It was unexpected. I had just asked for silence. But this person just couldn't contain themselves.
I was 24 years old and it was my first time as the main speaker at a weeklong intensive series of outreach events. I had just given the second of these talks and had invited people to respond to what they had heard.
I said that we would have a minute of quiet in which people could welcome Jesus into their lives. After this, I told them, I would offer a prayer that they could follow along if they wanted.
But the minute of quiet never happened. Somebody was so keen to receive Christ that they began shouting emotionally, "Jesus, forgive me. I have ignored you. I just want to know you."
After about a minute, they stopped speaking. Somebody else started speaking a similarly loud and heartfelt prayer of response: "Jesus, I realize I need you. Please accept me."
This was, in turn, followed by another such prayer from someone else.
I was amazed. I had never experienced people being so affected by the message of Jesus that they simply couldn't keep their mouths shut.
Eighteen people came to faith that week. Quite an amazing figure considering the relatively small gatherings I was addressing. There was something incredibly powerful going on.
As I reflected on that week, I wondered what had been unique about it:
Had I preached brilliantly? Hardly. I'd been invited on three days' notice and was so inexperienced I didn't even arrive with enough material to last the week.
Were the meetings especially innovative? No, I actually sat in most of them wishing the leaders could receive some training on running better evangelistic events.
So what was it?
I eventually asked the people who organized the outreach why it had gone so well. They had one answer: Prayer.
Six months prior, every member of their community had written the names of 10 friends on a specially-designed bookmark. Every day, they prayed for those 10 friends by name. When the community gathered as a large group, they took time to pray for their 10 people. One day a week, many people fasted and prayed for their friends. For six months, then, literally hundreds of people were being prayed and fasted for daily by their Christian friends.
The events that occurred after my talks were simply the answers to those prayers.
The Second Line of the Lord's Prayer
A few months after the outreach, I sat in a chapter prayer meeting listening to the prayers of those around me. We had just spoken to God about sick relatives, difficult life decisions, and upcoming exams.
All important stuff. But strangely little time had been spent praying for people outside our chapter who need to know Jesus. I wondered if there was some link between the inward focus of our prayers and the fact that we were seeing few new people begin following Jesus.
Jesus himself told us to make outward-focused prayer a priority. Have you ever noticed that the second line of the Lord's Prayer actually reads "hallowed be your name"?
Let's break that down for a second:
To "hallow" something means to reverence it. To consider it important and worthy of honor.
A person's "name " in the Bible often refers to everything for which they stand. Their entire character and reputation.
Praying "hallowed be your name" is a way of saying, "Father, I ask that people would begin to respect and honor who you are and what you do." In other words: It is a prayer that people who don't currently love and respect God would begin to do so. It is a prayer that our evangelism be effective.
And this is the second line of the Lord's Prayer. The "daily bread" stuff of praying for exams and sick aunts doesn't come until we have almost reached "amen" in the prayer. Jesus clearly wants us to prioritize prayer for people who aren't currently following him.
It's not that we were doing anything wrong in our chapter prayer meeting. It is quite legitimate to pray for personal needs. But our failure to also focus on prayer for people outside the community meant that we were less than fully echoing Jesus' priorities.
And this omission was being felt. When I compared our chapter with the community that had spent six months praying for hundreds of their friends, there was an enormous gap in terms of spiritual fruit.
6 Concrete Steps
Perhaps you feel similarly. You'd love to make prayer for people outside your chapter a priority. But you wonder how to do so.
Over the years since that that powerful week of events, I have found a few different approaches to be helpful. Check out this list and see if any of them might be helpful for you:
1. Reshape Existing Prayer Sessions
Make a list of times when your chapter currently prays together. Perhaps there is a prayer slot in small groups or large-group meetings. Maybe your leadership team prays during its weekly meetings. Jot down some ideas about how you can retune these existing moments of prayer to give them a substantial outward focus. If you are not the person leading these prayer times, then you will need to consider how you can help the key individuals make this shift.
2. Slip Prayer into the Gaps
Devote five or 10 minutes to prayer before every chapter outreach. Huddle up and pray before you do Proxe Stations. Arrive early for your GIG and pray with your co-leader. Ask the team to arrive 10 minutes early for your next big outreach event so you can pray together. Prefacing and concluding every outreach with prayer takes minimal extra work, but can have a big impact.
3. Create Reminders
Mimic the bookmark idea I mentioned earlier. Use 2+ Prayer Cards. Create a private Facebook group. Or do something more creative like have a list of friends' names as the wallpaper on your phone or computer. But don't just do it on a personal level: get the whole chapter to commit to praying by name for 2-10 of their fellow students. Perhaps use a large-group meeting to launch this prayer initiative. Maybe have a week where everybody in your small group swaps their list of names with someone else. That way you are praying for your own friends and for each other's.
4. Give Netflix a Sabbatical
Have a month in which you challenge the chapter to take a break from online TV/movie consumption. Encourage them to fill the gap with prayer. Perhaps even organize some special prayer opportunities for the month. Maybe every small group could divide into pairs who meet together for a daily half hour of prayer.
5. Go on a Prayer Walk
Split into pairs or threes and prayer walk around campus. Pray outside (or even inside) each dorm complex and class building. Pray specifically for the people who live and study in those places.
6. Get Visual
Devote an entire large-group meeting to praying for the campus. Create a visual and interactive prayer environment that helps students remain focused on the campus as they are praying.
These are just a few ideas. If one of them seems like a good fit for your context, why not implement it this week? Perhaps take a moment to note down some ways you could help your chapter pray for those around them.
I discovered years ago, as somebody broke the silence with their heartfelt prayer, that if a community asks God to work in the lives of others, God does so. Perhaps—as Jesus said on another occasion—we frequently do not have because we do not ask!
What ideas do you have for increasing evangelistic prayer in your fellowship? Share them in a comment below.