Spirit-empowered Leadership and the ‘Dangerous Unity’ of Prayer

Kingdom Prayer and the Work of the Holy Spirit

When is the last time you heard of a church or college in the United States devoting an entire day to prayer and fasting together?

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Why is the power of the Holy Spirit so evident in some communities and so absent in others?  Why are some leaders so directed and effective in their callings, while others faithfully program and preach with so little sign of God’s presence? Why are some campus ministries effective in helping students come to faith, while others are so ineffective?  Why do some churches deeply impact their culture, while others merely grow more conformed to its image?  Why are some cities and campuses so full of God’s presence and others so empty?

Pastors Jack Hayford, Kenneth Ulmer, Lloyd Ogilvie in Prayer gathering at the Rose Bowl

Jack Hayford, Kenneth Ulmer, and Lloyd Ogilvie at Rose Bowl prayer gathering.

The first time I lived in Los Angeles, Presbyterian Lloyd Ogilvie and Pentecostal Jack Hayford teamed up to gather hundreds of leaders from around the city to gather for half a day of prayer every month. It started with a handful of their ministerial friends who were willing to spend long periods of time together in focused prayer (and even fasting.) They then invited other ministers to gather monthly, and gather they did. As a young campus minister, it was a life-altering experience to gather with more than 500 city leaders willing to give up a day of their busy schedule to seek God’s face together. Not only were they  powerful times of prayer, they were times of prayer for God’s power. God seemed to answer the prayers of that era with an increase of the Spirit’s work all across the city. When the gatherings stopped, the vitality and influence of the church across the city seemed to falter.

A coincidence?  Maybe. Anecdotal evidence is often used to support nearly any theology, and certainly there were a number of complex factors involved in that unique era of L.A. history. Still, the entire experience left me wondering: Is it possible God that releases the ministry of his Holy Spirit on earth primarily when and where his help is specifically requested by His people?  Consider the case from the Old Testament.

Spirit-Empowered Leadership and Prayer

Othniel, by J James Tissot

Othniel, by J James Tissot

Throughout the Old Testament, it is the Spirit of God who empowers God’s people to do his will. [7] In the power of the Holy Spirit anointed leaders delivered Israel from their oppressors,[8] performed supernatural feats,[9] prophesied the word of God,[10] judged Israel’s affairs,[11] built the tabernacle,[12] and received God’s plan for the Temple.[13]

The prepositions “among” and “upon” are of particular significance in describing the Spirit’s work in the OT. This work of the Spirit is primarily “external” in the sense that the Spirit does not dwell within OT saints as in NT believers.[14] The work of God is often accomplished by the Spirit “coming upon”,[15] or “lifting up”[16] a leader or prophet.[17] In Judaism the Spirit of God is especially the “Spirit of prophecy,” [18] and the NT affirms that the prophets “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”.[19]

The Spirit dwells “among” the people of God, through these Spirit-empowered leaders[20] who comprise a mere handful of the people of God: primarily judges,[21] prophets,[22] and kings.[23] This work of the Spirit seems to be closely related to anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s actions—the hand of God,[24] the finger of God,[25] the breath of God,[26] “the word of God.”[27]

Throughout the Old Testament prayer plays a significant role in the release of the ministry of the Holy Spirit on earth. [28]  One of the more remarkable examples is found in the third chapter of the book of Judges, when the cry of the people of God for deliverance from their enemies is answered by God putting His Spirit upon the Othniel to deliver them:

“When they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave the king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.” -Judges 3:9-10

This pattern is repeated throughout the Old Testament as God answers the cries of his people by giving them Spirit-empowered leaders. [29]

What is more, the Old Testament prophets foretold of a day when the empowerment of God’s Spirit would be available to all God’s people.[33] Joel 2:27-28 and other passages prophesy a coming Messianic age of the Spirit that will be marked by an outpouring of the Spirit coming “upon” all of God’s people not merely a limited set of leaders.[31] When the kingdom of the Messiah breaks into the world, both the external “empowering” work of the Holy Spirit, [32] and the “internal” purifying work of the indwelling Spirit would distinguish the people of God from all other peoples. “I will put my Spirit in you (all) and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws” (Ezekiel 36:27).[34]

So why aren’t believers today experiencing the kind of empowering and purifying work of the Holy Spirit that marked the lives of most Old Testament leaders?  Perhaps it’s because we don’t pray like they did? For instance, King Jehoshaphat and his followers prayed (and fasted!) for an entire day before the Lord answered.

