Churches see big impact from prayer vigil
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Throughout this year's 40/40 Prayer Vigil, as individuals and churches prayed for spiritual revival and national renewal for 40 days and 40 hours, pastors across America have experienced the common theme of unity among their church staffs.
The bi-annual prayer focus, an initiative of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the convention's North American Mission Board, acknowledges the fact that "there is no human solution to the momentous issues facing individuals and families across our nation," said ERLC President Richard Land.
Michael Cloer, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., said his staff made a commitment to pray at least one hour a day in their individual offices and together as a staff twice a week during the 40-day vigil, which began in late September and concluded in early November.
"[The 40/40 Prayer Vigil] has revolutionized our staff," Cloer said. "I believe it's impossible to get close to the Lord without getting close to His children. The vigil has brought us close together and it will be impossible to go back to the way we were."
In his 39 years of ministry, Cloer said he has seen churches participate in numerous programs for periods of time before they eventually seem to fade away from lack of interest. Cloer wants to see his church continue to pray on a regular basis both individually and corporately so that the 40/40 Prayer Vigil does not turn into another church program.
"The idea for the prayer vigil was born out of a burden at the ERLC for the spiritual health of individual Americans," Land said. "There is no question that our churches are in need of a truly spiritual revival, and our nation is in need of a great movement of God's Spirit."
Bruce Chesser, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., said he has seen prayer often used as a transition from one part of a service to another in a "perfunctory" manner.
"When we figure out ways to not make prayer the beginning and end of a service, but an organic part of who we are, it begins to make a difference," Chesser said. "Figure out a way that prayer is not just something you talk about, but is intrinsic to who you are."
Cloer and Chesser are not alone in their desire to see prayer play a larger role in their church congregations.
When asked what direction his church would take once the vigil ended, Rochelle Davis Jr., pastor of Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Detroit, Mich., said his church would not stop praying.
"Our goal is to mobilize the church to understand [the] seriousness of praying together," Davis said. "I'm a firm believer that if we get people to pray with each other, they will get to know each other better."
Before the vigil started, Davis said there were misunderstandings among his church staff members. But like Cloer, Davis said prayer brought his staff together on a deep spiritual level.
"Since [our staff] has been involved in prayer training and the 40/40 Prayer Vigil, it has broken down barriers where now they hug each other and talk to each other because they pray together," Davis said.
The 40/40 Prayer Vigil received tremendous feedback from the congregation at Hoffmantown Baptist Church, said Phil Fagan, prayer coordinator at the Albuquerque, N.M., church.
This was the first year for the church to participate in the prayer focus.
"The Lord has used this [the 40/40 Prayer Vigil] to unite Christians," Fagan said. "He seeks for us to be unified in the body of Christ and this has been a milestone for churches in our country to come together and pray."
As part of the 40/40 Prayer Vigil individuals were charged with the task of praying for a revival in America for 40 days and 40 hours. Downloadable prayer guides were available at www.4040prayer.com, as were day-by-day prayer sheets for use by individuals, small groups or church bodies.
"I am thankful someone took the time and effort to put this material together," Cloer said. "The material has eternal value in it and I'm already looking forward to the next 40/40 Prayer Vigil."
While the ERLC and NAMB plan to feature the prayer initiative again in 2012, Land said the need for revival in the lives of Christ-followers remains.
"Whether or not we have a revival that will hopefully lead to an awakening and then to a reformation, which is what America must have, is dependent upon God's people getting right with Him," he said, referencing 1 John 1:9.
He encouraged churches to take part in the call to prayer and solemn assembly set for January, a call originating in the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force's report adopted at the SBC last June and most recently promoted by SBC President Bryant Wright and the Southern Baptist Convention's Great Commission Council. (For information, visit www.namb.net/SBCDayofPrayer.)
Elizabeth Wood is a writer for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.