We are coming to the end this week of what I believe is one of the most productive and promising of the many prayer initiatives that we have seen of recent years. I am referring to the ten day prayer initiative launched by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York and covering the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost Sunday. There are many things which commend it.
First it came from the Archbishops of the National Church acting in harmony and unity. It was not a “token” call in any sense but an expression of their oneness of heart-longing for real renewal by the Holy Spirit in the church at large. It was not aimed merely at the Church of England but was genuine “national” in concept in that it built bridges and was wide open to other Christian denominations and streams. Among those other groupings there was widespread response. It gave adequate space for wide variety in the mode and manner and intensity of prayer.
Second it was a clear “spiritual” call – a call to prayer. Refreshingly it did not centre on projects and programmes, but put its finger on the most important need in the church – a return to urgent and focussed prayer. The church needs prayer more than plans – prayer leads to God’s plans and God’s power.
Third it was eminently practicable and possible because of its essential simplicity. It was actually the nearest thing that we can get to a National day of Prayer at this time. The Queen is in no position to call for such a National Day of Prayer, for such days have as their essential rationale a truly and blatant national calamity which is obvious to the vast majority in the nation. The days after Dunkirk were the background to what I believe was the last National Day of Prayer, called by George VIth, when we all knew that invasion and conquest by the Nazis was imminent and very possible. We have no such evident calamity. None the less prayer for the nation and for genuine Christian spiritual renewal in the nation remains its most pressing need. The call by the two Archbishops for such prayer, using their position, authority and power in the Church of the nation was the next best thing and highly appropriate. We should thank God for them and for the Providence that has put them together at this time to make such a call.
Fourth it was astutely and firmly biblical, taking, as it did for its inspiration the model of the early church at prayer for the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost Sunday. In those days the early disciples gave themselves to earnest and prolonged prayer. This again was no token prayer, but an expression of their deep desire that the promises of Jesus about the Kingdom and the Spirit would be fulfilled. We are told they “gave themselves to prayer” (“made a business of prayer”)”. There were not many of them – a bare handful – but they believed the promises of Jesus and the readiness of the Father to answer their prayers despite the fact that they were few in number. Their number was not an essential factor – their spirit was. In effect 120 praying people brought about the coming of the Spirit and subsequent revival among the Jews.
Fifth the Archbishops’ Call gave a very clear and simple direction to the prayer. It is so important that prayer is given a direction and that intent is spelled out. Much of prayer is simply “ask and you will receive” and we should not be ashamed or put off by such simple direct asking. It is very biblical, and it is encouraged by Jesus himself. Intercessory prayer is intended to achieve objectives and get results; it needs to be specific. It is the church’s weapon. There are, of course, other aspects of prayer which are important and belong to the asking process, but we want things to happen.
The direction that the Archbishops gave was twofold, and again thoroughly biblical and simple. We were asked to pray for the Coming of the Kingdom of God, not only in our own country but across the world. This was the essential longing of Jesus himself and the substance of his commission to the disciples “to go into all the world and make disciples”. The Kingdom of God, His rule, is intended to operate in the hearts of men and women and to be worked out through them in acts of peace, righteousness and justice. Thus the Kingdom of God is extended and grown as people turn to Jesus. It is as simple as that; and that is precisely what this initiative put its finger on – that people might turn to Jesus and so the Kingdom might grow. What a wonderfully accurate pointer for prayer! At the same time, moreover, the call in its second directive was that we should seek the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to make this happen, to empower Christian people to be the sort of witnesses that could bring other people to believe in Jesus. It was prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit. There can be no real renewal without the presence and empowering of the Spirit Himself. It cannot be planned and it cannot be programmed. The Spirit blows where He will, and will not be directed; but God sends Him to those who earnestly seek Him – prayer is key. How appropriate that the ten days should end on Pentecost Sunday, therefore. It was Pentecost that gave the power essential to the witness of the church – it gave it great boldness and it gave it great clarity and it released something of the miraculous in the life and experience of the church which greatly authenticated its witness. It is to be much hoped that we shall see something of this happening on this Pentecost Sunday and succeeding days.
It is also profoundly to be hoped that though this prayer initiative was very sensibly made for just ten days that the impetus will go on for a great deal longer than that and leave a permanent impression. “Keep on asking” until we receive is the need. At a personal level, having moved from the “big city” to small village I have witnessed myself the beginnings of revitalisation in the groups of the 4s and 5s who make up the prayer life of the village through this initiative. It will have had a major impact elsewhere, I’m sure.