[notice]Is the God of the impossible calling South African Christians to take heart and become the answer to this nation’s prayers through a journey of unceasing, united prayer? Alf James looks at past and present developments that shed light on this important question.[/notice]
The importance of prayer has been on the minds and hearts of many South Africans recently, especially with the positive, uplifting effect prayer had in the midst of the student campus conflict.
Prayer is essentially communication with our Lord God Almighty; its primary function is to develop our relationship with Him through: expressing our love, worship, gratitude, and praise; resting in His presence; and relying on Him in faith through supplication for deliverance.
With the immeasurable spiritual value of prayer on my mind, its material importance was hit home through a testimony I received.
After taking my vehicle to “Thys se Werkwinkel” in Middelburg for a service, the owner Thys van Rooyen and I somehow started speaking about prayer.
Now, Thys, like many Karoo men, is a tough, rough-diamond-kind-of-person who cheerfully owns-up to having done more than his fair-share of drinking and fighting, but he is as honest as the day is long, looks you straight in the eye when he speaks to you, and is always ready to lend a hand in the face of need or difficulty.
Thys told me of an experience he had regarding prayer that changed his attitude to praying and was the beginning of the change in his relationship with God.
He had attended the Karoo Mighty Men Conference (KMMC) a few years ago, more out of curiosity than for any other reason. While there he was asked by a friend if he could help some men from Port Elizabeth whose vehicle broke down just as they got to the camp. He went to investigate and found a group of men standing in a circle next to the vehicle. He discovered they were praying for a speedy solution to the problem so that they could focus on their Godly reason for being at the KMMC without worrying about how they were going to get home at the end of the weekend.
Their prayer seemed to be answered as Thys got to work on the vehicle. He told the men that “by chance” he had brought tools to the camp. But after a while he hit a dead-end and explained to the men that he could not complete the repair that weekend as he needed a part that he would not be able to get in Middelburg but would have to order from PE. The men thanked him for trying to help and started to pray again. He got into his vehicle and watched them in his rear-view mirror as they continued to pray. As his left arm leaned on the arm-rest between the seats he idly lifted the arm rest revealing the cubby-hole beneath, glancing inside he absent-mindedly sorted through the contents only to find the exact parts he needed to fix the praying men’s vehicle.
Taking the parts to the group, Thys marvelled at the miracle of prayer. He says to this day he gets goosebumps when he thinks of the incident.
Thys’ experience is mirrored by a statement by David J Stewart in The Miracle of Prayer: “God doesn’t expect the impossible from us; He wants us to expect the impossible from Him”.
Now, God is calling South Africa to a season of prayer in which we expect what may seem to us to be impossible from Him.
We are called on to pray for unity, faith, hope, love, courage and repentant hearts to grow in South Africans at a time when many are depressed and discouraged about the high crime rates, corruption and continuing racial discord after 22 years of attempts at national reconciliation and cohesion have not achieved the results hoped for.
Recent calls to prayer
This is confirmed by the number of separate calls to prayer having been made in the last few months including:
- the National Day of Repentance (NDR) in Bloemfontein on September 13, 2015 at which all those at the meeting gathered as representatives of the nation to humble themselves before the Lord and intercede on behalf of South Africa to come into alignment with God’s agenda in a desire to bring the nation to healing;
- the call made by Agri SA for a day of prayer on November 27, 2015 in the spirit of nation building as a response to the dissatisfaction and concern among people around working conditions, service delivery, and corruption, because it detracts from a peaceful society and contributes to the polarisation of communities;
- the #PrayforRainSA event on January 30, 2016, in Bloemfontein led by ‘Oom’ Angus Buchan , which was as much a prayer gathering for spiritual rain as it was for physical rain over South Africa, as the country thirsts as much for water as it does for respectful relationships, ethical governance, equity and freedom from crime, hunger and poverty;
- the United Prayer for South Africa (up4sa) event that took place on February 28, 2016, during which Christians across the country united across cultures, denominations and races for an hour to not only pray to God to heal our land, but also to reignite the flame of intercessory prayer in South Africa;
- the Karoo Mighty Men Conference partnering with a variety of Christian and media organisations to call for a “National Day of Prayer and Fasting for Freedom” on Wednesday, April 27, 2016, which is the Freedom Day public holiday; and
- all of these events and calls taking place in a Jubilee Year that is a time of grace from the Lord God Almighty for restoration in relationship to Him, our families, our communities, our country, the land, and debt. During a Jubilee Year we are called on to search our hearts through the Holy Spirit, to uncover areas in which we need to repent, both personally and as a nation, to forgive if we seek forgiveness, be part of the healing process that is needed, and return to the Lord’s ways.
