Outside the first great prayer room is a fisherman of all people, a guy named Peter who is preaching to the multicultural crowds of Jerusalem. He’s explaining with great passion that right here, right now, right before their very eyes, the Spirit of Yahweh is raining down.An era of vision and salvation has begun.Welcome to the last days, he says.Welcome to the end of the movie.
According to the prophet Joel, God’s heavenly logo for such an era is the harvest moon, rising blood red and pregnant with possibilities above us. Such a moon rises over every generation awaiting the one that will finally fulfill the Great Commission, taking the good news of Jesus to every culture and ushering in the kingdom of heaven. In our time the Spirit is mobilizing young people with fresh vision, sons and daughters are speaking prophetically to the culture, older generations continue to dream, and many people cry out for salvation in every tribe and tongue.
This is a book about a prayer movement; 24-7 is catalyzing intercession and mission all over the world, and anyone can join in. But the movement has a context, and this book will also introduce you to some of the radical youth churches and amazing people at the heart of this phenomenon.We often laugh; sometimes we’re stunned into silence.There are always frustrations. But in the midst of many emotions, a nameless, faceless army meets God on its own in tiny prayer rooms from Alaska to Australia and emerges with a fresh resolve to help people discover Jesus and the timeless message of His life, death, and resurrection.
A red moon rose in the winter sky above the nightclub in which we gathered to launch 24-7 prayer. For us it was a sign, reminding us of Joel’s prophecy and Peter’s great Pentecostal sermon.We sensed that this movement of prayer, initiated by God, much to everyone’s surprise, was somehow something to do with the end times, called to be a portal for fresh vision, a small part of a big picture as the Holy Spirit moves in our time.As we explored the story of what God is doing through people willing to pray 24-7, we continue to see that red moon rising as Joel predicted.
This is not simply Pete’s story, although it is told from his perspective of his involvement.This is the story of a group of friends in various countries exploring the power of prayer, mission, and Christian community together. Our prayer is that, as you read this book you will be challenged, encouraged, and changed to become even more like Jesus.This story isn’t ultimately about 24-7 or any other movement; it’s about what can happen when ordinary people dare to dream extraordinary dreams. Our prayer is that you will be inspired to do the same wherever you live and however inadequate you may sometimes feel.
The prophet Joel tells us that before the “day of the Lord,” God will “pour out His Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
Dare we believe that these are those days? Could a red moon rise once more?
Pete Greig & Dave Roberts
“For each age is a dream that is dying, Or one that is coming to birth.”
—Arthur O’Shaughnessy (1844–1881)
Let’s see colors that have never been seen
Let’s go places no one else has been …
Well if the sky can crack, there must be someway back
To love and only love
STANDING ON THE SPECTACULAR CLIFFS of Cape St.Vincent that night, I had no idea that my life was about to change.We had pitched our little tent on the most southwesterly point of Europe, far from the lights of any city and beneath a canopy of unusually bright stars.
For days Nick and I had been traveling west along the coast of Portuguese Algarve, camping on cliff tops looking out to sea and cooking fresh fish on an open fire. By day we would hit the beaches, often leaving our backpacks on the sand to plunge into the sea.
Having recently graduated from university in London, our futures stretched out before us like those long, straight, empty roads you see in photographs of Montana.We were tanned and dirty, the sea and sun had bleached our tousled hair, and we were having the time of our lives.
After so many days traveling with the ocean on our left, it had been exciting to catch the first glimpse of sea to the right as well. Gradually, over recent days, the land had tapered to the point I was standing now, where a solitary lighthouse puts an exclamation mark on Europe, and the oceans collide in rage.
There is something absolute about Cape St.Vincent: its lunar landscape, the ceaseless pounding of the waves against nature’s vast battlements, and even the black ravens circling majestically below as you look out to sea. Few things in life are so certain as these rocks. It isn’t pretty, but it’s real, with a meaning that everyone senses and perhaps no one can quite express.
