Jackie Millar doesn’t often hear the words “joyful” and “prayer” together. But when joy is associated with times of communion with God, she says it signals to her that he is bringing people to life spiritually. And even though this year has been marked by periods of social isolation, CCCNZ’s Prayer Coordinator says she has seen surprising signs of a culture of prayer in New Zealand’s church communities.
“COVID has been a hard thing for many people,” she says, “but honestly, in the space of prayer, I marvel at how the Lord has used it to raise the banner of prayer across our churches.”
When the pandemic struck, regional prayer gatherings were already planned in Auckland Canterbury. These morphed into Zoom sessions, which allowed people across the country to participate.
Now, at the other end of a turbulent year, seven or eight people continue to log in every Tuesday morning to pray together. The number isn’t near what it was at the height of lockdown, but the meeting has survived the return-to-normal workdays. Participants pray for requests that have come via email or Facebook, for churches and their leaders, and for broader matters such as this year’s elections.
“COVID was that jolt that we all needed to remind us that we’re all desperate for God to move and have his way,” Jackie says. “I know of many other denominations and churches—not just ours—who are still continuing in prayer together.”
In her experience, virtual meetings sparked real-life engagement.
“When we went out of lockdown, the conversation was a lot easier for me to say, ‘Okay, how about an in-person prayer gathering?’” Jackie says. In the second half of the year, Waikato and Auckland returned to hosting in-person prayer gatherings and, for the first time, Canterbury and Otago/Southland organised ones.
Another spin-off of the virtual prayer times has been a group of people who discovered they have the same questions, thoughts and concerns. Jackie says that the discussion group continues to address matters of prayer and how to mobilise others to pray.
Steve Murray is the Senior Pastor of Lifezone in Tauranga. He helped spearhead a 12-hour, inter-church prayer and worship session in Tauranga in August. These have flowed from the calling he’s had for the past year to make prayer a more central part of his faith.
Steve says that attending a 24-7 Prayer conference in the UK in 2019 was a catalyst for this.
“I realised, boy, we can do a whole lot of things really well, but it’s the Lord who does the work,” he says. “We should be praying to the Lord of the harvest.”
The teaching he sat under prompted him to plan a solo, four-day prayer retreat when he came back to New Zealand. He wanted to leave cell coverage and anything that might distract him behind and focus on spending time with God. He prayed some specific prayers in preparation for the retreat.
“I asked the Lord that I would enjoy him and this time,” he says. “I got detailed. I asked for guidance about the location of the retreat.”
And over two consecutive weeks, he invited his congregation to write out their prayer requests during the Sunday service.
“The thing that really moved people,” Steve recalled, “was when their senior pastor stood in front of them and said that I felt called by God to stand before God on behalf of the people.”
He collected 90 prayer cards from those services, packed up his tent and went off to an isolated place.
Between gathering firewood, preparing food, reading and writing, Steve worked his way through the prayer cards.
“It was very moving, because I felt like I knew what the people were feeling,” he says.
He wore a path around his campsite as he read the messages and interceded for members of Lifezone. “There were tears, especially in the beginning when I was reading what families were facing.”
God answered Steve’s request to enjoy the time in his presence and did a work in his heart; he says he left in a very different place than where he began. A year on, he still has the prayer cards and still rereads them. He says it humbles him to see the ways God has intervened in people’s lives.
Steve’s focus on prayer has begun to spread in the community he leads. He initiated 21 days of fasting and prayer, which was effectively 11 days because the first lockdown in March arrived halfway through.
Now that people can meet again, the church has made a space available for people to run a prayer room. People gather on weekdays from 9am to noon and on Wednesday evenings to sing and pray.
Steve also helped organise a one-day gathering to pray and worship called Before Thy Face, referencing a line in our national anthem. It involved nine churches from around Tauranga, far more than he anticipated. Each church took a turn leading the gathering through the 12 hours, and they plan to repeat the event.
“These things all stacked up together and put us on this journey,” Steve says. “Man—we need to be a praying church.”
Jackie hopes that this kind of passion for prayer will spread in Lifezone and through other churches in New Zealand.
“When I find a church and say, talk to me about prayer at your church, and I don’t just get told about when the prayer meetings are or aren’t happening—when they talk to me about the praying culture within the church—there’s a difference,” she says. Prayer teams and prayer meetings are by-products of a praying culture; she wants prayer to be woven into the essence of each church, and for them to be known as “houses of prayer.”
“Prayer is this beautiful privilege and responsibility that we have,” she says. “It’s a beautiful gift to commune with the sovereign, holy, just God. It still blows my mind that we actually get to talk to him through prayer, and we get to hear him through prayer.”
The gap, of course, is between a theoretical understanding that prayer is necessary and good and a heart desire to spend that time in prayer. Steve has a helpful model that maps this connection between the theoretical and the practical: desire, discipline and delight.
“You can stop at any one of those places,” he says. The desire to pray must be supported by the discipline to spend time praying, or it will remain just a desire. And disciplined time must carry on to the point of delight in God’s presence to fuel our desire for more prayer.
And at each point, God is the one who does the work in the one praying; as St Augustine wrote, “Thou hast put salt on our lips, that we might thirst for Thee.”
“That’s something I was saying a bit,” Steve says. “God had made me thirsty for him.”
This desire has altered Steve’s perspective on priorities in the church. He says that church leaders are quick to resource various church ministries—music, for example—with staff and money for equipment. “Do we do the same for prayer? I would challenge people to answer that question.”
It’s a culture in our churches, and one that needs to be prayerfully sought, says Jackie: “that’s why I felt led, before elections, to spend our prayer hour to focus on the fear of the Lord. I’m absolutely convinced that it’s the fear of the Lord that not only shapes us but shapes our prayers. Our reverence for who he is causes our ‘yes’ to be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ to be ‘no’; not fear of man or fear of offending.”
How do we nurture fear of the Lord? “Fear of the Lord is nurtured in the quiet place of intimacy with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Fear of the Lord is expressed as we gather together as the Church to hear the Word shared, to worship and pray. Fear of the Lord is evident to a lost and broken world when we live in radical, faith-filled, all-glory-to-God obedience, in the everyday places he calls us to.”
Ultimately, God is at work in us, and through us in prayer, says Jackie: “Only God is going to stir us to pray for the nations and pray for our neighbours. He does the work in us.”
CCCNZ loves to support and encourage prayer.
For more visit www.cccnz.nz/prayer
- Sign up for the prayer newsletter
- Find out about regional prayer gatherings
- Enquire about being a regional prayer enabler
- Find ideas to help your church engage with prayer
- Find training events
- Send the team prayer requests
There is also a Facebook prayer group and a weekly, virtual prayer hour at 9:30am on Tuesdays. Email email@example.com if you’d like to join or find out more information about any prayer initiatives.