“All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel …as he stood in the assembly. He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you…” -2 Chronicles 20:13-15

When was the last time you heard of a church in the United States devoting an entire day to prayer and fasting together? Would we even know how to wait together–men, women, and children–until the Spirit of God gave an answer? Maybe not. But certainly we can learn. Our busy modern lifestyles might mitigate against our gathering the entire church to pray, but it might be possible to start with the leaders.

Gathering Campus and City Leaders to Pray

Gary, Greg, Leo, and Gordie at the Campus Transformation gathering 20+ years after their 'dangerous unity' at Michigan State.

Gary, Greg, Leo, and Gordie at the 2012 Campus Transformation Network gathering 20+ years after their ‘dangerous unity’ at MSU.

When my wife and I served as campus ministers at Michigan Student University we were specifically warned against developing ‘dangerous unity’ with the leaders of the two largest competing campus ministries: Leo Lawson and Greg Van Nada. Fortunately, biblical convictions and past experience won out over administrative caution. Leo, Greg, local college pastor Gordie Decker, and our staff teams soon joined in evenings of united prayer for God to work through all the campus ministries at MSU. While we never really saw the kind of campus-wide spiritual awakening we were asking from God, many students did come to faith, and much more importantly, we learned to seek God for his agenda and just to be in his presence. The experience helped birth a vision in each of the hearts of those leaders that burns to this day. Leo, Greg, Gordie, myself and many other MSU leaders of that era continue in campus ministry and continue to pursue the work of God across our campuses and cities.

Later, while serving as a college pastor on the north shore of Boston, I was invited to join the steering committee for the Boston Ministers Prayer Summit. The leaders of the church in the city believed so strongly in prayer that we would carve three days out of our busy schedules just to wait on the Lord together. Some of our gatherings were like days of heaven on earth. And perhaps it is not surprising that while the Prayer Summit remained strong, the church in greater Boston experienced what became known as the “Quiet Revival.” One of the most “unchurched” urban centers in America witnessed the birth and renewal of hundreds of thriving churches, and many campus fellowships began to experience unprecedented growth.

Is it time to once again gather the leaders of our campuses and cities to seek God? All anecdotal evidence aside, I suspect that the writers of the Old Testament would answer, YES!

Next:  With Prayer in the School of Christ: Higher Education and the Knowledge of God

For Jesus prayer and education were inseparable, because education and the knowledge of God are inseparable.

 

 


[1] Grudem, 1994, p. 634.

[2] John 6:32,46;13:3;15:26; Acts 2:33; Rom 1:7; 1Cor 8:6; Jam. 1:17.

[3] Rom 5:10; Heb. 1:2; 1John 4:9.

[4] Neh 9:30; Ezek 11:24; Matt 12:28; Mark 11:36; Rom 5:5.

[5] Blomberg, 1996, p. 344.

[6] Kaiser, 1997, p. 1076-7; Simpson, 1988,  p. 600.

[7] Kaiser, 1997, pp. 1075-6.

[8] Judges 3:10

[9] Judges 14:6

[10] 2Chr 15:1; Ezek 11:5; Isa 59:21

[11] Num 11:17f

[12] Exo 31:3; 35:31

[13] 1Chr 28:12

[14] Grudem, 1994, p. 637

[15] 1Sam 11:6; 1Chr 12:18; 2Chr 20:14; 24:20; Ezek. 11:5; Isa 59:21

[16] Ezek 3:14; 8:3; 11:24

[17] Blomberg, 1996, p. 345.

[18] Schweizer, 1986, p. 381

[19] 2Pet 1:21; cf. Isa. 59:21; 2Sam 23:2; Neh 9:30

[20] Isa 63:11   Hag 2:5

[21] Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6,19; 15:14

[22] 2Chr 15:1; Ezek 11:5; Isa 59:21

[23] 1Sam 10:6,10; 11:6. See also, Kaiser, 1997, pp. 1075.

[24] 2Chr 30:12; 2Kgs 3:15; Ezek 33:22

[25] Exod 31:18

[26] Ps 19:1; 102:25

[27] Kamlah, 1978, p. 692; cf. Ps 33:6; 147:15,18.

[28] Kaiser, 1999, pp.3-7

[29] Judg 3:10; 6:34; 9:23; 11:29;13:25;14:6;14:19;15:14;

1Samuel 16:13; 1Kings 18:45; 2Kings 3:14

[30] Psalm 51:11

[31] Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Zech 12:10. See also, Pach, 1954, 34-36.

[32] See Fee, XXXX, . Also Kaiser, 1997, p. 1076; Blomberg, 1996, p. 344; Grudem, 1994, p. 637.

[33] Ezek 36:27; cf. 11:19; 37:14

[34] See also, Ezekial 11:19; 37:14.

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