People have always been drawn to this mysterious wasteland, which has been battered for thousands of years by the collision of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean seas. Bronze age tribes buried their dead here and erected standing stones. In 304 A.D., grieving monks brought the body of St.Vincent the martyr here, and according to legend, ravens guarded his bones.The place took on the martyr’s name and became a place of Christian and Muslim pilgrimage for centuries to come.The Romans quite simply thought it was the end of the world. Here their maps ran out and their empire marched relentlessly into the endless sea. It would be centuries before Europeans “discovered” the Americas beyond the blue curve of that deadpan horizon.
But standing there that night, I knew none of this history. I only sensed something unfathomably sad and special about the place. Nick and I had pitched our little green tent right there on the cliffs, laughing that we were to be the most south-westerly people in all of Europe for a night. But, unable to sleep, I had climbed quietly out of the tent, leaving Nick gently snoring. A breathtaking sight had greeted me: the vast, glowering ocean glimmering under a shimmering eternity of stars; it was like being lost in the branches of some colossal Christmas tree.To the south, the next great landmass is Africa.To the west, it is America. I turned, and with my back to the ocean, I imagined Europe, rolling away from my feet for 10,000 miles. From where I stood, the continent began with a handful of rocks and a small green tent, but beyond that I could imagine Portugal and Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany eventually becoming Russia, China, and the Indian sub-continent. Visualizing nation after nation, I raised my hands and began to pray out loud for each one by name. And that was when it happened.
First my scalp began to tingle and an electric current pulsed down my spine, again and again, physically shaking my body. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before, and it was years before the spiritual excitement associated with the Toronto Blessing would appear to plug millions into the mains. I could hear a buzzing, clicking sound overhead, as if an electric pylon was short-circuiting, and I seriously wondered if I was about to get fried. As these strange sensations continued, I received a vision.My eyes were open, but I could “see” with absolute clarity before me the different countries laid out like an atlas. From each one a faceless army of young people rose from the page, crowds of them in every nation awaiting orders.
I have no idea how long that vision lasted; it might have been a minute or as much as an hour, but eventually I climbed into my sleeping bag next to Nick who was quietly snoring, and with my head still spinning, I drifted into a deep sleep.
My life would never be the same.
Two years earlier, in the city of Leipzig in communist East Germany, a thirteen-year-old was looking around in amazement at all the candles and people crammed into the building to pray for peace. Markus Lägel felt like a small part of something very big—anonymous and special at the same time.
It was hard to be a Christian in one of the most repressive regimes in the world.The ever-present fear of conflict with the West weighed heavily on everyone, so the East German church began to mobilize prayers for peace.They started in 1979, and by 1989, the prayer rally at Leipzig attracted 300,000 people.
With so many people expressing their protest in prayer, the State was preparing for war. Markus remembers guns on the roofs of churches and tanks in the street. But when the Berlin Wall finally came down, one Communist official made an extraordinary admission to a journalist: “We were prepared for every eventuality, but not for candles and not for prayers.”
Markus spent his formative years caught up in those extraordinary Peace Prayer Rallies in Leipzig.When the Communist regime finally fell, Markus became convinced that prayer has the power to undermine any ideology that oppresses.Watching consumerism usurp communism, one form of oppression for another, Markus began a spiritual journey that would one day make him an essential part of the 24-7 story.
As Nick and I hitch-hiked our way back across Europe, the vision of Cape St.Vincent kept replaying in my mind.“Where is the army, Lord?” I would wonder again and again as we traveled from Lisbon to Valladolid, Bilbao, Bordeaux, Paris, and London.“Where are the signs of such people in these streets, these tenements, these crowded places?” Maybe my vision had meant nothing at all.
It’s a question I guess we all ask, looking around our towns and cities, looking at the classroom or the office or the campus, watching TV and even scanning the pews at church.Where are those “forceful” men and women rising up to lay hold of God’s kingdom (Matthew 11:12)? Where are the people of God advancing the purposes of God with militancy and humility in the power of His Spirit today?
