Why don’t we pray more in America?
A few weeks ago at church we were blessed to have Pastor Shodankeh Johnson come from Sierra Leone, Africa to preach several messages on prayer and fasting. It has turned our church around.
Jim Rayburn founded Young Life on hours and hours of prayer. If you read the book compiled from his diary entries, you’ll immediately notice he spent hours per day praying and reading the Bible. It’s enough to make you wonder while reading it, when he did actual “ministry work.” But I’ve come to realize that ministry work IS prayer. We think it doesn’t work so we schedule our time for US to do things. We think it’s US who do the work, not God. Jim Rayburn knew that it was God who moved, so he prioritized prayer over everything else. He interceded for the work of Young Life, and for the teenagers.
God really started teaching me about prayer in 2009, when he brought me a close friend with whom I spent countless evenings praying in one of our cars before we dropped the other one off. She was the first friend to consistently pray with me in my moment of need. At Young Life New Staff Training at Crooked Creek in Colorado in 2010. I will never forget the time all of us International Staff spent in the Prayer Room after one of us found out her father was dying far away in Brazil. I had only met this group of people a couple of weeks ago at Cross-Cultural Orientation, yet we became like family, all of us about to willingly give up our lives to go spread the gospel somewhere else. My British friend gathered all of us in the prayer room as we dropped everything we were doing to sit together on the floor in the room, taking turns praying out loud and grabbing Bibles to read a Scripture that came to mind, and someone brought out their guitar and without a word just starting playing “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” To this day that song gives me goosebumps.
Because of that night, days before my friend Steven went to be Jesus later that next year, I gathered my friends in a living room and brought my guitar and we prayed and worshipped as we waited for him to go. The beauty of a people that comes together to worship their God in the midst of pain and confusion can’t really be explained here.
When I was in Germany, I got to know a group of German Christians. In Germany, true Christians are hard to find. This Christian group knew this, and got together for prayer EVERY SINGLE DAY. They set a time every day that even if only two people could make it, they were getting together to pray. They didn’t spend an hour sharing prayer requests, or reading the Bible, they just prayed. They didn’t have an agenda, they didn’t talk about praying, some some even prayed more than others, but they just sat before God in someone’s living room, or outside by a bench in the street. Even hearing it in German was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Prayer was the air they breathed. They saw it in the Bible, so that’s what they did. Soon my American young adult Bible study on the military base started this habit together after mixing with the German group.
My German best friend, who was part of this prayer group, changed the way I prayed as she lived life with me. I’d talk about something stressing me out, and she would just say “let’s pray.” And I’d be like, “Like right now?” and she’d say very matter-of-factly, “Well, yeah,” like it was obvious. In America, we like to say “I’ll pray for you” or just take prayer requests. These Germans just stopped and prayed. They knew the importance of actual prayer. Once when wewere driving to Berlin for a fun weekend trip, she asked, “Do you want to pray together for a bit?” I was taken aback. “About what?” I said. She just wanted to pray. Just because. We prayed out loud together in the car for at least an hour if not two (don’t worry I didn’t close my eyes while driving). The sense of peace that came over me was amazing. From then on I started praying with some of my high school students as soon as they shared something tough with me.
When I was in Italy, I met a Christian family who owned a vineyard and knew what it was like to depend on the Lord to bring them a harvest. They literally depended on God for whether they could make a living or not. This couple got up early every morning, drank espresso at the table, read part of the Bible, prayed, and sang a hymn together, just the two of them, before he went out to the vineyards and she went to the kitchen to prepare lunch. When I took my parents to visit this family, an older man working at the vineyard begged us to sing Amazing Grace with him, just spontaneously as we were hanging out, even though he only knew one verse. He just wanted to praise God with Americans. He then offered to pray for us, in Italian.
At singles worship night Pastor Shodankeh spoke on the power of faith and raising the bar of expectation for what God can do. At church on the weekend he spoke about how prayer and fasting was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry and a useful weapon in the hands of the early church and it is ALL OVER THE BIBLE, so why don’t we do it? Pastor Shodankeh’s messages were so impactful because he told REAL STORIES- stories of prayer answered in Africa when people prayed and fasted. Stories of the gospel spreading and miracles happening that could only have been The Lord. Our church experienced a sort of revival as our pastor came up and in tears he admitted to not being the man of prayer he needed to be as a leader of our church, and he committed to changing that. We immediately entered 3 days of prayer and fasting as a church and got back together Wednesday night for our monthly prayer night and it was a holy night of surrender to the Lord. We were all renewed to become a people of prayer.
As my pastor got up and choked up with conviction, so did I, because in the last 7 months I seem to have lost something I gained by living in another country and meeting Christians from other countries. I seem to have lost the spirit of prayer. I found myself initially praying my way through my transition with hope and expectation about what God would do through Young Life and in my own personal life… But somewhere along the line I stopped praying and started trying to control everything. It’s not because life and ministry has gotten easier, because it’s actually gotten harder. My response? Work more, do more, put the pressure on myself, stress out about money and the spiritual lives of students, etc. When my German friend visited me in the first couple months of my move she said to me, “I can see why it is hard to be a Christian in America.” Folks, it really, truly is. we need to be aware of how the enemy works in our country. He’s sneaky. He tells us that we don’t need God, that He can’t truly work the change we want to see in our lives and others’. That we need to do it ourselves.
So my response in the last couple weeks has been to get back to a place of prayer and fasting. And I have been seeing God work all over the place…
Instead of stressing about a students’ spiritual life, I set an alarm on my phone to pray for them at the same time every day. A parent has even joined me in this prayer for their kid. I was literally on my knees for these kids while we were at camp every day, sometimes with tears, and I want to pray with that kind of fervor for them at home.
Instead of stressing about how I’m going to pay my bills, I prayed for money, and it has literally been handed to me on two occasions. Also things got sorted out with my YL business card. I’m still struggling, but turning that struggle into prayer. I’m starting to trust Him more to give me my daily bread.
Instead of stressing about how on earth I’m going to find time to raise money for my salary for Young Life when I work 32 hours a week at this new job, I prayed and 2 people messaged me about supporting me without me initiating it with them.
With my new job at a group home, I’ve had to grow tougher skin. I’ve been driven to my knees because of it, and I know God is doing work in me and I pray in those kids as well. I’m now praying for opportunities to share Jesus with them, and bring them to Young Life this year. I can’t wait to see what God does.
God is looking for that man or woman who will stand in the gap of intercession with prayer and fasting for God to restore the nations. Ezekiel 22:30. Will you stand in the gap with me for teenagers in Northwest Georgia? For the seemingly impossible amount of funds we need to keep ministry going? For new leaders to go out into the schools? For current leaders to be leaders of prayer themselves? Do you believe that God can change a nation and a people towards himself?
For me personally, this journey to having more prayer in my life has meant and will mean a lot of changes and re-prioritizing.
But here’s the thing: imagine what could happen if we ask God to change things, to change others, to change US, to change this area, to change lives. To reach the unreachable. Do we believe He is as big as He says He is? That He can still work the way He worked in the Bible? That Jesus was on to something when He spent so much time in prayer to His Father? Father, may we believe this and may it change the way we live our lives in total dependence on You.
P.S. If you feel called to join my prayer team, whether it’s the long distance email one or the one I feel like God wants me to start here locally to pray for teenagers in NWGA, please let me know.
P.P.S. I’m currently re-reading this incredible book on prayer, the best book I’ve ever read on the subject, highly recommended: