret the season rightly, instruct their children correctly and respond biblically, a more devastating judgment was but a few decades away.
In Deut. 28:32-42 the Lord warned the children of Israel that if the financial calamity of a locust plague did not turn the people, He would send a military conflict to shake them out of their sinful state, a calamity that would cleanse the land of its bloodshed and exile the nation. The land would rest from its defilement and the people, in shame, would finally abandon their idolatry in a foreign land.
If the elders did not interpret the season rightly and warn their children, the children would reap the consequences of the coming destruction. If the elders did not heed the word of the Lord in Joel’s day, then the children and grandchildren would face Nebuchadnezzar in their day.
The elders were called to discern the season rightly and transmit the correct prophetic interpretation to the next generation. Their descendants’ lives depended upon it. The call of Joel came as an urgent plea to rightly reflect on the course of events and respond in the way that God requires. If they did not, their children would not have the proper framework to interpret the coming day of the Lord. Their ears would be closed to the sound of the alarm, and Jeremiah would sound like another eccentric prophet, out of touch with the goodness of God.
The Warning of Josiah’s Reign
Shortly after Joel’s message, the ideal Judean king, Josiah, came to power in 640 B.C. Eight years later, this young king sought the God of his father David and, in 628 B.C., began tearing the high places down. Yet a young prophet, Jeremiah, stood up in the congregation and announced a coming judgment upon Judah.
“O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart!” he cried. “My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war” (Jer. 4:19).
How out of place Jeremiah must have sounded in the midst of the positive prognosticators of the day. The financial shaking of the locust plague in Joel’s day had faded, and a pro-Yahweh king was in power. Wasn’t King Josiah seeking the God of his father David? Weren’t the high places being torn down?
Revival would reach its zenith over the next five years with the discovery of the law, the restoration of true worship and the removal of idolatrous priests. Political, religious and social reforms were widespread as the ideal king sat on the throne. However, one major problem remained. No culture of prayer had been established in light of the crisis Joel—and now Jeremiah—prophesied.
The elders during Josiah’s reign missed the prophetic window for forming a culture of corporate prayer. Thus, Josiah’s efforts at reform did not transform the majority at a heart level. By the time Jeremiah arrived on the scene it was too late. The revival fizzled out days after Josiah’s death, and it wasn’t three months before the people, now under King Jehoiakim, returned to idolatry. Within four years the Babylonians began their 20-year invasion.
Ears to Hear
The invitation to “hear” is critical. It offers the opportunity to respond correctly at a key juncture of history and to create a culture of corporate prayer to turn crisis into blessing. We see this principle in Jesus’ warning some 40 years before Titus’ invasion. We also see it when the early churches in Asia Minor received an invitation to prepare themselves for a season of trial, some decades before it comes.
Seven times in the Gospels we hear Jesus cry, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 11:15; 13:43; Mark 4:9,23; 7:16; 8:18; Luke 14:35), and seven times in the book of Revelation, Jesus exhorted, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says” (see Rev. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).
A culture of prayer and fasting in our congregations is not optional. It is not an addendum to our rebuilding strategies. Prayerlessness leads to lack of discernment. Lack of discernment leaves the body of Christ unable to understand the dealings of God with the nations and thus unable to respond rightly to crisis.
In times of crisis great leaders have taken courage to call God’s people to sober reflection and repentance through prayer and fasting. More numerous in history are the less noble responses of church leaders who simply did nothing.
John Wesley, after a March 8, 1750, earthquake, in a sermon entitled “The Cause and Cure of Earthquakes,” exhorted: “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? ... O that [God’s] fear might this moment fall upon all you ... constraining every one of you to cry out, ‘My flesh trembles for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments!’ ” (Ps. 109:10).
“What but national repentance can prevent national destruction?” he asked. “Fear God ... and bring forth fruits meet for repentance; break off our sins this moment.”
On April 18, 1906, an earthquake destroyed San Francisco, leaving nearly 3,000 dead and 300,000 homeless. Frank Bartleman called Los Angeles to repent through prayer and fasting by dispersing his famous pamphlet, The Last Call.
“I found the earthquake had opened many hearts,” Bartleman wrote in How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles, and felt it “was surely the voice of God to the people on the Pacific coast,” because of the widespread conviction he witnessed. Meanwhile, “nearly every pulpit in the land was working overtime to prove that God had nothing to do with earthquakes and thus allay the fears of the people.”
Bartleman recognized that “the Spirit was striving to knock at hearts with conviction, through this judgment” and was indignant that “preachers should be used of Satan to drown out [God’s] voice.” However, hundreds responded to the call and gathered at 312 Azusa St. The Holy Spirit was poured out and the Pentecostal revival was born.
Wesley and Bartleman were right. God’s answer for America’s crises is the same as it has been in every generation. We have a clear road map set forth in the book of Joel, and God is asking for a specific response. We must hear the Lord’s report in the crisis and return to Him by establishing a culture of prayer among the next generation while the crucial window remains open. If we do, God will open the windows of heaven and send the fire of His precious Holy Spirit again to the church in America. I only hope and pray there’s still time and that the voice of Jeremiah is not among us already.
