Prayer emphasis yields supernatural fruit in northeast Houston church
February 13th, 2014 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
HOUSTON—When Northeast Houston Baptist Church launched a prayer emphasis last year in conjunction with its church planting vision, members expected God to move mightily. But they had no idea how extensive his work would be in them quite apart from church planting.
Planting 10 churches in 20 years was the vision that launched the prayer movement. As a first step, Northeast Houston hoped to begin sending out its members within three years to seed new congregations. But they knew a God-sized vision like that would require dependence on the Lord. So last January they began a one-year prayer emphasis.
From the beginning, pastoral leadership pressed to make prayer more than an item on the worship bulletin. On Sunday mornings worshipers were invited to assume a biblical posture of prayer—seated, standing with arms raised, prostrate or kneeling at the altar. And they were encouraged to gather in small groups in the auditorium.
“It was hard for our congregation at first. Some weren’t comfortable praying in groups,” Scott Harper, the music ministry lay leader, said.
During the yearlong emphasis, families were urged to carve out time at home each day for prayer together. And prayer time was extended during worship services. Sunday afternoons became a time devoted to prayer as well.
Harper and his wife Cheryl said family prayer time with their 15-year-old daughter Mackenzie became a nightly priority. Using the recommended Operation World prayer book, the Harpers prayed for every nation in the world during 2013. Not only was the missions prayer emphasis a lesson in geography but one in empathy and humility.
“When you grow up in this country, you might start thinking God is American,” Harper said. “It was good for our daughter to get a global view.”
Praying for countries that are considered America’s adversaries brought home Christ’s admonition that believers should pray for their enemies.
“The world really is a small place and they all need Jesus,” Harper said.
Each evening one of the Harpers would remind the family they needed to pray. Harper said there was no more wonderful sound than to hear his daughter say, “Hey! We need to pray.”
Prayer began to infuse their lives. It became second nature within their family and among their fellow church members, they said. At the church, small group prayer time on Wednesday nights incrementally expanded from five minutes to 10 minutes to 20 minutes. Eventually, groups began to exceed the allotted time with their petitions. A practice that felt awkward to many at first became a cherished time within the church family.
Sunday afternoon prayer gatherings generated similar enthusiasm. At the start of the prayer emphasis, Lino announced that he would be praying at the church Sunday afternoons from 4:50 to 5:50. Anyone was welcome to join him.
He just left it at that, Cheryl Harper said. And people came. The time flies, Scott Harper said, and the hour is over all too soon.
Increased time before God generated a growing recognition of his provision and intimacy among the church family, members remarked. Dependence on God and one another became ingrained, especially in times of crisis.
Last October, for example, Cheryl Harper’s doctors discovered a mass in her stomach. Tests concluded it was not cancerous but surgery was scheduled for February. Of course, she and fellow Northeast Houston members made it a matter of prayer.
“We just put it in God’s hands. We know his will will be done,” she said.
Through the year the prayer emphasis drew the pastoral staff closer to one another, associate pastor Greg Kingry noted. Their sense of accountability became more acute to live holy as pastors, husbands and fathers.
“How can we expect to shepherd others if our house is not in order?” Kingry asked.
He, like Cheryl Harper, said the impact on his family was timely and profound. The birth of his first grandchild, Noah, last March evoked a mix of joy and angst. Born with hydrocephalus, doctors told the family Noah would have ongoing medical problems.
Kingry immediately contacted those he knew he could depend on to pray—his church family and friends at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he worked before coming to Northeast Houston.
Prayers for Noah intensified in September when the infant’s condition deteriorated. The diagnosis was infantile spasms, a rare form of epilepsy that can impair long-term development. Kingry said God provided money to pay for the very expensive medicine that reduced Noah’s symptoms.
Still family, church and friends prayed.
In January, following exams by doctors treating the two disorders, Noah was released from their care. There was no longer evidence of either medical condition.
“We wholly believe it is the power of prayer. We saw it throughout the entire time. Then the doctors told us, ‘It’s not there,’” Kingry said.
Members of Northeast Houston still expect God to use them in great ways for church planting, but they have also learned a profound lesson about God’s ability to use prayer in every facet of life.
Upon getting the report about his grandson, Kingry sent an email to the “prayer warriors” announcing the good news. One warrior, an intermediate school teacher, read the email while in class and began to cry in front of his students. Concerned, they asked what was wrong. The teacher shared the whole story with the students who, in turn, were moved to tears.
Kingry concluded, “It gave him the opportunity to speak about the power of prayer.”