(Photo: National Community Church)
A 40-day prayer challenge began Wednesday night with a simulcast event featuring teachings on prayer from megachurch pastor Mark Batterson.
The Circle Maker 40 Day Prayer Challenge Simulcast was broadcast live from Batterson's church, National Community Church in Washington, D.C., which is just a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol Building.
"I love leadership. I love discipleship. I love to preach. But it's prayer that is central. When we change the way that we pray, everything changes," said Batterson.
The event was named after his book, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears. In the first century B.C., he says, a drought threatened an entire generation of Israelites, until a man named Honi drew a circle in the sand and told God he would not leave the circle until God showed them mercy.
It began to rain lightly, but Honi stayed put and asked for more. It then rained violently and caused flooding, but he wanted a rain that was not violent and destructive but helpful. After he prayed again, Batterson says, the rain came down in moderation as Honi had asked.
"One prayer saved an entire generation," said Batterson. "Oh yeah, the generation before Jesus."
Prayer is much like a contract, Batterson says. Those who pray in the will of God and for His glory are creating binding contracts backed by Jesus Christ. It is as if God co-signs the contract, and when people pray together it is as if they are notarizing each other's prayers.
Though Batterson signed a physical contract to purchase a crack house, which his church would eventually turn into a coffeehouse in 2002, the spiritual contract had actually been signed years before, he says.
In 1997 he felt as if God was leading him to purchase the building that now contains Ebenezers Coffeehouse as a way of engaging with the community, but his church had few people and little money. The building was priced at $1 million at first, but as a result of his congregation's prayers, he says, they were eventually able to purchase it for $325,000 – and four people offered to pay more money for the building than they did.
"Don't seek opportunity. Seek God and opportunity will seek you," said Batterson.
He also emphasized the importance of acting in faith even before God appears to move. Early in his church's existence Batterson led worship, and during that time he prayed for a drummer to come help him. He felt urged by God to purchase a drum set in advance, believing that God would provide him with percussionist, though he did not want to.
"You know what, I want God to reveal the second step before I take the first step. I want God to go first, because then it doesn't require any faith," he said. "You know what, if you don't take the first step, often … God won't reveal that second step."
He purchased a used drum set, which the church could barely afford, and the following Sunday a U.S. Marine who was in the Drum and Bugle Corps attended his church – his prayers were answered.
In his closing story, Batterson spoke about Rodney "Gipsy" Smith, a British evangelist who preached to millions of people but valued prayer as the thing that makes the most impact.
When sought out by a group of people who wanted to know how to make a difference with their lives, Smith reportedly told them to go home, lock themselves in their bedrooms, draw a circle on the floor using chalk and kneel in the circle. Then, he said, pray that God will send revival within that circle.