Allen Hood serves as president of the International House of Prayer University (IHOPU) and as associate director of IHOP-KC. He holds an M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary.
A Prayer Phenomenon
How young adults are embracing a passion for prayer and worship
By Brian Kim
Despite dismal reports about youth and church engagement, we are witnessing a spiritual resurgence among young people. Young men and women may be dissatisfied with religious programs, but they sincerely desire to embrace a vibrant faith rooted in intimacy with God through prayer and His Word. This has to be the work of the Holy Spirit.
IHOP Young Adult Conference
Tens of thousands of young adults gather in downtown Kansas City, Mo., every December to participate in IHOP’s onething conference, a four-day experience of passionate worship, rigorous teaching and extended times of prayer and ministry. Approximately 25,000 young adults attended the onething conference in 2010. They came from all over the United States as well as from places as distant as South Korea, Egypt and Australia.
They did not come just for the good music but also to encounter God and change the world. They continually responded to the challenge to wholeheartedly love God, pursue Him with prayer and fasting, walk in purity and righteousness, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ through evangelism and works of justice. This kind of fervency is only one of many examples of hunger for God in this generation.
Tens of thousands of young adults have also gathered in stadiums and arenas for massive solemn assemblies organized by Lou Engle and TheCall. No names of speakers or worship bands are even announced in preparation for these gatherings. Instead, young people have responded to—and continue to respond to—the call to worship, fasting and prayer for revival in America.
Spreading the Flame
These assemblies and other Jesus-centered youth events have mobilized thousands of college students and young adults. Luke18 Project and other campus prayer ministries are working to organize and inspire them to plant and sustain prayer furnaces. In the last three years alone, more than 1,000 worship-based prayer furnaces have been established on college campuses.
While some may continue with the refrain that there is no radical hunger for God among the youth in our nation, at IHOP we are excited. We have witnessed something altogether different in recent days and are eager to partner with the Holy Spirit as He ignites a deep passion for Jesus in the hearts of young people throughout our nation.
Brian Kim is the director of Luke18 Project, a missional movement that exists to train 10,000 young pioneering leaders to plant prayer furnaces in the hardest and darkest places of the earth. He is a senior leader at IHOP-KC in Kansas City, Mo.
A whirlwind tour of 3,000 years of 24/7 prayer
By Jono Hall
1,000 B.C. King David placed a tent on Mt. Zion and appointed 288 singers and 4,000 musicians to minister before the Lord “to make petition, to give thanks and to praise the Lord” day and night (1 Chron. 16:4, 23:5; 25:7, NIV). This order of continual worship was reinstituted and embraced by seven subsequent leaders in Israel and Judah. Each time, spiritual breakthrough, deliverance and military victory followed.
First Century Many in the early church devoted themselves to “watching prayer” throughout the night so that they would not be found asleep at the return of the Lord.
Fifth Century Alexander Akimetes founded the Acoemetae (literally, “the sleepless ones”) in Asia Minor, an order of mendicant monks who gave themselves to perpetual praise. Choirs rotated throughout the day, each new choir relieving the one before, continuing uninterrupted 24 hours a day. Although most are remembered for their defense of orthodoxy into the eighth century, their foundation was day-and-night prayer.
A.D. 522 At the monastery at Agaunum founded in modern-day Switzerland, monks gave themselves to laus perennis—perpetual praise—with choirs of monks singing in rotation. This practice lasted until the ninth or 10th century.
A.D. 558 Comgall founded Bangor Abbey, Ireland. The practice of perpetual praise and antiphonal singing was one of the core values of this most influential monastery, which became known later for its missionary zeal and educational prowess. Night-and-day prayer lasted into the ninth century.
A.D. 910 The monastery of Cluny was a reforming monastic movement based on laus perennis (perpetual praise). They became the most influential order for approximately 200 years.
1727 After an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the community of Moravians at Herrnhut (modern-day Germany), 24 men and 24 women covenanted to pray “hourly intercessions” and thus pray every hour around the clock. They were committed to see that “the fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out” (Lev. 6:13).
The numbers committed to this endeavor soon increased to around 70 from the community. This prayer meeting would go nonstop for the next 100 years and is seen by many as the spiritual power behind the missionary impetus that began with the Moravians.
1973 David Yonggi Cho, Pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, established a Prayer Mountain with day-and-night prayer, soon attracting more than a million visitors per year, as people spent retreats in the prayer cells provided on the mountain. Cho’s fellowship soon became the largest single congregation in the world.
1999 Numerous independent 24/7 prayer initiatives began, including 24-7 Prayer led by Pete Greig in the U.K., the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, Mo., and The Burning Bush Prayer Initiative.
Jono Hall is director of media at IHOP-KC and leads the full-time media school at IHOPU. He graduated with a law degree from Exeter University in England in 1999. From 1999 until 2003 he worked for GOD TV.