"Pray that you may not enter into temptation." Luke 22:40
Prayer is the currency of the Kingdom of Heaven. God uses gold for asphalt on the streets of Heaven, but He places His highest value on the prayers of His children. Jesus is seated at His right hand. God has assigned to His Son and our Savior the office of Chief Intercessor. His place and position are not merely symbolic, but are substantive expressions of the value system of His Father. By placing Jesus in close proximity to His throne, God communicates the prestige and the power He places on the priority of prayer in His Kingdom.
When Jesus challenged His disciples to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was inviting them to take take up prayer as a world class weapon in their battle against evil. The disciples received His command as a sincere suggestion, but promptly treated it as an option, not a priority. They fell asleep. With the exception of a few wakeup calls, the Church as followed the lead of the slumbering saints in the garden for over 2,000 years. Jesus is still calling His disciples to pray, and they are still falling into temptation. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Recently, August 6, 2011, "The Response" was held in Houston, Texas. The Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, had been convicted by the stories of previous leaders in American history who had called for days of prayer and fasting when the nation was in crisis. Organizers of the event entitled this good-faith effort to recall the days of Joel 2 as "The Response: A call to prayer for a nation in crisis." Reactions to the announcment were swift and loud and severely critical. Some of the most strident voices came from the "religious" community. They did not appreciate being taken to task by a politician. The more expected attacks came from the secular saints who did not see any reason for a leader to confuse his faith with his concern for his country. For them "separation of church and state" is a mantra and mandate of their chosen religion.
"The Response" was not a concert or carnival. It was not a political rally or preachathon. There was no promotional buildup of a VIP heavy program. There were no long introductions of celebrities. The concession stands dispensed bottled water, and little esle to the crowd of 35,000 plus people who spent most of the day in prayer and fasting. It featured prayer and praise that focused people on personal and corporate repentance. The doors opened at 8:00 AM and this prayer event lasted without a break until 5:00 PM. People of all ages, races and denominatinal persuasions called out to God for forgiveness for their sin, and asked God to begin something in Houston that would have a world wide impact. I count it as one of the great days of my life, to have witnessed such an incredible sense of the Presence of the Manifest Christ moving among His Church. It reminded me of the days of The Jesus Revolution of the late 1960's and early seventies. I left Reliant Stadium with a conviction that God was up to something and this was the beginning of a movement that only He could get credit for in the days ahead.
One of the voices I heard at The Response called for The Third Great Awakening. At the time, I did not question his zeal, but in retrospect, I might want to suggest a recount of his math. It is true that America was blessed with two great awakenings. The first was in the mid 18th Century, and the second was in the early 19th Century. Since that time awakenings, great and small have broken through the dark clouds of history, and their numerology and chronology can be a little confusing.
The First Great Awakening was birthed in the hearts of praying people of New England. Jonathan Edwards, pastor in Northampton, Massachussetts was a catalyst, and George Whitefield, evangelist from England was a carrier of this movement. Prior to the American Revolution, God used this awakening to restore a first love relationship in the hearts of backslidden believers, to introduce a whole new generation of Christians to the church, and to breakdown barriers between the colonies and the denominations as they focused upon their unity under the name of their Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Second Great Awakening emerged after the war for Independence from England. After fliritng with the Articles of Confederation, there was a focus on the formation of the nation under a new Constitution, followed shortiy with a second war with England. The rapid expansion of the frontier separated settlers from law and order and laity from the church. Alcoholism, lawlessness and atheism were rampant throughout he nation. There was the need of another course correcition. In short order, the wild and unruly frontier settlers were visited by a movement of the Spirit of God that birthed prolonged camp meetings in the wilderness and transformed itinerant circuit riding preachers into prophets on horseback. The churches of the land benefited greatly from this influx of new believers, but by 1857, the nation had drifted once again from a dependency upon God.
