At times they raised their hands. At times they gathered together in groups of two to three. And at times thousands of messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention knelt at their chairs on Tuesday night (June 14) as they pleaded with God to bring national revival and spiritual awakening to America.
In one of his final acts as SBC president, Ronnie Floyd led the convention in an evening of prayer during its annual meeting in St. Louis.
“From this moment on, it will not be about personalities on the stage. It will be about Jesus, all the way,” said Floyd, who has focused much of his two-year presidency on urging Southern Baptists to pray for spiritual awakening. “We’re about to give Him praise. And from this moment on, I’m going to ask you to give Him your all. What if this were your last night on this earth? Wouldn’t you want to give it all to Jesus and be ready?”
Floyd noted that Southern Baptists had thousands at First Baptist Church of Orlando who were, at that time, praying desperately for their city.
“Orlando is a lot more desperate tonight than they were before this tragedy,” Floyd said. “But why should it take a tragedy to make us desperate for God?”
Praying for spiritual leaders
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, talked about the need for pastors to so deeply love Jesus that they have the spiritual depth to lead their wives to be “well-watered vines.”
Chandler read from Psalms 27 and 63 to show the way men of the Bible talked about God “in a way rare in modern times…. I don’t hear that a lot in our day. I’ve found there is a lack of spiritual lustfulness in the hearts of many ministers. Where is the guy who just has to be with the Lord? And finds his fuel in the Lord? … What we learn in the Bible is that people flourished under Jesus-pursuing, God-loving, Word of God-proclaiming spiritual leadership.”
Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., encouraged the gathering toward lifting up spiritual leaders. Quoting Psalm 27:8, “Lord, I will seek Your face.” Hunt said that spiritual leadership requires three things: humility, a teachable spirit and gratefulness to God. He encouraged others to pray daily that they would exhibit these three characteristics as they lead others in their spiritual walk.
Praying for revived churches
John Avant, pastor of First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., shared about the revival that broke out in his church in Brownwood, Texas, in 1995, and encouraged pastors to trust that God can bring revival to their churches as well.
“Who’s crying out for Him to do it again? We’re in a desperate stage and our strategies and our meetings and our denominations are not going to save us,” Avant said. “Who’s going to cry out for revival in our day?”
Bill Elliff, senior teaching pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Ark., led participants to literally cry out, asking God to revive their churches and the churches in their communities.
Appealing to God as a “covenant-keeping God,” Elliff prayed, “As we look around the convention, we see that the bride is weak, Lord. Your bride is filled with sin… We ask that You come and cleanse Your bride.
“We need You, Lord, and only You and the revival You bring.”
Praying for racial reconciliation
Following a short message from Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., Southern Baptists gathered in groups to ask God to break down various racial barriers.
K. Marshall Williams, who leads Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, “prayed down” the stronghold of racism in the church.
“We magnify Your holy name…. We confess our sin,” he prayed. “We pray You would by the power of Your Holy Spirit manifest fruits of repentance in our lives…. All of us were created after Your likeness. Oh God, we are but dust, and we live in a day where when one piece of dust thinks it is better than another piece of dust. We ask that You bring your children together…. We call down the satanic, systemic stronghold of racism.”
R. Marshall Blalock, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., prayed for racial unity in churches.
“I confess that it took nine people being killed in my city [at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church] to make me desperate,” he prayed, tearfully asking God to “break our hearts,” “open our minds” and “open our eyes” to racism.
“Call our hearts to repentance,” he prayed. “May our hearts be drawn toward racial unity with Christ as the center.”
Praying for racial unity in the communities and cities of America, A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif., prayed against the sin of racism in the spirit of David facing Goliath.
“We won’t wear someone else’s armor. We will use what we have. And what we have is love … hope … compassion … and understanding,” he prayed. “What we have, God, is a made-up mind…. We must run up to this giant and say, ‘You, too must come down!'”
Felix Cabrera, lead pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, prayed in Spanish for racial unity in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Paul Kim prayed for the churches in America to come alive. He prayed first in Korean and then in English. Kim is the Asian American consultant for convention advancement with the SBC Executive Committee.
“Help us to be united in Jesus Christ,” Kim prayed. “Help us to obey the Great Commission with one heart and one mind through the Word of God by the power of [the] Holy Spirit.”
Praying for nationwide and global awakening
Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma prayed for awakening in America. Citing Nehemiah 1, he noted how Nehemiah, upon hearing about the destruction of Jerusalem, sat down and wept. He confessed his nation’s sins. He reminded God of His promises.
As a result, “they fixed in two months what had been destroyed for 140 years,” Lankford said. “For 140 years, they lived in a broken-down city until they awakened and said, ‘No more!'”
Nehemiah came among the Israelites and prayed and worked, prompting Langford to suggest, “Maybe that is the model: pray and work.”
Listing several areas of great need, Lankford, a former youth pastor and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, reminded attendees of the need for churches to engage in America.
He urged, “Maybe it’s time that we say our trust is not in the government and what it’s going to do but in the church and what God is going to do.”
The evening was capped off by a call for a nationwide and global awakening by Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif. “We need to get our eyes on the Lord again,” Laurie said. “We need to stop fighting with each other as believers and pull together for the sake of the Gospel. Our enemies are not the people in this room. Our enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
His call for increased evangelism was punctuated by calling pastors and churches to refocus their efforts on reaching the lost in America. “I am all for churches doing good works, but the good news is only good if it gets there on time. We have an urgency like never before,” Laurie said. “America needs a fourth great awakening. Let that revival start with us, not because it is what we do as a job, but because it is a passion.”
At the end of the service, Floyd encouraged every Southern Baptist church to dedicate at least 11 minutes — but preferably the entire service — to pray for America on Sunday, Sept. 11, the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. He asked that churches pray for the upcoming election and ask God to bring revival to the country.
Compiled by Tobin Perry, who writes for the North American Mission Board, with reporting by Karen Willoughby, national correspondent for Baptist Press, Shannon Baker, director of communications for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network in Columbia, Md., and Marc Ira Hooks, associate director of missions/director of communication for the Collin Baptist Association in the northeast Dallas area.