And why do we need such an army anyway when churches abound? What is the urgency that compels us?
I still remember where I was when I heard the news that Kurt Cobain had killed himself. Somehow it seemed momentous that a world-famous musical genius had stuck a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. In his suicide note, he simply claimed that he felt “guilty beyond words.” But, with hindsight, the rock star’s suicide wasn’t momentous at all; it was just another death of another depressed individual failing to find sufficient meaning in a messed up world. After working twelve hours a day copying product numbers into account ledgers, a Japanese man called Wataru Tsurumi wrote a book called The Complete Manual of Suicide, advising young people on how to kill themselves. It has sold 1.3 million copies since 1993.
Der Spiegel magazine estimates that in Germany alone there are at least thirty Internet death forums where suicidal teenagers can discuss the best ways to kill themselves. A kid called Rizzo wrote on one:“Hi people! I’ve bought a seven-meter long piece of cord. Can someone tell me the height of drop to hang myself properly?”A forum master called Markus “B” left his final message on November 11:“When you have a twelve-calibre shotgun in your hand, you think differently about death. If you think there’s something heroic about shooting yourself, hold a gun in your hand.”Three days later, Markus’ parents found him dead with the Beatle’s song, “Let it Be,” playing on repeat.
With suicide rates among young men soaring alongside self-harm and eating disorders in women, we can say with some confidence that this generation may well be hurting more profoundly than any other.
Amidst sparkling creativity, spectacular innovation, and unprecedented wealth, growing up in the West means for many a sense of alienation, a hunger for intimacy, authenticity, and hope.
That, surely, is a heart cry that moves the heart of God as His Spirit intercedes for us in groans beyond talking. It’s why He anoints us to “preach good news to the poor and to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61). It’s why He is sounding the trumpet in our time, summoning His forces to wage war in heaven and peace on earth (Ephesians 6). The battle is real, but it’s not just to save our souls from an epidemic of rock ‘n’ roll angst, and it’s not simply to refill our lonely pews either.We need an army to arise because the poor and the oppressed are crying out to God for urgent intervention and some ray of hope. “Though I call for help,” they say, “there is no justice” (Job 19:7).
We find ourselves living at the time of the worst epidemic in world history: AIDS has now killed more people than the Black Death.That’s why in Africa tonight, 400,000 children will lie down to sleep without a mother or father to kiss them good night, innocently orphaned by AIDS. History will hold us accountable for our response to such suffering. And yet some countries, like Malawi, are being forced to spend more on debt repayment to countries like ours, than they are on preventing and treating HIV/AIDS or feeding their own people.1 Our governments are effectively making things worse!
And in America, forty years after Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, if you’re black, you are nearly twice as likely to be fired from your job than your white co-workers.2 What’s more, the median income of black American families was 54 percent of the income of white families in 1992, which is significantly worse than it was back in 1969.3
Something has to change, and Jesus says that something can change, promising that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” In a world obsessed with celebrity sex and superficial appearance, He still chooses the lepers and the AIDS victims, the bullied kids from school, the “fools” of this world to confound the wise with hope and justice. In the company of Christ, the ugly become beautiful and classroom cowards become the bewildered heroes of His Kingdom.
That, after all, is my story, and I suspect it is yours too: “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28,The Message).
That is the Gospel as much today as it was when Paul was writing to the Corinthians. In fact, there may well be more outcasts in our modern industrialized society—slaves of the free market economy— than there were in the Roman Empire.When I worked in Hong Kong with heroin addicts as part of Jackie Pullinger’s remarkable ministry, she would say, “If you want to see revival, plant your church in the gutter.” Jesus warned us that the upwardly mobile middle classes would always find it extremely hard to receive Him. But among the losers, the freaks, and the apparent failures, what one preacher called the “shrimps and wimps and those with limps”… that is actually where the Gospel spreads quite easily.4
Revolutions always begin in the streets with the dispossessed—never in the corridors of power.Think of the early Church, the French Revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, and the American wars for independence.Think of William Booth’s Salvation Army and the birth of Pentecostalism in a back street of Los Angeles.Think of the roots of rock ‘n’ roll, of hip-hop and rap.
