Mark Finley tells the story of how he and his wife attended one of the largest Seventh-day Adventist congregations in the world. It had started with only nine members and spread to more than 300 church plants. There were as many as 50 to several hundred in each plant. The church’s membership was now more than 6,000. When Pastor Finley asked what the secret strategy was to their amazing growth, the pastor replied simply, “It’s prayer! We meet each morning from four-thirty to six o’clock to pray. And one hundred and fifty or so people come every day for this prayer meeting. These seasons of prayer are the key to unleash God’s power for growth and revival.”1 That’s what I read—but let me tell you what I’ve seen.
The name was the Cuza Voda Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bucharest, Romania. The church had existed for nearly 20 years, but a few years ago members recognized that they desperately needed God’s blessing if their church was going to grow. Cuza Voda was one of the smaller congregations in Bucharest at the time and those members who did attend were mostly elderly. There were very few young people and Sabbath School and church attendance seemed to be declining. That’s when it happened.
Believing that God answers prayer, a group of approximately 15 Sabbath School members began meeting every morning at five o’clock to pray for their own spiritual growth, for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon the Cuza Voda church, and for all the seats in the church to become filled. Two months after starting those early morning prayer meetings, they had the first baptism that the church had seen for a while—10 individuals, all young adults in their early 20s.
They said, “This is too good to stop.” They continued praying each morning for nearly a year. I visited a year and a half after their prayers had started. The church was bursting at the seams, with attendance of more than 200 each weekend. The majority of the congregation comprised young adults—students and young professionals, passionate about serving Christ.
A Holy Spirit revival
We could learn valuable prayer lessons from our international brothers and sisters. It makes me ask, How desperate are we to see the Holy Spirit poured out in our lives and churches? How much do we long for personal revival today? Enough to step out of our comfortable routine to join together and really pray?
I heard of a man who asked his pastor what it would take for a true Holy Spirit revival to come upon his life and ministry. His pastor explained that he would have to baptize him in order to show him. The man thought the reply a bit strange, but agreed, so they proceeded to the baptistry. After lowering themselves into the baptismal tank, the pastor covered the man’s nose and proceeded to gently lay him back under the water as expected. However, rather than immediately lifting the man back up, the pastor continued to hold him under the water. Not sure what was happening, the man began to struggle. But the pastor’s grip was firm.
After a few moments, panic seized the man. Thinking that perhaps the pastor was trying to drown him, he began to thrash about violently, trying to get free. The pastor then brought him to the surface. Visibly shaken and gasping for breath, the man stuttered, “What in the world are you trying to do? Do you want to drown me?”
Calmly, the pastor replied, “When you are as desperate for revival as you were for that next breath of air, then the Lord will send revival.”
A true priority
Unfortunately, church records, surveys, and statistics, especially in the West, seem to indicate an all-time record low for Sabbath School and church attendance. People seem to be walking out the back door as fast as they enter the front. But such dismal statistics do not need to remain our reality. Imagine how things would change, how former members would be reclaimed, and how our Sabbath School, church, and prayer meetings would thrive again if fervent prayer became a true priority in the congregation—and not just as sandwich ends to the worship service.
A few years back, Lloyd Perrin, then pastor of the Linwood Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spokane, Washington, discovered that he had many members who were not attending church. He began going through the membership records, looking for the whereabouts of these inactive members. He compiled a list of 30 names and shared it with church officers, leaders, and Sabbath School members. They began praying for missing members and ways to reconnect with them.
“Within days,” said Perrin, “a church officer called me to say, ‘I was down at the supermarket and guess who was in line with me? It was one of the missing members. I got a telephone number and address.’ ” Not long after that, another member who had been absent for 15 years called Pastor Perrin. One by one, God reconnected lost or estranged church members with the church. Within three months they found about two-thirds, invited them to return to church, and many did so.2
J. Edwin Orr, a historian of world-wide revivals, wrote, “No great spiritual awakening has begun anywhere in the world apart from united prayer— Christians persistently praying for the revival.”3 Ellen White asked, “Why should the sons and daughters of God be reluctant to pray, when prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence?”4 The Bible states, “‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you’ ” (Matt. 7:7).5 “‘Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them’ ” (Matt. 18:19, 20).
A praying people
I have the privilege of being part of the thriving Sabbath School of Triadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Clarksville, Maryland. In fact, finding a seat in our Sabbath School class is not always easy, for we often have full attendance as well as active participation each week. Besides an engaging lesson study, what makes our Sabbath School so special? It’s the community fostered in it through the spirit of prayer and fellowship. Before any Bible is opened, before any lesson is discussed, we take time to share prayer needs and pray. No one wants to be late for Sabbath School because it’s a time of refreshment, fellowship, and caring, and the Holy Spirit is there.
Is this not the way Sabbath School should be each week? Do we recognize the value of the key of prayer that God has placed in our hands? Do we really believe His Word when He tells us that He will answer when we pray? Do we actually understand that if we want to see revival in our church; in our Sabbath School attendance; and, most importantly, in our own hearts, we must become people of prayer?
Prayer should not be just a 30-second routine to open and close our weekly study. Rather, it is to be the launching pad, the heart, and the power that gives breath and life to everything that follows. Instead of settling for superficial blessings each week in Sabbath School, step out into the deep and start praying big—upholding the arms of our pastor and local leaders, praying for missing members to return, and praying for our world church. Wouldn’t God be pleased to answer such prayers?