It is at this point in history of spiritual awakenings that I suggest a recalculation. The third great awakening may have already been given to the world through The Fulton Street Prayer Revival of 1857. Its sprang out of a passionate desire to call people to pray. Jeremiah Lamphier was a lay-missionary ministering with the Dutch Reformed Church in New York City. In 1857 he distributed handbills inviting men to join him for prayer during the lunch hour. Response to his request for prayer was meager at best and the numbers that met with him were miniscule, to say the least. Then it happened. Wall Street crashed. People lost savings, jobs, and hope. They turned to God in prayer in vast numbers. Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Herald Tribune, dispatched reporters by carriages to scenes of prayer meetings being held at lunchtime gatherings around the city and they reported over 10,000 in attendance in less than one hour. Within a year the "prayer revival" swept all over the United States and traveled around the world. In the United States over one million people were converted and affiliated with the churches in America. Countless other were impacted by what happened in this prayer movement. For the same impact to be experienced today, there would need to be 30 million converts added to the churches. By my count, and by its impact this may very well have been the third great awakening. It arrived just prior to the national calamity of The Civil War. It ushered many new believers into the a right relationship with Jesus prior to the carnage of 700,000 deaths and widespread destruction due to war between the States. It seemed to be the calm before the storm, not God's final answer to the nation's ills. It may have postponed the inevitable conflict, but it did not prevent it. Spiritual awakenings have their limitations. They often fall short of God's best due to the unwillingness of people to continue to follow the adjustments the Spirit of God requires to sustain them.
I believe what I saw in Houston on August 6th was a beginning of something only God can get credit for. In truth, I do not know how God calculates the order or the number of spiritual awakenings. I do believe He has at least one more in store for our nation and the rest of the world. I know this one thing for certain. I am praying for one more. Ultimately, I am not as concerned with the number given to it, as I am focused on the One who is able to send it. Call it what you want. Number it what you will. WE NEED IT!
My observation of the history of spiritual awakening leads me to believe that spiritual awakening is a community saturated by the character of Christ. Prayer is the climate that ushers in the movement of the Spirit. Prayer prepares us to set personal and corporate sails to catch the wind of Heaven. Praying for awakening for before it arrives, softens the heart of the intercessor. Prayer nurtures encouragement and expectancy in the lives of those who are asking God to do something only He can get credit for. Spiritual awakening, when it arrives, must be received whenever and through whomever it comes. It is not a subsitute for the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is a foretaste of it. When it comes it does not mean the worst is over. It may mean the worst is yet to come. When the Fulton Street Revival ushered in a great awakening, it came in the face of a Wall Street meltdown, and preceded tthe unprecedented death of thousands of young men. Spiritual awakening does not always bring peace. It sometimes brings a terrible swift sword of the Lord. Only God knows what will come in the wake of the next great awakening.
Periodically, God's people need to have their value systems recalculated, and their priorities recalibrated. Without His perspective, they begin to place more value on what the world holds dear to their heart, than what God holds next to His. God's children have to be reminded that the currency of Heaven is prayer. This is THE COST. Without prayer, His children are not going to experience spiritual awakening. In His Kingdom, God uses gold for asphalt, but He values prayer. God has seated His Son and our Savior at His right hand, and assigned to Him the office of Chief Intercessor. Prayer is close to His heart and right by the throne of His grace. Prayer doesn't purchase God's favor. It does not buy His love. The cost is not based on what we give to Him. God values our prayers based on what Jesus did to grant us access to Him in prayer. Prayer is how we show God how much we value His Gift to us. We close our prayers "In Jesus' Name" because we have no access to God without Him. God is not moved by the volume, intensity or eloquence of our prayers. He inclines to hear us when we pray, because we glorify His Son when we pray.
The grace of God has never been cheap. It cost Him His Son, and it certainly will cost us our convenience. If we contemplate for very long on the cost, God's grace will change our sleep patterns, our prayer life, and our preaching. In 1937 Bonhoeffer contrasted cheap grace and costly grace. He left his safe haven in America and returned to pastor his people Nazi Germany. He was imprisoned and executed by Hitler's personal order days before Germay surrendered in April 1945. He said:
"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance...grace without the cross, grace without Jesus, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has...it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him...the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "The Cost of Discipleship"
When the tears and treasures of this world tempt God's children to devalue prayer, God often orchestrates circumstances that issue a call to pray to Him for wisdom and understanding in the middle of their crisis of faith. "The Response" was the first dividend of these kind of passionate prayers invested in the bank of Heaven. The Fool consumes. The Wise invest. Gold and silver cannot hold their value when compared to the wisdom and understanding God offers to us through prayer. If you find yourself in need of knowing the right thing to do and the consequences if you don't do it...TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!