Worshipers swayed, clapped, and sang along as the Calvin College Gospel Choir closed the first evening of the West Michigan Prayer Summit 2018 by belting out “Thank You, Jesus, Thank You” in several languages.
With different voices chiming in and adding a full spirit to the words, they sang the phrase in Dutch, in French, in Arabic, in Spanish, in Yoruba, and in Korean.
Earlier, before the choir sang these international names of God, Charles Kim, one of the coordinators of the two-day summit, explained to the 300 or so people in the sanctuary at Hillside Community Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., why Resonate Global Mission had sponsored this event.
“We need people to pray together — to hear the deep groaning inside of us,” he said. “We don’t want to just pray out loud, we want to pray to God and ask him to melt us, mold us, change us as we groan together. We ask the the Spirit of the living God to fall fresh on us.”
Lost and Found Sheep
The evening began with song and with a presentation from Joseph Stowell, president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, who challenged listeners “to dare to care about what God cares about.”
He based his message on Luke 15, in which Jesus tells parables about a shepherd going after a lost sheep, a woman who swept her house clean to find one lost coin, and a wayward son who squandered his inheritance in a far country and returned home to the loving arms of his father.
“God suffers significant loss when there are lost people,” said Stowell. “This all about joy. When just one sinner comes to Christ, there is joy in heaven.”
Experiencing God's Presence
For the past several years, the Christian Reformed Church has held denomination-wide prayer summits in California and has encouraged churches to hold regional prayer summits as well.
Although the West Michigan Prayer Summit was regional, it drew participants and speakers from across the U.S. and beyond. The event was organized by Classis Grand Rapids South. Resonate partnered with the classis, Calvin Theological Seminary, Cityfest, a months-long crusade taking place at churches across the area, and local businesses to sponsor the event.
“The prayer summit was a great opportunity to experience God's presence with brothers and sisters from around the country and around the world,” said Ron Kool, a pastor at Hillside.
“It gave us an opportunity to catch God's vision for his world again. . . . I hope that thinking about, seeing the power of, and engaging in prayer at the summit will be a take-off point for a deeper prayer life for us as a church.”
Prayer summits give participants the chance to step outside their hectic schedules and the daily demands of life to learn about prayer, to find some time to “waste” with God (as one of the speakers, Richard Mouw, said), and especially to encounter God through prayer.
Not long after dawn on Saturday, Apr. 21, nearly 90 people gathered in the Hillside sanctuary for a service of early-morning prayer.
It was a lively start for the day. Led in song by the Grace CRC choir, people had a chance to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “How Great Thou Art” before Jeffrey Hough, pastor of Angel Community Church in Muskegon, Mich., strode back and forth across the stage, raising one arm and then the other, leading people in a series of “Amens” and “Hallelujahs.”
Anyone who was still sleepy got a chance to wake up to Hough passionately preaching from Lamentations 3:23 about how God’s “compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is [his] faithfulness.”
“If we can’t think of anything else to testify about this morning,” said Hough, “we can make this very basic testimony. It all starts with God waking me up in the morning. His mercy saw me through the night. There is warm blood moving through my veins!”
Hearing God's Voice
During many of the sessions, people had the chance to gather in small groups. Holding hands or with arms around one another, on their knees or sitting or standing, they prayed about different topics or listened in silence to God. Their voices rose in pleas and reflections, softly filling the sanctuary.
In one of the morning sessions, Calvin Theological Seminary professor Mary Vandenberg suggested that people turn to contemplative prayer to quell the chaotic noises that surround us — cell phones ringing, horns honking, TVs playing, music blaring — in our daily world.
“How can we hear God with all of this noise and distraction?” she asked. “Be still, says the psalmist, and we will know God. In silence, God reveals himself most clearly.”
Holding up a children’s board book with lots of pictures and few words, Vandenberg likened it to the Bible in the sense that the Bible “is written in simple language for us. It is God’s love language. It is God accommodating himself to our humanity.”
Keep in mind, she added, that our words ultimately fall short in trying to explain or understand the mystery of God. “In the end,” said Vandenberg, “what we say to our fearsome, good God is, ‘Here I am,’ and then we wait. . . . We remain alert and listening for the Master’s voice.”
Sweetness of the Spirit
Later, people gathered again to hear Dr. Pildo Joung speak of how prayer shaped his ministry in founding and serving for many years as senior pastor of Soo Young Ro Presbyterian Church in Busan, the second-largest city in South Korea.
He spoke of the many times he fell on his knees and prayed all night long, giving it all to God, sometimes soaked with sweat and tears as he asked God to show him how to respond or handle situations that came up as the church grew to a membership of more than 40,000 members.
“As God showed me the vision, that is how it turned out to be,” he said. “You pray like your life depends on it, and then God speaks — and I say ‘Hallelujah!’”
Moses Chung, a Resonate Global Mission leader and a coordinator of the summit, translated as Joung shared how prayer has shaped his life and has led him into a ministry that now takes him all over the world.
After Joung spoke, Chung commented, smiling, “There is a sweetness of the Spirit in this room. There is a sweetness on the faces of the people and in the words we speak.”
A time of corporate prayer followed, and again people spent time connecting with God.
Richard Mouw, president emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary, closed the summit in the afternoon with a talk on “Kingdom Praying.” He spoke about prayer in a variety of ways: We need to be praying for God’s kingdom to come, but we must also be praying to the King, he said.
We need to pray that “we feel Christ’s marvelous embrace,” but we also need to learn as much as we can about God.
We need to pray for and engage in important changes in public policy, but we must always pray that we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We need to “waste time” being with God. and we need to get busy sharing our faith with others and the world.
“We need to realize we are here on business for the King, for the kingdom, but we must also realize that he will be coming back,” Mouw added.
“We must live with a kingdom consciousness and get ready to see God face to face. We must pray for God to use ‘me,’ and we want to thank God for allowing us to be in this place.”
Felicia Bud, prayer coordinator of Classis Grand Rapids South and one of the organizers of the summit, said she had worried early on whether people would want to attend an event such as this in West Michigan.
But they came. More than 350 people attended all or parts of the summit.
“I am extremely thankful that God blessed us and blessed West Michigan with this event. We wanted people to be inspired and encouraged in their prayer efforts. We asked the Lord to continue to grow the prayer culture in our churches, in our families, and in our lives. We asked the Spirit of the Lord to bless all West Michigan churches and pastors, all ministries, families, and individual people.”
And from the many responses and reactions she has received, she said, that is what happened -- and she prays it will extend in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
This story was originally posted on crcna.org, it was written by Chris Meehan, CRC Communications.