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Fresh EncountersExperiencing Transformation through United Worship-Based Prayer
By Daniel Henderson Margaret Saylar
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2004 Daniel Henderson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFresh Encounters of a Personal Kind
My journey of seeking Christ in prayer started during high school. God's call to full-time ministry came early. I preached my first sermon at sixteen. Knowing I was going to be a pastor, somehow, I realized I needed to pray.
In those teenage years I often tried to carve out substantive time alone, sitting in my cleared-out clothes closet or on the lonely desert hills of Southern New Mexico. It was tough, but the only way to learn to pray was by praying.
It was tough, but the only way to learn to pray was by praying.
During my college days I discovered more about the power of group prayer. For almost two years I met with some friends every weekday in a campus classroom, trying to learn to pray. Most of what I was learning was by trial and error.
My Acts 6:4 Discovery
After seminary I helped plant a church in the Pacific Northwest. In those early days I came across Acts 6:4 where it says that the early church leaders gave themselves continually to "prayer and the ministry of the word." I tried to understand what it meant for a pastor to be fully engaged in the prayer ministry and lead people into this extraordinary reality.
At that time, I began leading dailyearly-morning prayer, all-night prayer, and days of prayer. By God's grace that commitment has been sustained. I've known the joy of leading multiple prayer times every week for more than twenty years. Of course, my motives and methods matured significantly over the decades. Yet my vision and passion continue to grow as the sense of real awakening increases in my heart.
Prayer is the most-often talked about, but the least practiced discipline in the Christian life.
I'm on a journey to a genuine, prayer-fueled awakening, not only in me, but also in Christ's church. Even though prayer is the most-often talked about, but the least practiced discipline in the Christian life, we must persist in the pathway and experience all God has for us.
Continuing the Vision
Today I enjoy the privilege of leading a large congregation in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. In February 2004, I arrived at Grace Church, after twenty years on the West Coast. Already, the ministry at Grace is experiencing a fresh stirring of Spirit-motivated prayer. The foundations for an extraordinary prayer movement are forming. I believe this is why God called me away from California-to continue the vision for an awakening in this dynamic mission-oriented church.
I never thought I would leave Sacramento, where I served a wonderful congregation for more than a decade. The Lord clearly reassigned me for reasons that I still do not fully understand. I will always cherish the people and ministry there because it was during those eleven years as a pastor that the reality of awakening really began to unfold. It continues at the church to this day.
An Older Church Prays in a New Way
I went to Arcade Church in Sacramento in 1993. I was in my mid-thirties. Arcade was a happy, healthy and generally self-satisfied congregation. Planted as a new work in a growing suburb in 1950, the congregation saw some years of early growth as Sacramento expanded, engulfing the neighborhoods around the church. As often happens, the ministry hit a plateau around 1,100 in attendance. It hovered around there for about fifteen years prior to my arrival.
I inherited a completely built-out campus on only seven acres. The surrounding area stagnated with no new housing developments within miles of our campus. The church was 2.7 million dollars in debt.
I followed an exceptional, godly pastor who served faithfully for forty years. Of course, succeeding a beloved leader is usually a high-risk assignment. But God had other plans. A movement of passionate, united prayer saved the day, extended my tenure and changed everything.
I arrived in Sacramento with a clear vision of a prayer-energized renewal. My first month in town I began training others to help lead effective prayer meetings. Much of what you will read in this book comprised the core of what I taught. Soon we started several strategic weekly prayer gatherings. I preached a fervent and practical series on prayer.
Six months later we hosted our first all-church Prayer Summit. This was a three-day retreat with no sermons and no agenda, just high expectations. When I announced the Summit, I hoped for thirty people, realizing this was a unique format, requiring great sacrifice to attend from Wednesday evening to Saturday afternoon.
Ninety people answered the call. For three days we engaged in spontaneous Scripture reading, worship, and responsive prayer. We celebrated the Lord's Table twice and spent significant times in small groups dividing men from women. It was the closest to genuine revival I have ever experienced. Many lives were transformed as hearts were healed, marriages were restored, and personal devotion to Christ was fanned into a fiery flame. Dozens were set free from habitual sin. A movement of renewal began that eventually took our church through the incredible roller-coaster ride of congregational change.
