A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Great North Prayer
As a result of a small group of young people attending the Methodist Youth Conference in November 2003, the Newcastle-upon-Tyne District embarked on a concerted weeklong prayer relay. Every Circuit in the District helped to cover all 180 hours. For one week, for every single minute, somewhere in the District, someone was praying.
The young people met together after Youth Conference, enthused by the resolution to ‘take 24-7 prayer back to our churches’. Aware that only certain churches would feel able to do ‘24-7’ independently, they came up with an idea that meant everyone who wanted to would be able to take part – as a District. Inspired by God’s words in 2 Chronicles 7:14 – 'If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my faceL~ and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land' - young people planted the seed, the District listened and The Great North Prayer was born.
We spilt the week up into 180 hours (8.0am Sunday to 8.00pm the following Sunday) and allocated each Circuit eight or nine hours to fill. At synod, each Circuit appointed a ‘prayer co-ordinator’ who would make sure all the slots were filled with prayer.
As far as organising a District-wide event goes, it seemed to be a success. However, the real results are known only to God. We shouldn’t focus on statistics, but rather on the sincere, heartfelt prayers being offered up. I’m sure that all who took part would agree it was a blessing, but perhaps this personal blessing experienced when we meet with God and touch his heart, is only a divine by-product of something greater. Or perhaps this intimacy with our Father is indeed what we were created for.
Were prayers answered? Yes. Were people brought closer to God? Undoubtedly. But only God has the true facts and figures, and he is not interested in statistics. I was moved to tears to read and pray through the heartfelt cries for help from a group of alcoholics who had been given the opportunity to write down their prayer requests – assured we would pray for them. As we held a youth sleepover for the final 24 hours, I saw an enthusiasm for prayer grow among the young people as they prayed through the night in a prayer room that was constantly occupied. One unchurched teenager took her first tentative steps towards faith as something stirred within her and she whispered to her friend, excitedly, ‘God is real, isn’t he?’ These are just a few examples of the ‘results’.
Even the side-effects were a real blessing: the District working together; the young encouraging the old; Circuits meeting together just to pray; people waking to meet with God at all hours; new prayer groups formed; Christians brought closer together; and many realising that an hour spent with God is not an hour wasted, but a timeless hour – like a glimpse of eternity.
Creative Prayer IdeasL~
People were asked to try to be as creative as possible, in the ways they used their hour-long slots. At the District service, which concluded the week, we compiled a Top Ten of the more unusual or inventive prayer ideas:
10. Prayer Strings – a symbolic way of joining prayers together (everyone’s string tied together).
9. Giant Cross and Bin of Confession – written intercessions to form a cross, confessions going in the bin.
8. Praying with Tea Bags – 12 elderly ladies from one church, each one armed with a 5-minute prayer slot and a tea bag!
7. Getting Americans to Pray at 3.00am! – a good way to build trans-Atlantic relations, and get out of a tough early-morning slot!
6. Painting Prayers – the colourful prayers of young people spread over six large boards.
5. Prayer Breakfasts – what better way to start the day than with fellowship and prayer (and food!)?
4. Torch-lit Prayer Walk – what better way to spend the hours before dawn?
3. The Prayer Room – straight from the heart of the 24-7 movement – worship music, comfy cushions, a board to write on, Bibles and coffee.
2. Hot Chocolate Prayer – an exciting combination!
1. Prayer Request Box – The simplest ideas are often the most effective. A way of reaching the community. All you need are small cards, pens, a box to post them in, and time to pray. Why not introduce them to your coffee mornings?
As part of the week, there were also a number of prayer services and prayer walks, including one from the centre of Newcastle, out in four directions, as God poured out his blessing upon us in the form of rain!
A Model for Something BiggerL~
The timing, it seemed, was all God’s. We hadn’t planned for it to coincide with Conference 2004 (as we plucked a suitable week out of the air) but it did. The Great North Prayer no doubt spurred on the Youth Conference delegates at Loughborough who were putting forward proposals and resolutions to do with 24-7 prayer. As Conference began, the current issue of The Methodist Recorder heralded our ‘District’s non-stop prayer campaign’ as its front-page article (Recorder, June 24, 2004). The Great North Prayer was a positive example of co-ordinated continuous prayer on a large scale in the Methodist Church. What’s more, it was actually happening, not just being talked about. When the resolutions came in from the Youth Conference – urging the Connexion to ‘pray’ – no one could say, 'It can’t be done', or 'Let’s try it on a small scale', because we were doing it as they spoke, and doing it District-wide. Encouraged by our efforts in Newcastle, Conference agreed to embark on a year of prayer – Pray Without Ceasing beginning in July 2005.
It was 24-7 prayer that inspired John Wesley when he visited Count Zinzendorf in Germany. It seems that, throughout history, whenever God has wanted to do something special, he has set his people praying.
Into the Boiler Room?L~
This year, we’re having another week of prayer before the launch of Pray Without Ceasing. For the Great North Prayer 2005 (12-19 June) we’re encouraging churches and Circuits to explore the model used by the international 24-7 prayer movement (see www.24-7prayer.com or read Red Moon Rising), by setting aside prayer rooms (sometimes called ‘Boiler Rooms’) where the prayer will be concentrated for whole 24-hour periods. The prayer rooms should be set aside specifically for prayer and be a comfortable place for people to go to get serious about prayer and meet with God. It has been widely seen that churches that have embraced this model for a period of time (weeks, months or even years) have seen wonderful things happen and have really felt the presence and Spirit of God concentrated in that place like never before. We’re also setting up a Labyrinth in a central venue – something people can journey to during the week, to seek God’s direction and spend time with him.
In the church we can get very disheartened when our ideas, projects and hard work don’t seem to bear the fruit we desire. Yet throughout the Bible, and throughout the history of the church, it seems that, whenever God has worked in a powerful way, he has done so in response to faith. 24-7 prayer is effective because it doesn’t make sense in this world – it is an act of pure faith. When we get down on our knees and say to God, 'We don’t know what to do; help us', and seek his will, his direction and his face, then we free God up to work in us and through us. Let us pray that he will as Pray Without CeasingL~ gets under way throughout our Connexion.