Everyone will admit we are living in an extraordinary season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The events of the past months have been unprecedented.
I spoke with my 95-year-old father and asked if he ever experienced anything like this. He hadn’t. He said the Great Depression was different. It was a huge economic disruption, but we were not required to socially isolate. You could still gather with friends. But this plague, he said, is a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a social crisis all in one.
He’s right, but I would add one more thing. This is also an opportune time. What do I mean? We are in one of those rare moments of spiritual openness. People are acutely aware of their need and more inclined to look up.
As a pastor-educator, I have experienced three such “opportune moments” in my adult life: the aftermath of the Columbine shooting, the two weeks following 9-11, and now in the midst of this global pandemic.
That’s why I believe that right now, especially as we approach this year’s National Day of Prayer (May 7), we must seek God with urgent, focused prayer. Let me explain why prayer is important now.
First, prayer is a declaration of our desperation and dependence upon God. We feel that desperation now. We’ve learned again that we are not in control.
The simplest definition of prayer I know is: prayer is a cry of dependence. We cry out to God, just like a baby cries out for her parents.
When the leper came to Jesus for healing, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” It was a desperate cry. (Luke 5.12ff)
Often we do not see how desperate we are until our health is taken away, or we are up against something so big that we need outside intervention.
That’s us right now. We are in deep need. Not only because of this virus-plague, but because we have forgotten God. We think our greatest need is to get a vaccine or to get the economy back. These are important. But they are not our greatest needs. What we need more than anything else in this land is a spiritual awakening.
That’s what makes this an opportune time. The question is: will our desperation drive us to seek him?
Second, prayer is often a precursor to revival and spiritual awakening. We see this in the book of Acts. The greatest spiritual revival ever was Pentecost, described in Acts 2. But what happened before Pentecost? Acts 1.14 says they joined together “devoting themselves to prayer.”
Is this an anomaly? No. As I study church history, I see that prayer and spiritual awakenings are inseparably linked.
Spiritual awakenings manifest patterns. That pattern usually begins with a time of darkness and desperation. But then conviction wells up in some leader or group of people who are aware of their backslidden condition. They begin to cry out to God in concerted prayer. As they seek him they turn to the Bible and rediscover who God actually is. They catch a glimpse of his glory and holiness. This standard of holiness exposes their own spiritual condition. There is a new awareness of sin. There is confession, repentance and a turning away from idols. But there is also a turning to Christ and his saving work on the cross. The Holy Spirit begins to work, not just in individuals, but in larger groups of people. Their faith is renewed. As a result there are spillover effects: a new interest in missions and moral reform.
This is a recurring pattern in revivals. Central to it all is prayer. A. T. Pierson said, “there has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”
Do we hope to see this again? We must seek God in prayer.
Third, prayer is a lifeline to divine resources. That is, when we pray, God provides. Many of us have experienced this time and again. We see it in Scripture as well.
In Matthew 14 we read that Jesus had been with a crowd of over 5,000 people. That evening he asked his disciples to feed them. But all they had were five loaves and two fish. Jesus asked them to bring what little they had to him. He then blessed it and multiplied it, so that everyone ate until they were satisfied, with plenty of leftovers. The lesson here for the disciples is that little becomes much when God is in it. When we offer our little to him, time and time again he multiplies it and provides for us in ways that are inexplicable. This is good news for churches, ministries, and families. Prayer is a lifeline to divine resources.
Finally, prayer is a spiritual weapon against the powers of darkness. This is another reason why we must pray.
In Ephesians 6.10, Paul writes, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Why? Because that is the only way we can stand against spiritual forces of evil. Paul then instructs the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God that we may stand. Then comes a description of that armor. At the end of this list is what the Puritans called “the weapon of all-prayer.”
In other words, prayer is a spiritual weapon to be wielded against the present darkness. Does anyone reading this column doubt that we are in an era of intense spiritual conflict? So often we appear defeated. Why? Perhaps it is because we are operating in our own strength. Have we forgotten the weapon of all-prayer?
For all these reasons, prayer is a matter of extreme importance now. As we approach this year’s National Day of Prayer, in this opportune moment, let it not be a one-time event. Rather, let it become a spark that mobilizes believers to an on-going movement of prayer, pleading with God to revive us yet again.
Don Sweeting is president of Colorado Christian University. His blog is called Ad fontes