Ellen White wrote, “We are encouraged to pray for success, with the divine assurance that our prayers will be heard and answered. . . .
“The promise [of Matt. 18:19, 20] is made on the condition that the united prayers of the church are offered, and in answer to these prayers there may be expected a power greater than that which comes in answer to private prayer. The power given will be proportionate to the unity of the members and their love for God and for one another.”6 If ever there was a time when we should be pressing together in a community of prayer and love, it is now. Ron Clouzet tells of how corporate prayer powerfully affected his church.
A powerful testimony
Clouzet had just started to pastor a new congregation, and things were extremely discouraging. Although the sanctuary of his new church could seat 400 people, barely 100 showed up each Sabbath morning for church services and even fewer for Sabbath School. But he believed God could work, so he began spending hours studying Scripture for better clarity on how to share the gospel. He spent so much time studying Scripture that he had little time left to actually compose his sermons. Knowing that only the Holy Spirit could make up for his personal deficiencies and convict hearts, he began to get up early every Sabbath morning to pray that God would pour out His Spirit on the congregation. The Lord began to answer Clouzet’s private prayers, and as a result, more and more people began to attend church. By the end of his first year, Sabbath attendance had tripled. But that was only the beginning.
Fifteen months into his time at the new church, Clouzet decided to do a series on prayer. “A whole new world opened up for me. Prayer and communion with God became much more real and concrete. My relationship with Jesus grew much closer than ever before. I finally realized how most of us seem to live our lives three inches below the water-line: we know we’re drowning, but we assume this is our lot in life, ignorant of the fact that just above us is a whole new world.”7
As a result of the prayer series, the Holy Spirit began to move on his church even more powerfully, and the members began to really pray. They were not only praying during the midweek prayer meeting but during Daylight Saving Time they prayed together every Sabbath afternoon and during the period of Standard Time they prayed together every Friday evening. But that wasn’t enough. Realizing that some of his church members were under demonic attack, Pastor Clouzet invited his elders to join him at five o’clock in the morning for a time of special intercession. Seven of his 10 elders came, and the time of prayer was so powerful that they decided to meet and pray together once a week. They added Fridays, then Sabbath mornings, then Sunday mornings. The deacons asked if they could join in. Before long, the members asked started asking as well. The group was now praying every morning of the week.
During his second year, Pastor Clouzet felt convicted to do a series on the Holy Spirit. More blessings fol-lowed. Small groups were formed, and a church plant was started.
As God’s Spirit was poured out, Pastor Clouzet saw spiritual victories take place among the church members. A “testimony time” was added to the regular Sabbath service so that people could share. Members would drive hours just to hear what God was doing in the lives of their fellow members.
Evangelism resulted naturally, as a result of the Holy Spirit’s blessing. The church transformed the fellowship hall into the Better Living Center to host health, finance, and family life seminars for the community. More and more baptisms resulted. Church leaders who had not been overly interested in prayer, now did not want to be late even for board meetings because the first 30 minutes were devoted to prayer.
During the five years Clouzet spent in that congregation, tithe quadrupled, and giving for evangelism rose 5,000 percent. The church tripled in size as almost 200 people were baptized, and most of the members became active in some type of ministry or service. Clouzet concluded, “This may not be unusual for some places in the world, but for us here in the comfortable Laodicean communities of the West, this was truly an act of God.”8
An incredible promise
Reflecting on this amazing testimony, I am reminded of what Ellen White’s words, “The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the church is looked forward to as in the future; but it is the privilege of the church to have it now. Seek for it, pray for it, believe for it. We must have it, and Heaven is waiting to bestow it.”9 What God did for Pastor Clouzet and his congregation, for the Cuza Voda church in Romania, and for Pastor Perrin and others, He can do for each church and Sabbath School that will claim His promises and take the power of prayer seriously. While things may start small with our Sabbath School class, let’s make it a priority to be intentional with our praying. Eventually, others will join, and attendance and love will grow.
Inspiration tells us, “Could we see all the activity of human instrumentality, as it appears before God, we would see that only the work accomplished by much prayer, which is sanctified by the merit of Christ, will stand the test of the judgment.”10 Let’s get on our knees and learn what it means to persist in prayer because we serve a God that is just waiting to answer our prayers.
1 “A Call to Pray,” EUD News, January 15, 2012, news.eud.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2012-01 -15/a-call-to-pray/.
2 Lloyd Perrin, “Surprises Abound When a Church Prays for Missing Sheep,” Adventist Mission News, adventistmission.org/surprises-abound-when-a -church-prays-for-missing-sheep.
3 J. Oswald Sanders, Prayer Power Unlimited (Minneapolis, MN: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1977), 120.
4 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), 94.
5 Scripture quotations in this article are from the New King James Version.
6 Ellen G. White, “MR No. 748—The Power of United Prayer,” Manuscript Releases, vol. 9 (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc. 1990), 303.
7 Ron E. M. Clouzet, Adventism’s Greatest Need (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2011), 166.
8 Clouzet, Adventism’s Greatest Need, 168.
9 Ellen G. White, “Recount God’s Dealings,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 19, 1895.
10 Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1947), 263.