At the Fellowship National Convention 2018 in Richmond BC, Paul Watson provided an intriguing story about research done on the disciple making movement (DMM) occurring among the Bhojpuri people during 1990-2010. The one fruitful practice identified from the research common to those who planted the largest number of groups (80+ each) was that they each spent about 4 hours in prayer a day, getting up at 4 am.
As an application of this, Watson encourages anyone attempting to initiate a DMM to raise up 1000 prayer warriors to stand with them.
This brought to mind a question that was raised in an Immerse instructional seminar: “Is God more inclined to answer prayer if 10,000 pray than if 3 or 4 pray?” That is, do numbers make a difference?
I also reflected on Jesus’ words about the amount of prayer in Mt 6: “7 … do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
My reflections highlight the need for an appropriate theology concerning prayer so that we fully commit to a belief in and a practice of prayer so that DMMs will occur. Prayer is tied to the work of the Spirit in creating DMMs, but how? It would be a mistake, or even more forcefully, idolatry and heresy to think that what moves God is the number of people who pray, or the length of our prayers, as if there is an algorithm we are running that moves God to action. I suggest that it is not our prayers or even our passion that moves God, as if he checks to see how serious we are before he answers. Such a formulaic view reduces prayer to a cause and effect, as if it is our prayers that are required for God to act.
Rather, I wonder if prayer, true prayer, is best understood to be in and of itself an act of the Spirit. It is not that when we pray, then God acts, but rather the reality is that our prayers are how God’s Spirit acts. We do not pray so that God will fulfill his mission, rather our prayers are birthed from God’s desire to fulfill his mission through us. That is, when we pray, it should not be viewed as our initiative, but as God’s Spirit moving us towards his mission. God does not act after we pray, rather when we are praying that is already the initiating act of the Spirit within us.
Perhaps this is the connection between prayer and Pentecost. Jesus did not say, “Go to Jerusalem and pray so that the Spirit will come.” Rather he said, “You will receive power when the Spirit comes upon you.” And so they returned and every day joined in a spiritual practice of prayer (“They all joined together constantly in prayer” 1.14). This was the Spirit of God at work, and how God does his greatest work – through prayer.
So when 2 or 3 are gathered together in prayer, God’s Spirit is at work. But when 10,000 are praying, that is an even greater work of the Spirit (cf. Jn 14.12-14). From our side we may say, “God is moving!” However, from God’s side he was already moving with the 2 or 3; with the 10,000 now there are many more aligned with his unstoppable Spirit. When we spend a half hour in prayer, God’s Spirit is awakening us and drawing us into the Father’s presence; when we spend four hours in prayer, we have the privilege of being even more saturated with the presence of God. This, I believe, is why Paul says, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5.17), because that is how the Spirit lives in us, and how we live in the Spirit.
My takeaway from these reflections is to cultivate a hunger for prayer in myself and others. I will not pray more and get others to pray so that God will work. Rather, a development of hunger for prayer and time spent in prayer, as well as urging others to pray, is an act of submitting to God’s call to join him in mission. God is on mission and through prayer we join him in his mission. When the Spirit moves us to prayer then there will be the fire of transformation, because prayer is where the Spirit lives. Without that prayer, we will be all alone in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones trying to assemble skeletons with wire and crazy glue.