Assembling the Troops for Prayer
Arizona was facing one of the worst droughts in the state’s history. Fires were breaking out everywhere. The state was a tinderbox. Bark beetles were destroying the parched forests, and there was talk of rationing water. It felt as if we were in the midst of a plague. The cities of Arizona were desperate.
For months, we’d all been praying individually for the situation. Yet as the scorching summer continued, we were seeing no change. Then, on the closing night of PrayerQuake 2000, where believers had assembled from all over the state and nation, the worship leader called us to urgent prayer. She directed us in a song of intercession: “Open the heavens, send us rain.”
I didn’t think about it until later, but what that worship leader did was similar to what God told His people to do in Old Testament times. In a time of great need for God’s people, the Lord gave these instructions through His prophet Joel: Blow the trumpet in Zion Consecrate a fast Call a sacred assembly Bring together the elders Gather the children And all the inhabitants of the land Into the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD. (Joel 2:15-16, paraphrase)
Sounding the Trumpet
In early Israel, each tribe routinely fought its own battles. However, there were times—such as the spiritual crisis in Joel’s day—when the threat of disaster was so great that all 12 tribes were called together to engage in battle. Sometimes it was a spiritual battle, sometimes it was military. On such occasions, Israel’s leaders were to sound a trumpet (often a ram’s horn called a shofar), calling God’s people to assemble for a divine purpose such as fasting and prayer, repentance and appeals for mercy, praise and worship, rallying troops, praying for God’s intervention in battles, or making a memorial to God. When the trumpet or shofar sounded, praying alone wasn’t an option—nor was praying as a family or with a group of friends. Not even praying as a whole tribe satisfied what that trumpet called for. The whole nation was expected to assemble. Joel 2:16 instructs even newlyweds to leave the bridal chamber to participate.
So when that worship leader called the PrayerQuake assembly—made up of individuals from many different cities and churches—to specific, humble, focused, and united prayer, it was like she was calling all the tribes to battle together in prayer. As we sang that simple chorus over and over, the leader encouraged us to lift up the words as a petition to the Lord, asking Him to open the heavens and send not only spiritual but also physical rain to our state.
As we left the meeting later that Friday evening, we noted with amazement that raindrops already were falling from the sky. By Saturday morning it was raining in several places throughout the state. By Saturday afternoon it had begun to rain in the Phoenix metroplex, and by Sunday we were experiencing a downpour.
On Monday, The Arizona Republic reported the beginning of the earliest monsoon season since 1925. The weather announcers reported that “the unusual weather seemed to come out of nowhere.” The local news reported on Sunday morning that two forest fires had broken out in Arizona on Saturday, burning only about half an acre before they were put out by . . . you guessed it . . . rain!
Biblical Precedents for Corporate Prayer
What happened in Arizona was not happenstance. Second Chronicles 7:13-14 makes it clear what we are to do when it appears that heaven’s resources are cut off from earth: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
And that’s exactly what God did in response to the repentant corporate cry of His people in Joel; He brought forth the autumn and spring rains and blessed the harvest so that the threshing floors were full and the vats overflowing. So great was God’s blessing that He restored all that which the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:23-25).
The Old Testament records many times when God’s people were called together to pray collectively for breakthrough. When the vast armies of the Moabites and Ammonites came to make war against Jehoshaphat, he sounded an alarm throughout all Judah. “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him” (2 Chron. 20:3-4).
The Lord responded by giving the people a strategy to defeat their enemies: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. . . . You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you'” (vv. 15-17).
Continuing the Tradition
Although the trumpet may not have been as common in New Testament times, all hands corporate prayer gatherings were considered every bit as necessary. If the church was born on the day of Pentecost, it was born out of a corporate prayer meeting. Before Jesus left His disciples on earth, He told the entire group to gather in Jerusalem, “until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49). They followed His instruction and met together in the upper room where, we are told, they “all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14).
After 21 days of corporate prayer, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’ followers. Signs, wonders, and miracles followed them, and they spoke the Word boldly, even though they previously had been paralyzed by fear of both the Romans and the Jews.
These disciples—the new church—continued to meet daily in corporate prayer, with extraordinary results. When Peter was thrown in prison and was awaiting execution, they prayed corporately: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). The result? Peter was miraculously freed from prison by an angel.
