2020 Vision and 20/20 Vision
Twenty-twenty. It’s the year we’ve just begun and it’s also one way we describe clarity of vision. When it comes to realizing untapped spiritual vitality through prayer, 2020 can be our year if we get things into 20/20 clarity.
Perhaps your church has new goals, dreams and vision for the coming year. I know of churches that launched campaigns as much as two years ago sharing “20/20 vision for 2020.” What strategies will you implement to realize your goals and accomplish your mission? Is prayer embedded into all your strategies and plans?
I’d like us to consider how we embed prayer into all we do in the new year by rethinking our preconceived notions that might limit our view and practice of praying.
Beware Tunnel Vision
Tunnel vision closes off the panoramic view of what is seen, limiting our ability to see and grasp the bigger picture. “Vision” for our churches is cultivated in prayer where God reveals what we have not previously seen or quickens our understanding of what we’ve previously not know. There are few things more electric to our spirit than receiving new vision directly from the Lord.
After receiving vision, we usually begin planning. However, we should not forget prayer as a critical piece of our planning. I’m not talking about the quick kind of prayer we open meetings with, I’m referring to the kind of praying that recognizes God’s vision emerged from spending time with Him, so He may not be done talking to us about it! He has more to say, more to reveal, more inspiration to give, instructions for where to go, who to meet, what to do, so prayer is essential to fulfilling our mission and vision, because prayer fills our vision full!
Allow me to illustrate:
If you were asked to put water in a glass and given no additional instructions, placing a single droplet of water in the glass would fulfill the base requirement. However, the glass would not be filled full. When it comes to prayer, one “droplet” does not fill the situation full. What if your 2020 vision won’t come into 20/20 vision until you’ve continued to seek God for His Living water — drop-by-drop — until it was completely filled full?
Doug Newton, my dear friend and mentor, says “We must draw a direct line of connection between what we lack for ministry and our lack of prayer.” No doubt we all pray. But to what degree do we press in, stay in, go back, keep on and pray through until the situation is filled full, not just fulfilled?
Join me in the exploration of these two stories from Scripture. Then, let’s be challenged to think and act differently as a result, filling our plans full of prayer.
Only by Prayer
Mark 9:14–29 tells the story of a boy oppressed by a deaf and mute spirit. It throws him to the ground, robs him of speech and causes convulsions. The situation is dire and so the disciples of Jesus try to drive it out but can’t. When Jesus encounters the boy He speaks to the oppressive spirit and says, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The demon leaves and never returns.
When the action amid the surrounding crowd has settled, the disciples — curious as to why their efforts were unsuccessful — ask Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus replies, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Great; prayer is the key! On second thought, we see something missing in the story. If prayer is so essential as far as Jesus is concerned, why didn’t He pray before commanding the demon? Read the whole story and you’ll discover that Jesus asks questions and makes statements, but He does not pray in that moment. What can we presume may be at work here? Before we answer that question, let’s investigate the second story.
The House of Prayer
You’ll recognize Matthew 21:12–14 as one of the accounts where Jesus cleanses the Temple by driving out the animals and overturning the tables of the money changers. Amid the fray, Jesus declares, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”
Remember that the location where this story occurs is the Temple in Jerusalem. Is Jesus leveling an accusation that there is no praying occurring at the Temple? I find it quite hard to believe that absolutely no one was praying at that time. It is, after all, the Temple. Certainly many prayers were taking place. So, if there were prayers being said, then why did Jesus view the “house” as not fulfilling its purpose to be a “House of Prayer”?
Apart from Jesus … Nothing
Praying – conversational, abiding, seeking, yearning, waiting, interceding praying – is what releases the “somethings” that Jesus was referring to when He said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When it comes to fulfilling vision from the Lord, we can’t do it without Him. This is not a formula but rather a relational depth that’s realized only when we’re all in. Jesus said it this way: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). This should cause us to ponder our “doing” and ensure it is absolutely aligned with the Father.
I’ve often wondered, “What about the millions who don’t know Jesus and accomplish great things every day?” I mean, people start companies, build skyscrapers, invent, lead, produce and a myriad of other things, yet do not know Jesus as Lord, nor do they abide in Him. Honestly, it seems that they do a lot of “somethings” for not being able to do anything. Clearly, the things Jesus is speaking of are the miraculous healing and deliverance of persons that we witnessed in our two stories from Scripture. In the case of the demon-possessed boy, Jesus finishes His commentary about prayer with actions. He drives out a demon, and you simply can’t do that without power from God. In the case of the Cleansing of the Temple, we read, “The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14). Jesus didn’t pray in that moment, He healed. Jesus released healing power, and you simply can’t do that without power from God.