During the past eleven years we hosted more than thirty Prayer Summits, attracting groups of eighty to 225. Each week we sponsored approximately thirteen prayer meetings. The largest was our Thursday evening Fresh Encounter service with 200 to 400 in attendance. More than a hundred people served as Pastor's Prayer Partners. We organized an active World Prayer Center where people come to pray an hour once a week.
It was the closest to genuine revival I have ever experienced.
In the last few years we hosted an annual prayer conference to equip other church leaders in local church prayer ministry. Each conference attracted some 500 attendees from fourteen states, several foreign countries, and nineteen denominations. A real awakening is occurring. The only explanation: Christ's true, biblical prayer recipe.
On the surface we saw the fruit of ministry expansion. Our weekly attendance and annual budget almost doubled. Our missions giving grew substantially. Multiplied dozens went to the mission field for short-term experiences or full-time career commitments. We also planted several daughter churches.
The spirit of the church was transformed. When I first arrived, the phrase du jour was, "We've never done it that way before." Later our ministry was marked by the slogan, "We're going to do something a little different today." A profound spirit of prayer and expectation emerged. Many young families and new Christians became vitally involved in the church.
Seasoned, older saints made the change and joined the frontlines of our ministry. One pastor and friend of mine from New York visited our congregation a couple times. His observation said it well as he told me, "Daniel, your church has the youngest old people I have ever seen in my life." That is what spiritual awakening produces.
This book is not a call to newer or better programs. It is a map for the pathway to real spiritual renewal in your life and church.
It broke my heart to leave Arcade. But the dear people in this renewed congregation knew God was calling me away to continue the work of prayer-energized awakening in another place.
Looking for Prayer Models
My passion for prayer keeps me in the local church. We have many capable authors and traveling teachers writing and speaking on prayer. I am eager to see God develop models of prayer-based congregations and revived churches, but not by new gimmicks, tricks, conferences, or copying mega-church pastors. A Christ-centered prayer movement will awaken churches as passionate pastors depending on God lead congregations. If pastors mobilize their people to pray, the world will be transformed.
As a result of reading this book, I pray you will:
1. Become impassioned with a vision for a true spiritual awakening in your life, church, family, and society.
2. Learn biblical and practical approaches to corporate prayer that will enable you to be more influential in prayer.
3. Identify a broad range of corporate prayer opportunities and be encouraged to commit to lead the way.
4. Receive practical instruction on the vision, dedication, and skills necessary to sustain a long-term movement of life-changing prayer.
5. Experience and exhibit the manifest glory of Christ in His church.
The Fire of a Fresh Encounter
I pray for the day the church will arise with undeniable supernatural impact that can only be explained by Christ's glory in the midst of His praying people.
Andrew Murray once wrote, "The man who mobilized the Christian church to prayer will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history." By the grace of God, and with a passion for His glory, I believe you could be that man or woman. Your church could be a beginning point of a genuine work of revival. My prayer is that God will ignite a fire in your soul that will lead many into a fresh encounter with the living Christ.
Charles Spurgeon, the "Prince of Preachers," stated: "I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach." Perhaps God is calling you to embrace this as your goal. If so, this book is for you. If you're not sure yet, keep reading. You never know what God might want to do in and through you.
"I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach."
No matter where you are or what kind of church you serve, an awakening-a fresh encounter-can occur through the power for prayer. Too often we try to reorganize the church to health. We create new slogans, mottos, and mission statements. We initiate cutting- edge programs to reach the lost, attract the youth and impact the community. But we lack the fire of a fresh encounter.
This book is not a call to newer or better programs. It is a map for the pathway to real spiritual awakening in your life and church. A life-changing fresh encounter is just around the corner. Let's journey there-together
Excerpted from Fresh Encounters by Daniel Henderson Margaret Saylar Copyright © 2004 by Daniel Henderson. Excerpted by permission.
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