Seemingly hopeless situations
Pete Greig and Dave Roberts authors of Red Moon Rising – Rediscover the power of Prayers say that it is often in the midst seemingly hopeless situations that God is able to move mightily and bring life to what was ‘dead bones’, like East Germany before the knocking down of the Berlin wall and dismantling of communism in the 1980s; or the ungodly American society of the 1790s when drunkenness was epidemic, city streets were lawless at night and the church appeared to be in terminal decline; or the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37.
Greig and Roberts report that some journalists and historians have identified the Leipzig peace-prayer rallies as the tipping point in the fall of East German communism.
Likewise, they report that during the 1790s in the US when Bibles were being burned and bishops were being made redundant Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor, addressed an urgent plea for prayer for revival to pastors of every Christian denomination in the United States.
All the churches adopted the plan until America was interlaced with a network of prayer meetings, which set aside the first Monday of each month to pray and it was not long before revival came.
Greig and Roberts say that utter hopelessness had turned into a massive movement of spiritual and social transformation out of which came the abolition of slavery, popular education, Bible Societies, Sunday schools and many social benefits, and like in East Germany, the tipping point had been prayer.
“Looking at the brokenness of our culture and the irrelevance of so much in the contemporary church, we may echo the lament of God’s people throughout the ages: ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’. (Ezekiel 37:11)
What might happen?
“But what might happen if we were to respond in our generation the way the Americans did in the 1780s and the way the Leipziggers did in the 1980s?
“Could bones become bodies and corpses become a mighty army again in our time,” ask Greig and Roberts?
Perhaps the beginning of the mobilising of a mighty army of prayer warriors in South Africa was the up4sa event, during which more than 160 prayer gatherings in communities around the country entreated God to heal our land and reignite the flame of intercessory prayer in our nation.
Pastor Robbie Black, co-ordinator of the up4sa event believes an army of prayer warriors can be mobilised for revival in South Africa if enough of us unite in prayer consistently and humble ourselves before the Lord interceding for repentance in our country.
Unity is vital
However, he says for such an army of prayer warriors to be mobilised, unity in the Body of Christ throughout the country is vital.
Black believes unity can be engendered through unified prayer in which all those praying stand in agreement with each other and their prayers.
He encourages each of us to connect with existing prayer groups in our communities or to start a prayer group where there is not one yet, in schools, the workplace, and government departments, to name a few possibilities.
“It is important for the Church of God to realise the power that is available for us as a Church.
“We are told in Matthew 16:18: ‘And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’.
“However, we have to realise the importance of prayer. The Bible tells us there are many promises that God intends for us as the Church and the nation to embrace as part of our lives, but prayer is a key principle to realising God’s promises.
“The Bible says we don’t receive because we don’t ask. The Bible tells us that if we knock He will open the door, which is the way our Christian lives work, because it is connected with our faith that is an important principle of prayer.
“I believe that at the moment we are merely touching on the powerful effect that prayer will have and must have in our Christian lives,” says Black.
This perspective is confirmed by Andrew Murray in his book With Christ in the School of Prayer when he says the most blessed participation in the glory of Christ’s heavenly life is that we take part in His work of intercession.
“He and we live forever to pray. In union with Him, praying without ceasing becomes a possibility – a reality, the holiest and most blessed part of our holy and blessed fellowship with God.”
Praying without ceasing
It is praying without ceasing that we must aim for — to communicate with God about every experience we have throughout the day; whether it is hardship, conflict or a reason to be grateful.
We are called to pray for our families, friends, enemies, church, community and country. We are called to be conscious throughout the day of the Presence of the Lord and to pray to Him without ceasing.
“Praying without ceasing is the earthly manifestation of heaven, a foretaste of the life where they rest neither day nor night in their song of worship and adoration,” says Murray.
Greig and Roberts relate author Brennan Manning’s description of how in the contemplative traditions prayer is not primarily about changing things “somewhere out there”. It is first and foremost about changing something within ourselves.
The most powerful prayer
“The most powerful thing that can happen in the place of prayer is that you yourself become the prayer. You leave the prayer room as Jesus’ hands and feet on earth. This is what it means to pray continually: to see with the eyes of Jesus and to hear with His ears every waking moment,” say Greig and Roberts.
Now, when so many South Africans are feeling frustrated and disappointed, we are called on to become the prayer for repentance and positive attitudes by encouraging our fellow citizens through example, rather than word.
We are called on to spend more quiet time with the Lord examining our hearts and praying for softened, repentant, humbled, obedient hearts.
We are called on to join or start prayer groups to intercede and pray for unity in South Africa, pray for ethical, humble, honest, charitable conduct among all our people.
It is time for us to be the ethical, humble, honest and charitable behaviour we pray for, and in so doing live in a way that honours our prayers to God in Jesus Christ’s name through His Holy Spirit.