Ministry Today magazine cover

Reclaiming the Night in Prayer





Corporate prayer watches are a key to releasing God's power in your church. Are you willing to lose some sleep to unleash revival?
By Mahesh and Bonnie Chavda

Pray all night?" You will probably ask, "How can anyone pray all night?"

It's easy. Bonnie and I discovered long ago, during the foundational days of our global prayer and healing ministry, that while prayer is the calling of God to all believers, it is our decision whether we respond or not. When we make the commitment to seek God's face in prayer, He empowers us with a special outpouring of His grace and strength.

Prayer has always been a foundation of our ministry. Ever since the beginning, the Lord has impressed upon me the necessity to fast and pray on a regular basis. As a result I have witnessed God's miracle-working power operate in many nations. I have watched as masses of people were touched by God's healing power.

I have seen God move against the powers of witchcraft and demonic forces, breaking their power and setting the oppressed free. On one occasion, I saw a child raised from the dead. The secret to this ministry has always been the anointing of God that is released through prayer and fasting.

Prayer, to Bonnie and me, has never been a duty. It is our precious privilege to walk into the throne room of the King of kings and gain an audience with Him. He always gives gifts to His guests. He never sends us away empty.

THE DESIGN OF THE WATCH

For eight hours each Friday night, we come before the Lord, fasting from food and sleep, in order to focus on vital issues the Holy Spirit reveals to us to attack in prayer. Corporately, the body of Christ has not done much praying at night. But the Lord often visits at night, as we see in Scripture and as Bonnie and I have seen in our lives.

The thief also comes at night. So we must mount an offensive attack at night, encroaching on the enemy's territory. Why is this so significant? Because the enemy of our souls is busiest at night, while most of us are sleeping. It is the night--the darkness--that has previously been Satan's prized possession. Through the Watch of the Lord, we are taking back the night and claiming it on behalf of its Creator, the Lord Most High.

The watch starts at 10 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m. In order to prepare for the watch, we do take little catnaps if we can fit them in during the day on Friday. We also try to keep a lighter schedule that day. Our family sits down to dinner at least an hour earlier than usual. If our ministry schedule permits, we then rest until it is time to head for church.

We fast from chitchat and socializing at the watch in order to give the Lord and His purposes our full attention. Those who come to pray with us during the Watch of the Lord are free to leave early if they must. They are also free to nap a while if necessary in order to complete the last few hours of the watch.

We always wait on the Lord to determine His agenda. We praise and worship first for a long time, using two worship teams so they don't get weary. Then praise and worship is interspersed throughout the night.

Ministry usually begins around midnight, when we enter into corporate intercession for global ministries and for the nations. At one point we bring the American flag and the Israeli flag out to the center in front of the stage. Watchmen come and lay hands on the flags, and we pray for a concentrated time for God's land, Israel and our own nation. We pray for leaders and the concerns reflected in the day's headlines. We pray for the leaders of the world, sometimes bringing out a world map, and for God's will to be established throughout the earth.

The Holy Spirit quickens various scriptures to us throughout the course of the watch. We receive a living word from God each week--the essence of what He appears to be saying to His corporate body at that given time. This word guides us as a group through the week to come and reveals through Scripture and prophetic words a useful strategy that helps us navigate our way.

We sing, dance, clap and enjoy being together as we pray and intercede. Prayer requests we've received are passed out and prayed over. We also are careful to pray for our staff, other ministries, our police force, the schools and other agencies. We always celebrate communion, usually toward the end of the watch.

Often the gifts of the Spirit flow, and we lose all track of time as the Holy Spirit moves in our midst, performing healings, releasing prophecy and touching His people in His deep and profound way. We always take our direction from the Lord, for He is Captain of the watch.

A normal watch may find prayer warriors at the altar, some fallen out around the altar under the power of God as they "soak" in His presence, and others dotted throughout the auditorium curled up in sleeping bags or with blankets and pillows. We are very informal during these all-night prayer vigils.

After we have focused on and prayed for the things on God's heart, the Holy Spirit will normally minister to our personal needs. We often have a time of personal ministry around 5 a.m., but that is not our primary purpose in coming together.

Bonnie and I have discovered that when we seek first the kingdom of God, our personal needs are met supernaturally! It is just as Jesus said: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33, KJV).

