A Call to Prayer

Shifting the spiritual atmosphere, advancing the Kingdom of God, and glorifying God by raising the level of prayer at the FMC

By Stephen Piscura on behalf of the Family Ministry Center

Summary

This document describes a vision to raise the level of prayer at the Family Ministry Center, culminating specifically in the practice of laus perennis (perpetual prayer). Biblical, historical, and missional motivations are outlined, as are practical applications, all of which are framed by the Family Ministry Center’s mission to be “a place and a people of refuge for Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton neighborhood and beyond so that God can be made famous.” Finally, an invitation to participate is extended.

Introduction

The regular, effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous people advances the work of God. | James 5:16 (paraphrase)

A far cry from being a niche emphasis, discretionary preference, or subcultural rallying cry within the Body of Christ, the need for every believer to be given to the practices of holiness and prayer holds true in all places, among all peoples, and in all circumstances. The Family Ministry Center (FMC), a dynamic Christian ministry comprised of a network of diverse partners—yet under the Lordship of the same Head—is no exception to this Biblically defined mandate.

Scripture is clear: if the Christian laborers invested in the work of the FMC are to see the Kingdom of God tangibly and forcibly advancing into the manifold arenas in which we are collectively positioned, we must, by the grace of God, grow in personal and corporate holiness while also increasing the frequency, effectualness, and fervency of our prayer. To this end, FMC leadership and key stakeholders are calling the faithful within our community, city and region to join us in a vision to raise the level of prayer at the FMC. This vision is shaped by the following core tenets:

Priesthood

The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?”

Those who handle the law did not know me; | Jeremiah 2:8

In the late 1940s, A.W. Tozer wrote, “It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.”[1] The scandal Tozer describes, although ancient, seems to carry particular sting in evaluating the condition of modern Evangelicalism in America. America’s can-do cultural heritage, coupled with its general financial prosperity, are only two of a myriad of potential contributors. Whatever the cause, the scandal is real and far-reaching. Yet over against the spiritual poverty of our religious inventions towers the irrevocable call of the believer to his primary office: the office of priesthood.

We therefore define true “ministry” as the Bible does: the priest of God ministering unto God—knowing that out of this covenantal communion flows all else. We seek emancipation wherever the ministries of our own invention have kept us from the Apostle and high Priest of our confession—the greatest and first love of our total selves. We rightly give priority to intimacy with and apprehension of the Triune God. Recalling the priests of the Old Covenant and being yoked to Jesus in the New, we take our rightful and necessary place before the altar, upon the wall, and in the gap.

A Progression Toward 24/7 Coverage

There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations…and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God… | Exodus 30:8 / Revelation 8:4

Warmed and illuminated by the historical accounts of revival and awakening throughout the ages, as well as the widening blaze of the global prayer movement, we endeavour to join our own light to the glow of this fire. Like the Apostles of the 1st century, the Celtic monastics of the Middle Ages, or the Moravians of the modern era, we recognize and embrace the need for prayer to burn at the heart of New Testament community—not merely in rhetoric, but in real and ongoing experience. We therefore envision a prayer meeting at the FMC which has no end.

A progressive movement toward 24/7 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) prayer coverage is undergirded by the following assumptions:

  1. Our faith is in the God to Whom we pray, not the act of prayer.

  1. Prayer shifts the spiritual atmosphere.

To narrowly define the function of prayer would be to betray fidelity to the Scriptures. For prayer is not solely a means of expressing requests to God, nor is it solely a means of expressing gratitude or praise to God. Neither is it solely a means of confessing and repenting from sin, nor is it solely a means of engaging in spiritual warfare. No, prayer does not solely fulfill any singular function. Its purposes are manifold and each must have its rightful place in the life of the Church. By the grace of God, we make it our aim to embrace and encourage the practice of prayer in all of its rich diversity.

Nevertheless, prayer’s unique capacity to effect shifts in the spiritual atmosphere is of particular importance to the mission of the FMC and its partners.

By “spiritual atmosphere”, we mean the prevailing attitudes, mentalities, habits, patterns, and systems embedded in a certain environment, locale or people group which:

According to this definition, a spiritual atmosphere may exist as narrowly as a single household or as broadly as a nation or global region.

We maintain that a shift occurs when those forces which exert power over the spiritual atmosphere are yielded, in some discernable degree, to the dominion of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we maintain that God has elected prayer as the chief agency by which His people are to contend for such shifts. Without abdicating the believer’s responsibility to maintain faithful and culturally engaged Gospel-witness in all things, this translates to an understanding that advances in the Kingdom of God are spiritual in nature chronologically prior to their expression in the natural world.