Jesus had been praying. A flowing, habitual, continuous stream of praying was the rhythm of Jesus’ life. Because He had been praying, the demon obeyed. Because praying continually, abiding in His Father was Jesus’ lifeblood, the blind and the lame could walk and receive their sight.
Certain demons come out only through prayer, and the Temple was supposed to be known as a House of Prayer. Yet, in both instances, demonstrations of power followed the teaching of Jesus while there is no written record that He prayed. When prayer is filled full in the people of God, the power of God is filled full in the people.
The Household of Abiding in Jesus
To be a biblical House of Prayer does not merely require a building where a few prayers are said. Biblically speaking, “house” is often used to speak of a family tree (i.e. the House of David). Interestingly, the same word is used in the New Testament to speak both in reference to buildings and family lineage. What if Jesus was speaking about His people when he uttered the words house of prayer? After all, God Himself said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
So let’s rewind to the story of the cleansing of the Temple and unpack it in terms of this understanding: “It is written, My house (My people – my family line – the ones I’ve delivered, helped and set apart to be my own – My own chosen people) will be called a house of prayer (a people who abide in Me – able to do what only I can do because My power is in them), but you are making it a den of robbers (a people who steal from others the healing the freedom they should be receiving from me – replacing healing with harm and spirituality with empty religion).“
What a powerful image! Do you see it? Can you imagine the entire household of your local church becoming a household of abiding in Jesus? Can we even dare to dream of what an army of healing people would look like in our communities?
Yes, we can dream these God-sized dreams. But then there’s reality. Where are we regarding abiding in Jesus? What’s the temperature of prayer in your church — yes, even in your personal life? How do we
take the first step toward realizing both the abiding and resulting power and vitality? Wherever you and your church are regarding prayer, you can take small steps that will start you on the path.
Say Goodbye to the Tunnel
Here are some practical things you can do to be free from tunnel vision praying and experience the beauty of the whole landscape abiding in Jesus.
Identify where prayer is infrequent or missing and fill it full.
Even with the best intentions, prayer can become infrequent in the busy life of ministry in the church. And yes, there’s a time to pray and a time to get off our knees and into the work of the kingdom. However, if prayer is infrequent or even missing in a ministry team, leadership team or any group, here are some ways to move in the direction of filling it full with prayer.
- How to pray for your church’s vision.
- Volunteer to be part of the answer. In your prayer, begin by telling God you will volunteer to be used like Philip or Cornelius who received specific instruction. Express your willingness to obey if the Lord should ask something specific of you.
- Pray for additional insight. Have groups of people listening for the Lord’s words and help. Journal what you hear and share insights together. I’ve been blessed to lead teams of people in this kind of prayer and the Lord blesses with His presence and words every time.
- Pray on location. Does your vision include people of a specific neighborhood, school or other location? Go there and pray there! Lay hands on buildings, pray for leaders, speak words of life, peace and deliverance over troubled areas.
- Pray for the impossible. Ask for your church’s household to become a House of Prayer and asked to be filled with power to do the Lord’s work that will fulfill your vision.
- Add one prayer. When groups gather, they love to share life in conversation. One simple way to get people praying is to identify a place in the middle of the conversation where you can pause and pray for anything. Be intentional to do this.
- There are people in your church who might need encouragement to join in prayer. Many people are hesitant to speak aloud. They fear they might say something “wrong” in their prayer. Encourage a friend and disciple them in the direction of prayer.
- Shift gears. Let’s say you have worship team rehearsal scheduled. Instead of rehearsing music, worship together in prayer. Pray for the church family. Ask God to fill your music with His presence and offer yourselves as a living sacrifice for use in His service.
Much more could certainly be added to this conversation, but I hope you can see that prayer can begin to saturate your household to become and be a biblical House of Prayer.
Look at God!
My dear friend Pastor Kenny Martin says this a lot. When something amazing happens that can only be attributed to the hand of God, he will exclaim, “Look at God!”
I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing signs of it throughout our church. Vital signs! Each sighting of vitality makes me hunger for even more. Perhaps this year you and your church will adopt Pastor Kenny’s habit and find yourself saying over and over again, “Look at God!”
May the Lord bless your 2020 vision with 20/20 vision and may your church be a fully functioning, biblical House of Prayer to His glory!
Brett Heintzman is the co-director of the National Prayer Ministry. He also serves as the publisher of this magazine through his role as the Free Methodist Church – USA communications director.