by Tim Keller
In the last two quarterly Snapshots, we talked about gospel movements — defining what they are and how they work. We established that we don’t start gospel movements. Only God can do that. We also talked about how gospel movements are fueled by a combination of contextualized gospel theology, cross-denominational church planting and specialized ministries. Now I would like to talk about the most critical component of gospel movements: prayer.
Jack Miller, a dearly missed minister who was a friend of mine, said you never see any gospel movement without prayer that is “kingdom-centered, extraordinary, united and prevailing.”
A maintenance prayer is when you pray about your needs, and it’s a good thing. As parents and grandparents who are prone to worry, Kathy and I pray maintenance prayers for our family every night. In contrast, kingdom-centered prayer is when you really ask God to come down and do something in the world. There are always three parts to kingdom-centered prayer.
First, there's a note of repentance. You ask God to help you repent, and it is almost always the case that gospel movements never happen without a strong note of repentance.
Second, kingdom-centered prayer has an outward focus. You're praying for your city. You're praying for people groups in your city. You're praying for institutions. You're praying for your government. There's a long list of things to pray for, and you see prayer as work, real work. You're getting more work done than if you weren't praying. In the early days of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I’d have prayer meetings with a group of people who had been in the city a long time. We'd come up with 30 or 40 different people groups — immigrant groups, vocational groups — and then we would just pray right through the list.
The third part of kingdom-centered prayer is to simply ask for God’s presence. You don't have gospel movement without a sense of God's actual presence in the room. You want to see his face. Worship services should be worship services, not just instructional meetings, not like classrooms. You want God's presence to be so great that you can cut it with a knife, and you ask for that.
If you go to Acts 4 or even Exodus 33 or Nehemiah 1, you see kingdom-centered prayers asking for more of God. In Acts 4, the disciples’ lives are threatened for preaching the gospel. And what do the disciples pray for? Do they pray for protection? No. They pray for a gospel movement. They pray for enough boldness and a sense of God's power and presence in their lives that they wouldn’t shrink back from preaching.
Extraordinary prayer means more than what you do now. Do you have a small group that you pray with? Do you pray on Sunday? Do you have your daily devotions? Sure. Don't neglect the ordinary prayer, but none of those are extraordinary. Extraordinary prayer means going beyond the usual prayer meeting or prayer gatherings and asking God for a gospel movement.
Gospel movements require you to not just pray on your own but to get as many people praying for the same things as possible. You unite people to pray for a movement of God’s Spirit to send the gospel into people’s lives, into cities, into institutions.
Lastly, you just keep at it. You prevail, you prevail, you prevail. I knew of one woman who prayed for years that a campus ministry would get started in the college in her town. She prayed for 25 years before it happened. But then it did. Our prayers must be prevailing.
Prayer is critical in preparing for and bringing about gospel movements. And we must be bold, united and consistent in asking for God’s presence and the gospel to renew global cities. City to City wants to see churches all over the world praying for gospel renewal in cities and everywhere for that matter.
There is a story about Alexander the Great; it may not have actually happened, but perhaps it did.
A general came to him one day and said, "I've been a loyal soldier for you all my life. Now my daughter is being married and I would like you, if you would be willing, to pay for the wedding." Alexander the Great said, "Fine. I will do that. You've been a good soldier. Go to my treasurer and tell him what you need and he will give it to you." He went to the treasurer and when he told him what he needed, the treasurer ran to Alexander the Great and said, "Did you say you would give this man anything he asked for?” "Yes," said Alexander the Great. The treasurer replied, "Do you know how much it is going to be?" "No," said Alexander the Great. "Let me tell you how much he's asking for." Then he told Alexander the Great of the enormous sum that had been requested. The treasurer thought Alexander the Great was going to be enraged, but he said, "Give it to him." The treasurer said, "What?! Why?" Alexander replied, "Don't you know what an honor this man is doing me? By asking for such a ridiculous sum, he shows he believes that I am both rich and generous."
John Newton wrote a hymn. One verse reads: "Thou art coming to a king, large petitions with thee bring. For his grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much."
For more on Gospel Movements, see Center Church: Doing Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Timothy Keller (Zondervan 2012).