I speak from an older seat now, perhaps wiser, but less vigorous. I speak to your heart of fire. You, whose legs have merely loosened before the race set before you! Listen, as I tell you a secret known to everyone.
When I do a mental survey of the past 35 years with Cru, more fruitful seasons stand out above others. Then I ask myself, why? What was the very best of what we did to make it that way? Our bread and butter, evangelism and discipleship, retreats and global trips were part of the expression of the best, but not the best. A talented group of leaders who called the troops into action was in place, but it wasn’t the best, only it’s nucleus.
So, what was the very best?
Calling others to pray!
There have been many fruit bearing years in this ministry, but the 90’s stand in bold relief as a time of unusual growth. Not by coincidence, it was also a decade of prayer. There were many rivulets—streams of holy longing, and prayer movements going on back then. Dr. Bright was leading the way with prayer and fasting events. Jim Cymbala came out with his book Fresh Wind Fresh Fire, and it took the Christian world by storm. The gist was simple—make the prayer meeting the most important moment of the week. Edwin Ore, revival historian, spoke out of the past in a grainy video that shock foundations of pragmatism. A decade earlier, Reverend E.V. Hill had spoken on prayer at a conference on high school discipleship, and his words still echoed loudly. A popular phrase circulated among evangelicals: “Prayer is our ministry, service gathering the results.”
The high school ministry had it’s own stream, a prayer conference called Something’s Happening USA. Unlike anything before or since, SHUSA’s brought speakers, worship and prayer together, to move student’s hearts to encounter God. Year after year we noted that there was a dramatic bump in student evangelism after each of these events. When student leaders gathered, He created divine moments they couldn’t shake. One of those moments came during the final session of the first SHUSA, Labor Day weekend, 1989, Minneapolis, MN.
The memories are still fresh and sobering. Toward the end of the final worship set, the spirit of God seemed to bring a depth to the songs, and students weren’t just up out of their chairs, they were standing on them! I remember Chuck Klein came over to ask me what I thought was happening. “Do you think we should prolong the praise segment,” he asked? I can’t remember my exact response, but I said something to the affect that God’s Spirit was doing something unusual, and let it go on a bit longer. In fact, word came that students didn’t want it to end! Not long after, He came into the room. By He, I mean the Holy Spirit.
I have this clear memory of seeing Craig Howard, who was part of the program team, headsets on, stationed where he was told, but enraptured with both arms held over his head, trance like it seemed, utterly lost through the presence of God. It was thick in the room. A moment that programing can’t produce, a time in space where God decided to visit without apology, without a lot of fanfare, only it meant different things to different people. For me, I had been in a season of temptation that no amount of confession and repentance seemed to assuage. But in a moment’s time, I literally felt the spirit of God reach into my chest, grab a tightly woven stronghold, unravel it, and cast it away. I was free! This kind of experience happened all across the assemblage. God was getting us ready for a hell-menacing season of evangelism and discipleship.
I’m not a proponent of bringing back the ‘good old days.’ Too much selective memory involved. But the signs of the times force us to consider a more serious approach to prayer. Young leader, your dream of taking the next impossible hill is understandable, you were made for this hour! But there are some among you, if you could hear His voice, would be selected to lead us into doing the very best.
With no judgment, I offer signs of the times.
We see a lot of church planting, but little seed planting, the faith to know prayer invests for future harvest.
We see pragmatism blossom through technology and honing our strategic plans. But do those plans include prayer as the nucleus for change?
We see many students respond to the message, but fewer and fewer of them living out their creed through the turbulent college years and beyond.
We see a generation of youth leaders building fantastic programs on proven methods, but are not seeing this approach build lifetime disciples.
In the early 90’s I directed our Getaway conference at Biola University. I came to the event weary after a long ministry year, trying to reach some lost kids out of Escondido, CA. The only Christian in this group of freshman ended up backsliding from the influence of the others. Too tired for recreation one afternoon, I returned to my dorm room, and knelt on the tile floor. I can’t tell you how 6 hours passed, but I was down that long, and at it’s end, God showed up. Nothing in all my experience would be able to define what happened, only that I was revived. My direction was set. I would lead from a prayer base, and not from my own bag of tools. That evening, as I called staff to pray for an outpouring through the speaker, God showed up, and a room full of lost teenagers met God in brokenness, and repentance.
Young leader, the very best is prayer. You will do no better in your lifetime.