For pastor Paul Williams and the members of First Baptist Church in White Hall their emphasis on prayer started three years ago with a small group meeting weekly for prayer. Almost a year later the church partnered with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) to host one of several regional prayer gatherings. And then COVID hit, and everything shut down.
Williams points to this as a catalyst that helped move the church into a period of awakening and a focus on prayer. Although maintaining momentum was difficult during the pandemic as things changed so sporadically, he says “God used the pandemic to bring an awareness to our folks and us as a staff about the importance of prayer, specifically during that time.” Church members were encouraged to pray and fast a couple of days each week.
Even though they were unable to meet in person, Williams used the livestreaming of each week’s service to encourage people to follow through with prayer and fasting. Even when they were able to meet together again, many were still unable to attend for various reasons. Praying and fasting allowed them to partner together for a common purpose.
Williams decided to begin 2022 by preaching a series on living hope based on 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Each week during the service he will focus on what it means to live each day with a living hope.
When he first heard about the ABSC 21 Days of Prayer emphasis, Williams saw immediately how this would parallel well with their current focus on living hope. “So that’s why I chose to really try to get our people involved because our corporate worship is kind of staggered in a way, because we’ve had so many ups and downs with COVID numbers. In fact, there’s been periods where we’ve had to cancel our small groups because of outbreaks and not necessarily in the church, but in our community and in our schools,” he said.
Williams sees the opportunity for individualized participation as one of the benefits of 21 Days. “Really what it’s done is it’s allowed people on an individual basis just to have that personal daily time of focused prayer, praying specifically for the Holy Spirit to do a movement in their life and in the life of our church,” he said. What he’s seen and heard is that this time has allowed them to be reminded of how important prayer is in bringing the power of the Holy Spirit into our lives. His prayer is that the 21 Days of repetition will help people begin to develop a pattern of prayer in their life.
The church hosted two open prayer times on Saturday nights in January. The first time they provided a prayer guide specifically taking some of the points from the 21 Days emphasis. For the second prayer time, Williams says they used a different prayer guide which focused upon six different elements of prayer. A couple of scriptures and prayer points were given to help with focused prayer on humility and surrender, adoration, thankfulness, confession and repentance, restoration and also praying for awakening to come.
Williams hopes that people begin to recognize the power of prayer and view prayer as more than just a 10-minute time during their devotion or a prayer before a meal. He wants people to pray for opportunities as they go to work, to school and to the store. His desire is that prayer becomes a lifestyle and not just a discipline to check off. “I would love for people to get to where they are not only praying for upcoming surgeries, but they are praying for their neighbor down the street because they don’t know if they are saved or not. I wish our attitude towards prayer would change,” said Williams.
Williams shared a specific example of how God has already started this attitude change within the church. “There is a man in our church who grew up knowing God but not really involved in church. Over the past four years, he has really just incredibly grown in his understanding of what it means to be saved, and what it means to be involved in his church. He is actually going through the 21 Days of Prayer. In fact, he has fasted by giving a few things up that he normally would indulge in, but he’s giving those up because he wants to really focus and have the opportunity of this experience. He told me the other day that this experience has really changed his perspective of what prayer is all about.”
The man told Williams, “Used to, I would just say a prayer because that’s what we were supposed to do. But now after praying specifically for the Holy Spirit to move, I’m kind of anticipating that something big is going to happen in my life. And that kind of scares me a little bit, but it also excites me.”
Williams says that the transformation in this man’s life is obvious. The man’s perspective on prayer has changed because he’s now anticipating something instead of just voicing a sentence to God. He knows that as God changes one heart, one perspective He will use that to impact everyone that person comes in contact with. And this is just one example of what Williams sees God doing as they turn their focus to prayer, “It’s only by His spirit, it’s nothing magical that we’re doing or technique that we’re doing. It’s just the fact that we’re using this resource to remind folks of what God can do in our lives.”
At the conclusion of the 21 Days of Prayer, the church is looking forward to the future. Williams says it all goes back to their theme of living hope. He points out that hope is a confidence that we have that something is going to happen. With that in mind, the church will move from just learning how to live daily in this living hope to sharing the living hope with others. He says a big part of what he sees coming out of 21 Days is a different perspective about what God can do through His church. “Some of the things we’ve been specifically praying for are more boldness to share the gospel and working to together not just in our fellowship and in being dedicated to the apostles teaching, but to sharing these things that we’ve had. There’s no telling what God can do through this.”