THE FOURTH WATCH OF THE NIGHT

The glory of God seems to increase in our midst as we continue to watch and pray. During the fourth watch (between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.), it is multiplied and the miracles begin. It was during the fourth watch of the night that Jesus walked on the water out to His disciples who were in a boat on the lake, striving against the storm (Mark 6:48).

In our watch, there is a special excitement and an open heaven in the hours just before the light. When we are at our weakest physically, the Holy Spirit comes in His greatest strength with prayer, revelation and refreshing. A lot of the miracles, healing and specific supernatural intelligence we receive is during this time, even though it is the time when the fewest people are present.

During a military campaign, the hours of the fourth watch are the most strategic hours of the night--the most difficult time frame wherein to guard against the enemy's attack and the time the enemy is most likely to attack. During times of war, about half an hour before both sunrise and sunset, a stand-to is conducted in the military. That means everyone is alert, packed up and ready to fight or move at a moment's notice. This is when the enemy is likely to attack.

Medical personnel have another term for it--the dead of night, the time span when more deaths occur than any other segment of our 24-hour day. Biblically speaking, it's the time when the enemy of our souls is busiest, when soldiers watch most earnestly and when we must watch for God's instructions as we stand our posts on the wall of prayer.

When Gideon sought to build an army to deliver Israel from the Midianites, only 300 out of 32,000 were fit to go to war. God had Gideon choose the men who remained watchful, vigilant and alert, even when they were faced with a powerful physical need--quenching their thirst. The men God chose for Gideon were always on the alert. They epitomized the military rigor of the watch, or keeping vigil.

When we worship, war and watch, the glory comes. And when the glory comes, there is great grace for healing, ministry, miracles and the prophetic. When the presence of the Lord comes, there is clarity of vision. Watchmen are able to be first partakers of that clarity because they are watching from the lookout posts on the wall. They have a greater vantage point in the realm of the spirit, so they can see what's coming and warn the rest of the body of Christ of any trouble or turbulence ahead.

IN HIS PRESENCE

Even eight hours of intense, concentrated, corporate prayer really do pass quickly. We literally lose all track of time as we are caught up in the presence of the Lord. The power of God is demonstrated again and again, and all too soon, it's over--until the following week when we gather again to watch on the wall in prayer.

People ask me, "Pastor, what if I get sleepy?" My answer is, "Sleep!" People bring their sleeping bags, blankets and pillows. Watching is like exercising a new muscle. So we encourage people not to stay away because they know they will fall asleep. Get in His presence. Be there as His visitation comes.

Remember Aaron's rod: It sprouted and blossomed while it lay in the tent of meeting. The rod wasn't praying or asking to grow; it was a dead stick. But it was in the presence of God, and the anointing changed the rod.

So we tell people--and their children--to come and sleep when they need to. We can absorb the glory of God, sleeping or awake--our children too. They will remember, "My fanatic parents used to watch all night, and I would lie on the rug and sleep." This is liberty, not legalism. As Jesus said, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees" (Luke 12:1).

I will admit that at the end, we're a little punchy from the lack of sleep. But at the same time we feel great. We have found that the Lord uses even a little nap the next day to refresh those who watch with Him. He makes it up to us.

CHILDREN OF THE WATCH

"Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14). From the beginning of the watch we have delighted in having children participate. They are involved actively in the worship, ministry and exercise of prophetic gifts.

The little ones look forward to watch night services because they can worship and be near their friends. They seem to "absorb" the atmosphere of praise and worship.

For the older children, the watch has been instrumental in stirring their hearts of devotion to the Lord and has given them the confidence to move in spiritual gifts, including prophecy. A young woman named Gillian has spent the last several years growing into her teens being a faithful watchman. Her prophetic anointing keeps growing stronger.

At the age of 12 she shared this word in the watch: "I had a vision of credits rolling at the end of a movie. I felt that God was saying: 'Don't think that what you do for the kingdom goes unnoticed, no matter how small it is. On judgment day God will roll the credits of the movie of life and every good work will be rewarded.'"

Faith, a faithful teen watchman from South Carolina, wrote this poem concerning the watch:

Watching, sighting

Waiting, fighting,

Dusk till dawn,

While children yawn,

Still we all are pressing on.

No eat, no sleep,

One face we seek,

The face of One,

God's only Son.

Interceding,

By the Spirit's leading.

Sword and shield,

People healed.

Trumpets sound,

Holy ground,

Angels near,

Do not fear.

Tearing down,

Walls all around.

