EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Phillip Johnson, Worship Pastor at Heber Springs Baptist Church.
I made a terrible mistake when attending my first prayer gathering.
I had received an email announcing the first gathering and did not know what to expect. I decided I would attend only the first evening session so I could be back in the office the next day. I was entirely unprepared for the experience in prayer God had planned for me. The prayer leaders had planned a systematic evening of prayer, study, reflection and confession mixed with worship and breaks.
The mistake I made with the first prayer gathering was not planning on staying the night and attending both days.
The evening session was spent praying with my pastor in the most meaningful ways to heal our hearts, church, community and world. We spent the evening driving back to Heber Springs discussing all we had heard and making plans for an early drive back to the second session. Our pastoral relationship moved to a new depth of understanding and partnership as a result of praying intently with each other. My personal understanding of the work God is doing around Arkansas was broadened and strengthened from seeing ministers from around the state testify and encourage one another. My understanding of God’s guidance in our Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) leaders and team members was encouraged by seeing them gather with ministers and set the example of intercessory prayer and a ministry of partnership and encouragement.
Arkansas Baptists are stronger because of the Statewide Prayer Gathering. This event has become a critical part of our staff calendar. Every year our pastoral staff attends the gathering. We make a point of sharing a hotel room so we can discuss what we have heard and experienced well into the evening. We are a stronger staff for having learned how to pray with each other and how to pray for each other. Our friendships and professional relationship are stronger due to this season of prayer. We have even taken our own staff prayer retreats and modeled them on this prayer gathering. We have even integrated portions of the gathering into our own prayer times in our church services.
I was disappointed when I thought the prayer gathering might be cancelled in 2020. I am encouraged to have found out the ABSC leadership has made arrangements and adjustments so the event can occur. We will not be able to travel to the meeting in person, but we are preparing to host our own small prayer gathering in one of our staff homes. The three of us are planning on gathering in prayer, study and fellowship alongside the ABSC and other host locations. We have always been encouraged to pray for revival and awakening during the prayer gathering. We have been encouraged by leaders that the beginnings of revival were coming, but we still needed to pray fervently for a true movement of God.
I believe this season of COVID may be exactly what was needed to bring us to a point of true desperation for God in the church. While I am disappointed that I cannot gather with everyone for prayer this year, I am finding great hope and encouragement in the idea that in 2020 people all over Arkansas will gather in their own ways at the same time praying for revival and awakening. The enemy has attempted to create division in the ABSC, what I see is mobilization.