November 14, 2005

Sold Out to God

For nearly 10 years Fredrick Russell has been senior pastor of the Miracle Temple Worship Center and Ministry Complex in Baltimore, Maryland. Some years ago Pastor Russell caught a vision of a revitalized midweek prayer service. Recently Stephen Chavez sat down with Russell to talk about how the midweek prayer service has changed both him and his congregation.

In one word, describe prayer meeting at Miracle Temple.

Why that word?
We watch a moving of God in this place every single Wednesday evening. Not only do people cry out to God in prayer; we watch God answer prayers week after week. We see miracles happening in this church--whether it?s jobs, whether it?s illnesses, whether it?s other things people are facing in their lives; we watch God come here every single week. And He turns things upside down. People come away amazed in terms of ?This is what God is doing in the twenty-first century. This is what God is doing right here, right now.?

What was the state of prayer meeting when you arrived at Miracle Temple?
We went through a stage when we first got here, as all pastors know, in which everyone comes out for a few weeks to prayer meeting. But as soon as that novelty wears off, it goes back to the way it was. Within a year we were down to 14 to 17 people, and four of those were my family.

I got to the place where I just wanted to stop coming to prayer meeting. I was hearing the same testimonies, the same prayers; nothing was happening whatsoever. I said, ?God, this has to change.?

What happened?
I went to the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. I had heard about its choir, but I had heard increasingly about its prayer meeting.

1546 page22The night I walked in, more than 2,000 people were at prayer meeting. I saw about 300 people sitting in the choir loft, and I thought, This must be the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. If I had the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir at my prayer meeting on Wednesday evening, I could pack it out too.

I turned to a woman beside me, pointed at the choir loft, and said, ?Is that the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir??

She said, ?No, sir; those are the prayer warriors.? At a certain point the prayer warriors came out of the choir loft and began to pray over the lives of the people in the audience. One brother prayed over me. He prayed things into my life that only God would know.

That night I and a friend of mine drove back to Baltimore. I said to him, ?Prayer meeting at Miracle Temple will never be the same again.? I saw something at the Brooklyn Tabernacle I had never seen: They did more praying than talking about prayer. The following Sabbath morning I stood before the congregation and said, ?Prayer meeting at Miracle Temple will not be the same ever again. We?re going to watch what God does when this church takes prayer seriously.?

We went from about 15 in prayer meeting the previous Wednesday to 30 the next Wednesday, to 60, to 90, and now we regularly have more than 200 at prayer meeting; many nights close to 300.

What should people be prepared to invest when they come to prayer meeting at Miracle Temple?
Getting beyond themselves.

What do you mean, ?Getting beyond themselves??
That you?re not just praying about your stuff; you?re praying and interceding over other people and what?s happening in their lives.

Some of the life situations people ask our congregation to pray over are just incredible. To hear some of the painful stories and get beyond yourself to say, ?It?s not about me; it?s about my being able to pray into somebody else?s life and stand in agreement with them as to what God can answer in their lives.? That?s what I?m saying, getting beyond ourselves.

Walk us through prayer meeting at Miracle Temple. When we show up here at the door, what happens?
Prayer meeting starts at 7:30, but the doors open at 6:30. The lights are lowered. Both our screens are on as people come in to quiet their hearts, intercede quietly, or sit and listen to music softly playing.

Promptly at 7:30 our praise and worship team comes out. After a long day people come to church, and it is a time of praise and worship that ushers you into the presence of God.

After praise and worship that lasts about 15 minutes, one of the pastors will give a teaching word of about 15 minutes. Then we go into a period called ?praise reports.? That is, from the last time we prayed to this time, or something we?ve prayed about previously, people begin to share. ?Remember we prayed about this? This is what God has done.? We celebrate what God has done before we go back and ask for anything else. We spend about 20 to 25 minutes just in praise reports. People aren?t just hearing about what God did years ago; we just prayed about this two weeks ago; here?s what God has done. It makes prayer absolutely real.

After an offering and brief announcements, we move into a time of intercessory prayer. We pick out several things to highlight that evening that we?re going to pray about.

After the intercessory prayer we end the service corporately. Then for about an hour afterward people can stay in their seats, and music is piped in, and they continue to pray. We will not close the doors until everyone has prayed the last prayer. Pastors are standing up front, and people are able to come and mention personal things to us. Prayer warriors are throughout the congregation praying with people. We typically end around 9:15, 9:20. But we are committed to keeping the doors open as long as people want to pray. I?m usually here until about 11:00 on Wednesday evenings because of letting people continue in the presence of God.

You have a pastor reading this interview, or a lay leader in a local church. What can he or she do to revitalize prayer meeting for their local congregation?
First of all, the pastor must have a commitment to it. Prayer meeting cannot be a ?program.? It?s not a gimmick. One has to settle in his or her own spirit that this is the main call of the church of God. Once God settles that in a pastor?s life, and he or she is committed to it, then they are able to talk with conviction to their congregation. It does not mean the pastor is going to get several hundred to prayer meeting, as we do. But at least he or she will have a core body of people consistently, persistently, and intentionally seeking the face of God in his or her congregation.

When God says, ?My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations,? even when members don?t show up, people are driven toward a place where they see God?s hand moving in a powerful way.

The pastor who?s reading this has to have the courage, leadership, and passion to say, ?This is what we?re all about as a congregation.? That type of thing you don?t need to vote; it?s just inherent in your call by God to say, ?Here is where we?re going,? because he or she is the spiritual leader of that congregation.

What resources do you recommend for people who want to revitalize their prayer life?
Certainly read Jim Cymbala?s books, senior pastor at Brooklyn Tabernacle. The one I highly recommend is Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.

Then I recommend any book written by E. M. Bounds. Bounds is the consummate teacher on prayer.

Then you have the book by Tommy Tenney, The God Chasers. He writes deeply on the experience of prayer.

Within the Adventist Church, Ron Halvorsen has written a book, Prayer Warriors, that is very powerful. Then in Ellen White?s book Steps to Christ she writes a chapter titled ?The Privilege of Prayer.?

Final thoughts?
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, more than being known as a church of prophecy, needs to be known as a house of prayer. The most direct way we can impact our communities is to take seriously the challenge to be houses of prayer. Our potential is not in our programs; it?s not in our infrastructure; it?s not in all the wonderful things we do. In Genesis, where God builds a nation with Abraham, He talks about how it would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Then the New Testament says we?re a ?royal priesthood.? The job of priest is to intercede.

So God is saying, ?You are a nation of prayer warriors?--people who impact their communities through their prayer and their good works, and through their own walk with God; a holy nation, a royal priesthood. That?s what God wants the Adventist church to be.

God is building not a denomination; He is building a nation of people completely sold out to Him. People who can change their culture, change their world with the power of prayer.
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of the Adventist Review.