Redeemer was born in prayer. When Terry Gyger first asked Kathy and I to consider moving to New York City and planting a church in the late 1980s, I said, “No, but I’ll help you find someone who will do that.”
Even though I turned Terry down, the request rattled me. I was teaching practical theology at seminary and I had been out of the pastorate for several years. I realized I had become spiritually complacent, and I knew I didn’t have the prayer life necessary for such a ministry. It set me on a two-year quest to know God and find spiritual reality in prayer. As it turned out, the call to Manhattan circled back on us, and we ended up moving here in 1989. Without that deeper foundation in prayer, I could not have answered that call.
As we were raising support to come to New York, we were delighted to become the recipient of our denomination’s Women In the Church organization’s annual Love Gift. The annual WIC Love Gift came through voluntary special offerings from individual churches in the Presbyterian Church in America. That year, I believe, over 400 churches gave. It was $75,000, which at the time was an enormous financial grant for a new church. In hindsight, however, the gift’s greatest power for good was not financial.
Along with the financial offering, the women in the contributing churches were asked to pray. Since the Love Gift had never been given to a single congregation before, it meant that for the first time women from over 400 churches were praying for a single church plant. (It may have fueled their urgency in prayer to imagine moving their own families to big, bad New York City, something my wife’s prayer letters did nothing to dispel!) My wife often says that she believes no single church plant in history may have had more people praying for it than Redeemer.
The effects were evident to all. In the first year or so of Redeemer’s ministry the sense of God’s presence was often palpable. The gospel seemed brand new, sleepy Christians awoke with a start, and people got converted every week. The air was charged with a kind of electricity. Every decision turned out to be wise. Everyone performed above and beyond his or her gifts and abilities. The Lord helped us.
In the very beginning we had no officers or even any staff. Instead we had a ‘coordinating group,’ an informal steering committee, which consisted of lay leaders in the emerging congregation. We met for prayer every Friday morning. Every week nearly everyone in the group had stories of non-Christians they were bringing to or meeting at Redeemer. We prayed for all the people we saw that were being drawn to Christ, as well as for the overall ministry.
So it is accurate to say that Redeemer was born in prayer. I think it is honest to also say, however, that subsequently, through the rest of our history, Redeemer has not been known as a praying church, despite the fact that we have always had a cadre of people who both formally and informally supported the gospel work through prayer. In this coming year — and, I hope, henceforth — we will as a congregation give a new, focused attention to prayer. Our Fall Beta group and sermon series will be all about prayer, and during the year we will have opportunities to deepen our prayer lives. Our aims are to grow in our biblical understanding of prayer, our practice of prayer in private as individuals, and our practice of prayer in community as brothers and sisters. The outcomes we desire include having a renewed inward experience of God’s holy love, as well as seeing God’s kingdom work move forward in response to our prayers.
Prayer makes it safe for God to give us the many gifts he has in store for us. There are blessings God would like to grant us but he will not unless we ask for them. Further, prayer is the only way to truly know your self as well as the main way to actually know God, because in prayer we treat him as God. And, because the things we worship ultimately control us, prayer is the main way that we experience deep change. Why? It is how the loves of our heart are re-ordered so we love God first and everything else second. There is nothing on earth more important than prayer.
The main way we should acknowledge the 25th anniversary of Redeemer is through prayer. We should look back with thanksgiving for what he has done. We should look forward with fervent supplication for his continued presence and work among us. And overall there should be prayers of joyful praise that he is the kind of God to do all this. Come — magnify the Lord with me. Let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 34:3)