Biblically and historically, the one non-negotiable, universal ingredient in times of spiritual renewal is corporate, prevailing, intensive, kingdom-centered prayer. What is that?
It is focused on God’s presence and kingdom. In Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, Jack Miller talks about the difference between “maintenance prayer” and “frontline” prayer meetings. Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical, and totally focused on physical needs inside the church. But frontline prayer has three basic traits:
1) A request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves;
2) a compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church; and
3) a yearning to know God, to see his face, to see his glory.
It is quite clear whether these traits are present when listening to a prayer meeting. Most interesting is to study biblical prayers for revival, such as in Acts 4, or Exodus 33, or Nehemiah 1, where these three elements are easy to see. Notice in Acts 4, for example, that the disciples, whose lives had been threatened, did not ask for protection for themselves and their families, but only boldness to keep preaching!
It is bold and specific. The history of revivals shows one or a few or many who take the lead in praying fervently for renewal. Their pattern is Moses (Exodus 33), who pitched a tabernacle outside Israel’s camp where he and others prayed for God’s presence and to see his glory. Such prayer need not (indeed, usually does not) begin as an organized church program. Rather it is a private field of strong exertion and even agony for the leaders. The characteristics of this kind of prayer include:
a) Pacesetters in prayer who spend time in self-examination. Without a strong understanding of grace, this can be morbid and depressing. But in the context of the gospel, it is purifying and strengthening. They “take off their ornaments” (Ex. 33:1-6). They examine their hearts for idols and set them aside.
b) They then begin to make the big request — a sight of the glory of God. That includes asking:
1) for a personal experience of the glory and presence of God (“that I may know you” [Ex. 33:13]),
2) for the people’s experience of the glory of God (v.15), and
3) that the world might see the glory of God through his people (v.16). Moses asks that God’s presence would be obvious to all: “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
This is a prayer that the world would be awed and amazed by a show of God’s power and radiance in the church; that it would truly become the new humanity that is a sign of the future kingdom.
It is prevailing and corporate. By this we mean simply that prayer should be constant, not sporadic and brief. Why? Are we to think that God wants to see us grovel? Why do we not simply put in our request in and wait? But sporadic, brief prayer shows a lack of dependence, a self-sufficiency; and thus we have not built an altar that God can honor with his fire. We must pray without ceasing, pray long, pray hard. We will find that the very process is bringing about that which we are asking for — to have our hard hearts melted, to tear down barriers, to have the glory of God break through.