Evidences that would suggest the occurrence of a shift in the spiritual atmosphere might include, but are not limited to:

Psalm 22 announces that God is enthroned on the praises of His people. Thus, in our pursuit of 24/7 prayer, we joyfully aim to enthrone God continuously, insisting in faith that “when we invite God to dwell in our midst…it is an invitation for Him to dismantle everything that the Holy Spirit did not initiate.”[5]

 

  1. Continuous prayer affords dramatic centrality to the role of prayer amid New Testament community.

Against the backdrop of a religious enterprise that treats prayer as a kind of peripheral add-on, we intentionally situate prayer at the heart of the FMC community. The significant commitment inherent to maintaining continuous prayer carries with it the added benefit of serving as a kind of safeguard against the devaluation of prayer and, subsequently, a propellant toward greater dependence on God in all things.

Moreover, we are convinced that it is the practice of prayer in community whereby we are directed in vision, confirmed in identity, strengthened in commitment, and made eager to maintain (or restore) the bond of unity. As we endeavor to pray together, we trust God to erode our common walls of division (denominationalism, classism, racism, nationalism, judgmentalism, gender bias, regional divisions, etc.), and shepherd us toward the oneness of mind, heart, anointing, and accord that—although wonderfully afforded to us in the Resurrection—is rarely expressed in living experience. It is this mode of operation that we desire and actively pursue as Christian disciples on common mission.

  1. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

We aim to give honor where honor is due, particularly to those who’ve paved the way in the modern global prayer movement. These heroes of the faith have done so by willingly paying the price of their obedience and demonstrating continually faithful leadership to the countless whom they serve. Though many could rightly be named, we particularly recognize the invaluable contributions of:

We maintain every intention to continue learning from, regularly supporting, partnering with and in every way honoring these and all our praying forebears.

  1. Prayer begets prayer.

We altogether reject the notion that prayer is a kind of zero-sum endeavor, as if praying people and prayer support in a specific locale were a kind of nonrenewable resource—fixed at a certain amount and easily over-depleted. Rather, we confidently uphold the conviction that prayer only begets more prayer. This is true in the life of the individual and in the life of the Church. As such, we reject anything that smells of competition with or suspicion toward those in our region who have committed to labor in prayer. Instead, we celebrate the birth and continued vitality of every new and existing prayer group, prayer watch, prayer house, prayer ministry, and Christ-centered prayer effort of any kind.

  1. Continuous prayer is powerful, not magical.

We afford no special privilege to continuous prayer as possessing some kind of mystic superiority over above other expressions of prayer (e.g. intermittent prayer, scheduled prayer, public prayer, private prayer, the continually Godward posture of the believer’s heart implied in 1 Thessalonians 5, and so on). We uphold sincere prayer unto the God of the Bible in all its manifold expressions as legitimate, deeply valuable, and altogether necessary. We make no apology however, for our pursuit of continuous prayer—an expression framed by clear Biblical data and compelling historical precedent.

  1. Continuous prayer can become an idol, just like anything else. This is to be consciously resisted.

We are not ignorant of the susceptibility of Christian disciplines, methodologies, programs and the like to cease functioning as legitimate means of grace and shift instead into objects of idolatry. While impossible to predict every conceivable pitfall which might arise in the pursuit of continuous prayer, we realize such pitfalls are possible and they may be many. For example:

In view of potential pitfalls such as these, and our shared propensity to exchange Christian freedom for religious bondage, the need for vigilance is apparent. This vigilance is to be woven into the oversight and culture of the endeavor.

Finally, it must be clearly understood that 24/7 prayer coverage is not a goal that will be achieved overnight. It may take years, or more, and only the grace of God will see it done.

Missional Thrust

And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?” | Mark 11:17 referencing Isaiah 56:7

Agreeing with the Westminster Shorter Catechism that man’s chief end is “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever,” we may rightly uphold the enjoyment of God in prayer as a pursuit which merits no additional qualification. Yet as members of the Church Militant—presently engaged in battle against the flesh, the Devil, and the world[6]—we do well to also embrace prayer as the engine of victorious Christian missions.

Rather than constructing a kind of impenetrable bunker into which the faithful may retreat from the befouling encroachments of the world, we instead regard our labor in prayer as prerequisite, direct confrontation with those forces which nihilistically delay the completion of the Great Commission. Increasing the level of prayer among FMC stakeholders and partners is therefore an invitation to risk the genuine dangers inherent to becoming the embodiment of our petitions. It is an invitation to beseech the Lord of the harvest that He may send more laborers into the harvest, while also beseeching Him to reorient our priorities, affections, and treasures so that we ourselves may be sent.

The inseparability of the practice of prayer from the enterprise of Christian missions holds true both for the local mandate of the FMC and its partners, as well as the global mandate of the worldwide Church. Susceptible as we are, we resist the foolish pride that would delude us into believing that our intellect and effort, without prayer, will somehow dispossesses the kingdom of darkness with the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son—whether in Cleveland, Ohio or in the farthest reaches of the earth. Rather, having in view the many arenas of ministry-investment represented by the FMC and its nearly twenty partners, we engage with God in prayer that He might purify, direct, anoint, empower, and sustain the labor of the saints.