Enemies routed,

As we shouted.

Demons flee,

Captives set free.

THE TENT OF PRAYER

Do you want God's address? Do you want to know where His house is? His address is prayer. "My house shall be called a house of prayer" (Matt. 21:13). When Jesus went into the temple with all the buying, selling, conversing and taking care of business, He took one look and said, "I don't live here." He declared that His house would be "a house of prayer for all nations" (Mark 11:17).

Jesus didn't say the church would be a house of doctrine or teaching or a house of wisdom or prophecy. He didn't even say it was going to be a house of miracles! He said first and foremost, "My house will be a house of prayer."

For our purposes, we define prayer as communion with God. For us, prayer is like a large tent that holds under it other aspects of communion with Him. Many people still think of prayer as sitting down with a little list of things to ask God to do. But prayer is really drawing near to God and being with Him.

As we pray together corporately, seven things combine into a wonderful mix that, when led by the Holy Spirit, create an atmosphere conducive to the presence of God: praise, worship, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, prophecy and proclamation.

Week to week, each of these seven elements seems to be present to some degree. But it's not as if we deliberately try to attend to all of these priorities during any given watch. We simply exalt Jesus, love Him and worship at His feet; only in looking back do we discover that we have spent time on each of these aspects of prayer. We also do some preaching, although we devote the least attention to preaching in order to keep the focus on prayer.

THE WATCH: A FRIEND TO PASTORS

Pastors, if you let a watch happen in your church, you will find so much oil of the Holy Spirit in your church that preaching on Sunday morning will never be a problem. You will not have to "pray through" because the whole place will be soaking in the oil of the Holy Spirit. The servants of God who are to minister on Sunday will just wallow in the river with joy. Our experience is that God's presence will be there.

As a practical discipling tool, the watch is a great friend to the local pastor. As people come and submit to the corporate watch experience, they find themselves on God's threshing floor where the grain is winnowed.

The winnowing process involves separating grain from the chaff, which is the outer covering of the grain. In Bible times, the grain was often tread by oxen, then tossed into the air so the breeze could blow away the chaff. Barley is a type or a symbol for humanity; our frames are like grass. In His presence, Bonnie and I have experienced the removal of chaff from our lives by His blowing on us with the wind of the Holy Spirit.

This is wonderful for a pastor; he doesn't have to labor over all the specific points of chaff in people's lives. If they can consistently get into the river of the Holy Spirit at the watch, the Lord Himself will do the changing. The Lord is there.

This threshing begins to loosen up strongholds in the souls of those who are watching because as they are communing with Jesus, they are being changed. As Jesus prayed, He "was transfigured" (Matt. 17:2, KJV). As the church prays, she is transfigured and changed, and the bride is revealed. We are being transformed from glory to glory.

We have noticed that the watchmen who come faithfully are changed. Something happens to them: The flightiness and immaturity go away. So does the disappointment when God does not move immediately on some issue. Instead, they learn about the triumph that comes with standing through anything.

A watchman from Kentucky writes about the personal changes she's had from watching: "I have experienced new intimacy with the Lord. He has started to deal with me about some of my religiosity and judgmental attitudes, and I believe I'm not as self-centered as I was six months ago. He's given me a new desire to reach the lost, and I love Him more than ever. He's my best friend and constant companion."

A watchman from Indiana draws this conclusion: "As we look at the people who have been consistently involved in the watch, especially at ourselves, we see a major heart change. Our intimacy with the Lord is at a new level, especially in worship and praise. We only desire more of Him.

"Also, He has imparted to us a heart for the lost that we never had before. We cry out for Israel and the nations as we never were able to do before. We see a breaking down of walls between denominations and a love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord. He is giving us a desire to know the love of the Father more and more and then extend that love to others."

When these changes occur in people, pastors don't have to spend all those hours in counseling. I used to spend hours in counseling; now I spend maybe an hour a week.

For pastors who want the apostolic released, let people hold watches in your churches. On Sunday mornings the signs and wonders will start taking place and the prophetic will flow in such a beautiful way. Because of the watching and praying, the healing river comes.

I challenge pastors to start doing this and see if it doesn't change the atmosphere on Sunday morning, as well as bring the spirit of revival and healing.


Mahesh and Bonnie Chavda pastor All Nations Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Adapted from Watch of The Lord by Mahesh and Bonnie Chavda, copyright © 1999. Published by Creation House. Used by permission.

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