Something must change. Something can change. But can the Church as we know her rise to the task? The respected researcher George Barna looks in the rearview mirror and concludes,“Recent decades have seen the impact of the Church wane to almost nothing;”5
America is “a land where you may call yourself what you want, believe whatever you want, live however you wish and do what you will with religion, faith, and a spirituality.” In short, he says, we are in a state of “spiritual anarchy.”6
Teenagers and young adults are finding the Church increasingly irrelevant. Every Sunday thousands of our contemporaries leave the pew, never to return. But statistics mask the real story. A fifty-year time warp often separates Saturday night from Sunday morning. Faced with such alienation, some of our peers have simply retreated from the world, taking up residence in a protective Christian bubble.
Others may send their bodies faithfully to church, but they keep their brains in a jar at home and their hearts at the Saturday night party, the bar, or the cinema. And of course many of our friends just avoid church altogether.
Right now, one in five American children is living in poverty, and yet, according to the Barna Research Group, “Half of all adults did nothing at all in the past year to help a poor person” and “few churches have a serious ministry to the poor.”7 With such crying needs and such self-absorption among God’s people, surely things have never been worse?
J. Edwin Orr, a widely respected historian, in a message called “Prayer & Revival,” described the situation in America in the 1780s.8 Drunkenness was epidemic, and the streets were not judged to be safe after dark.What about the churches?
“The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining. In a typical Congregational church, the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennos, Massachusetts, in sixteen years had not taken one young person into fellowship.The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians who were even worse off.The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning; he confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment.
“The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church ‘was too far gone ever to be redeemed.’The great philosopher Voltaire averred and the author Tom Paine echoed,‘Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.’”
The spiritual state of America’s universities at the time concurred with such gloomy predictions, giving little or no hope for the future of the faith in that land:
“Take the liberal arts colleges at that time.A poll taken at Harvard had discovered not one believer in the whole student body.They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day. Students rioted.They held a mock communion at Williams College, and they put on anti-Christian plays at Dartmouth.They burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton.They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard.They took a Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey and burnt it in a public bonfire. Christians were so few on campus in the 1790s that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know.”
It’s hard to believe that this was taking place in America 200 years ago but then, Orr continues, God intervened, and He did so by mobilizing His people to pray.
“A prayer movement started in Britain through William Carey, Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliffe, and other leaders who began what the British called the Union of Prayer. Hence, the year after John Wesley died (1791), the second great awakening began and swept Great Britain.
“In New England, there was a man of prayer named Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor, who in 1794, when conditions were at their worst, addressed an urgent plea for prayer for revival to pastors of every Christian denomination in the United States. Churches knew that their backs were to the wall. All the churches adopted the plan until America, like Britain, was interlaced with a network of prayer meetings, which set aside the first Monday of each month to pray. It was not long before revival came.
“There was a Scotch-Irish (sic.) Presbyterian minister named James McGready whose chief claim to fame was that he was so ugly that he attracted attention. McGready settled in Logan County, pastor of three little churches. He wrote in his diary that the winter of 1799 for the most part was ‘weeping and mourning with the people of God.’ Lawlessness prevailed everywhere.
“McGready was such a man of prayer that not only did he promote the concert of prayer every first Monday of the month, but he got his people to pray for him at sunset on Saturday evening and sunrise Sunday morning.Then in the summer of 1800 came the great Kentucky revival. Eleven thousand people came to a communion service.McGready hollered for help, regardless of denomination.
“Out of that second great awakening came the modern missionary movement and its societies. Out of it came the abolition of slavery, popular education, Bible Societies, Sunday schools, and many social benefits.”
Utter hopelessness turned to renewal and restoration. Could it happen for a new generation?