And although Church history supplies no shortage of inspiration by which to frame this union of prayer and missions, we call particular attention to the legacy of the Moravian Church. With a history that spans from the 15th century to the present day, it is the famed missionary zeal and spiritual fortitude of the Moravians in the 18th century that most readily captures the Christian imagination. Having established the village of Herrnhut in Germany (then independent Saxony), this band of displaced Christians faithfully maintained a 24/7 prayer watch which persisted, uninterrupted, for 100 years! United in intentional community, committed to lives of simplicity, generosity, and brotherly love, and undergirded by their uncompromising practice of prayer, the Moravian Church became the first large-scale Protestant missionary movement, sending hundreds of missionaries throughout the world! One can hardly overstate the importance of the spiritual renewal facilitated by the faithfulness of the Moravians. Would to God that we resemble such faithfulness in piety and practice!

Finally, insofar as the FMC functions as a lively hub of Christian ministry, and in view of its strategic location in a diverse and underserved urban neighborhood, it should be emphasized that the practice of prayer on campus is, in and of itself, a powerful means of missional engagement. Rather than a sterile chamber of religious drudgery, we envision the Prayer Room at the FMC as a place bursting with life, beauty, and creative expression—a kind of outward portrait of the unceasing communion between God and His people. We maintain that the diversity of our response to God in prayer rightly extends well beyond bowed heads, closed eyes, and clasped hands. Writing and art-making, music and composition, stillness and dance, expressions of profound joy, lamentations of deep sorrow all have their place. Faith-filled petitions for a transnational move of God have their place, as do painful but liberating confessions of unbelief and low expectations. Like the medieval monasteries of the Celts,[7] or the modern “Boiler Rooms” of the 24/7 Prayer movement,[8] the life of the Prayer Room is meant to exert a Christward gravitational pull upon believer and unbeliever alike. Imagining the FMC and its flurry of daily operations as a series of concentric circles, we situate prayer as the flame burning at the very center—trusting that, regardless of what might bring one to the campus of the FMC, the trajectory is ever inward toward deeper levels of intimacy with God and one another.

Participation

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth. | Isaiah 62:6

Though motivated to fully realize this vision, we resist the temptation to rush and risk compromise. Instead, we aim to lay strong foundations without despising small beginnings. Phases and clear goals will help to identify successes and make adjustments where needed.

A first major milestone in raising the level of prayer at the FMC is the establishment of three daily “watches” of prayer—morning, midday, and evening. Inspired by the devotion of Daniel in Babylon, who (in spite of the peril) prayed three times daily,[9] as well as the Church’s longstanding practice of the canonical hours, three defined prayer watches will provide a rhythmic framework upon which to build. Residents of Ephraim House, an intentional Christian community living onsite at the FMC, are already upholding the Morning Watch of prayer Monday to Friday and have begun to add the Midday Watch to their daily rhythm.[10] The Evening Watch of prayer has also begun to take shape through the praying efforts of the FMC’s partners. And although faithfully sustained by those who lead them, these watches would benefit greatly from additional participants. Moreover, not every morning, midday, or evening is yet covered.

To participate in raising the level of prayer at the FMC, or to make a prayer-related inquiry, visit clevelandfmc.org.


[1] Tozer, A. W. The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine. Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2006. 8. Print.

[2] This is a nuanced consideration. For example, consider that while the cuisine of any given culture is inherently ethically neutral, it is the sinful force of greed which has globalized an industrial food system which yields devastating effects upon human health while also doing great harm to the environment—a reality that calls for discernment in the life of the privileged believer. Nuances and qualifications such as these are important in evaluating spiritual atmosphere.

[3] The latter are identified in Scripture as “powers,” “principalities,” “rulers” or “authorities.” (See Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 2:15, Romans 8:38)

[4] That is, Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for a supernatural realization of love and unity among those who are His disciples which evidences to the world the reality of the Christian God.

[5] Wesley Tullis in conversation with Cheryl Sacks, April 1995.

[6] That is, the world-system which operates in opposition to God and His norms (See 1 Corinthians 1:20–21, Galatians 6:14, Colossians 2:8, James 4:4, 1 John 2:15).

[7] “What many contemporary Christians do not realize is that Celtic Christianity was one of the most successfully evangelistic branches of the church in history. The Celtic church converted Ireland from paganism to Christianity in a remarkably short period, and then proceeded to send missionaries throughout Europe.” — Abingdon Press

[8] “The Boiler Room Network is a worldwide family of missional and monastic communities committed to a shared life of 24-7 prayer, mission and justice. All Boiler Rooms are houses of prayer seeking to make a measurable difference amongst the poor and the lost.” — 24-7 Prayer

[9] See Daniel 6:10

[10] As of June, 2016