By Sharon Mager
BALTIMORE, Md.—There was a hushed soft murmur in the room‑many people talking at once, a few voices rising over the others, some with light sobs, but most were whispers that were discernable if you concentrated on just one at a time. People were on their knees, standing and reaching out to God, holding hands, hugging. They were lifting their prayers “like incense,” referred to Psalm 141, during the Upper Room Prayer Conference at Freedom Church, Baltimore, on Sept. 30-Oct. 1.
Even in early planning stages, coordinators of the conference wanted it to be more than talking and singing about prayer. They wanted Christians to sincerely pray. They worked to make the environment conducive to prayer, such as having a shorter time, softer style of music, and prayer mats, cushions and pillows scattered around the church.
Dan Hyun, pastor of The Village Church, Baltimore, who led the conference on Friday evening, said many who attended were tired and weak. “You’re hurt, your heart has been trampled upon,” he said. Others, he said may be under spiritual attack. “You are tempted, maybe experiencing crazy doubt.” He urged all to pray, pouring their hearts out to Jesus.
In a time of corporate prayer, Hyun said, “We pray for more grace. I pray for those who are wounded…maybe they don’t know it, but you’re slowly unveiling wounds, hurt, scars, pains…You’re inviting them to lay down and cast their burdens on You because you care for them…restore them…Pour the living waters of the Spirit through our soul that our parched places might be drenched by Your Spirit.”
Speakers were Baltimore Police Chief Melvin Russell; Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Ga.; Karen Angela Ellis, PhD candidate in church history at Oxford Center for Mission Studies; Hyun; and Freedom Church Lead Pastor, Michael Crawford.
Chief Russell compared God’s direction in our lives to online navigational applications. God uses all of our mistakes, our “wrong turns,” Russell said. He re-directs each step, using everything, even our sins, for His purpose.
“Stop allowing the enemy to make you feel that you must… abort your purpose because you’ve made too many mistakes. Remember God always knew every jacked-up thing, every messed-up thing we will do before He even made the world. But He put it all in the plan, so we have to stop allowing this stuff to stop us,” he said.
Russell referred to Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
Catt said, “Sometimes we don’t pray because we’re afraid God doesn’t really care about ‘that,’ or I
don’t have to bother the Lord about ‘that.’ Listen, if 10 billion people—past, present and future—were all praying, God would hear every one of them. We act like our prayers aren’t important because we don’t have all the words we’re supposed to say. God hears, and God knows, and God prompts you to pray.”
In his message, Hyun shared that it’s important to be discipled and walk with others in our churches, in groups, to know more about the heart of God, so we are guided in our prayers, praying the “great will of God!”
“We know what honors Him. We know He’s a God of justice so we pray for justice; we know He’s a God who cares for the poor so we pray in mercy; we know He’s a God who cares for the orphaned and widowed so we pray in those ways. We know He’s a God who’s about truth so we pray for courage to stand for those things, and we pray in accordance with His will.”
Hyun said, “We can’t separate our prayer from a journey of knowing God intimately.”
Ellis said, “We walk forward on our knees.”She shared about “persevering faith,” that often Christians don’t realize they’re granted until they are standing in the moment of need. “Then you realize, ‘My knees may be knocking, and my voice may be shaking, but here I stand. I can do no more.’” And God answers our prayer and honors the faith.
Crawford said early Christians were devoted to prayer because they started with prayer. They didn’t have budgets, committees, buildings, systems, conferences, microphones, constitutions, 501(c)(3) [nonprofit statuses], lawyers… “All they had was God,” he said.
“And they were known by prayer. They were in the upper room and now they’re gathered together, thousands of them, breaking off into pods, and they were devoted to prayer.” Crawford said that beginning, with prayer, permeated the New Testament church.
In his closing message, Catt said, “In the book of Acts, they were never surprised when God showed up. They expected God to show up because they believed in the promises of Jesus, and they believed in the Word of God, and they believed in the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.”
Conference leaders were pleased and already have plans to make it an annual event.
“It was easily the best conference I’ve been to but I’m biased,” said Crawford. “We accomplished the goal: Pray more than we talked and pull off a conference where prayer was the most preeminent thing. The Spirit was moving powerfully in all the sessions. Everything fit together as it usually does.”
Hyun said, “When many Christians talk about God, too often we speak about Him as if He’s not really among us. At Upper Room, I believe many of us were moved by the Holy Spirit’s presence and truly sensed God was with us as we prayed.”
Tally Wilgis, pastor of Captivate Church, said the conference was one of the most diverse and unifying events he’s seen in the region. “More than anything else, we prayed. The conference impressed upon our church members a greater desire to have our church become known as a ‘house of prayer.’”
C.J. Matthews, pastor of Bethany Church, Columbia, said it was powerful. “The fact that there was a conference to focus on prayer was special to me. I felt it was needed,” he said. “You could focus on talking to God…and do it together, to see other people praying. I left feeling refreshed.”