The early Christians understood that spiritual breakthrough occurs as a result of united and focused intercession. Corporate prayer was a central role of the new church. It was a fundamental activity in their life together.
A Clear Call
In the same way today, we need to gather together to pray for breakthrough in our churches, communities, and the world. Most of us pray on our own, in our families, and even in prayer groups. These good prayer times, however, can never take the place—or have the power—of concerted all-church or all-community prayer gatherings.
Some situations call for all-church participation in prayer, such as when strategies for rescuing backslidden youth are needed, when direction for how to impact the community is desired, when corporate repentance is required, or a greater move of God’s Spirit is sought. When issues affect a greater region such as a city or nation, many churches may need to come together if the battle is to be won. Circumstances such as terrorist attacks, hurricanes and other natural disasters, important elections and significant proposed legislation may call for citywide or even nationwide prayer.
It is important to realize that praying together does not merely refer to physical proximity. It also refers to unified purpose. In Old Testament times, the shofar issued distinctive tones that signaled to Israel the specific purpose for coming together. I’ve been in many corporate prayer meetings where no one seemed to know quite the reason why they had come together. These unfocused gatherings usually do not achieve breakthrough: “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Cor. 14:8).
In churches and cities today, there are times when a clear call must go forth to gather all the troops and set them moving—or praying—in the same direction. My friend, Greg Frizzell, discovered the need for a clear call to prayer when he was pastoring his first church a few years back. High crime, gang activity, and community decline prevailed in the church’s neighborhood. As if that weren’t enough, the church was deeply divided and embroiled in a catastrophic legal battle. Attorney’s fees totaled more than $2 million, and the church was plagued with a public scandal of such severity that they were in the news every day for five years. As a 26-year-old fresh out of seminary, Frizzell knew that neither he nor his church had a chance of survival unless God powerfully intervened. He and his staff had tried everything humanly possible, yet nothing changed.
The turning point The turning point came when God led them to organize weekly prayer groups and begin a serious time of calling out to Him. Although their prayers could have scattered in many directions, they chose to pray the same specific points of focus: conversion of those without Christ, unity in the church, financial miracles, and for the church to be cleared of all false charges. The Wednesday night service, which previously had been primarily Bible study, was converted into an all-church prayer meeting.
Four months after the prayer gatherings began, 45 of the 60 unconverted people they had been praying for were saved. Several of these were hard cases in which people had been praying for them for years. Explosive growth occurred in the church, with new people continually visiting and becoming members. A miraculous unity filled the church, drawing the congregation and leadership together in increasing harmony. Ultimately, the church was completely cleared of all accusations. Their Jewish attorneys, who were not members of the church or committed to the Christian faith, forgave the church $1 million of the debt they owed.
Times of Seeking
Corporate prayer is not only for times of crisis, however. It is good for the entire church to get together for no other reason than to seek God’s face and purposes. In my home church, 63 affinity prayer groups have been launched since January of 2004. These groups are made up of people dedicated to prayer on a specific topic such as missions, families, the military, and so on. They have been successful in involving an increasing number of people in the prayer ministry. Even so, our pastor still calls for an all-church day of prayer and fasting each quarter. These usually center around consecration at the start of a new year, prayer for the nation on the Fourth of July, covering our youth at the beginning of a new school year, or celebration and thanksgiving in the fall. We all fast and pray individually in our homes and workplaces during the day. Then we gather at 6:00 p.m. at the church for a time of seeking the Lord together, followed by a break-the-fast meal. During these times the Lord has met us, not only answering our requests for the needs of the church, but also giving us a greater outpouring of His Spirit in our services.
One day we will be part of the greatest ever corporate gathering of God’s people when we meet Him face to face. Is it any surprise that it is the sound of the trumpet that will signal this magnificent event (1 Thess. 4:16)?
Throughout the ages, from the beginning of Israel to the end of time, the trumpet has been a symbol of God’s desire to gather His people. It’s been an audible reminder of the tremendous power that is released when we come together and call upon His name: “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” (Neh. 4:20).
I can hear God’s trumpet calling even now. Won’t you come?
—by Cheryl Sacks
Used by permission of Pray! Copyright © May/June 2006, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved.