On a recent retreat I received a phone call concerning the proposed 24/7 united house of prayer in Perth. As I prayed with the caller it felt like a mountain was being uprooted from its foundations. This tearing up and shifting to another base of support felt overwhelmingly deep. Unusually, I wept. I believe a fundamental and drastic foundational shift is happening in the spiritual realm to challenge the dominant structures of the contemporary Church. This relates to the teaching of my recent article, “Jerusalem to Antioch: Cities with Different Foundations”. I closed that article by saying I did not understand how the Lord will build a 24/7 prayer house with a mission focus in Perth, this document is a partial answer to that question. To explain this I need to relate a story about fundamental change in my thinking.
No Other Foundation
About twenty years ago a small group met to pray for “revival” in our city. As we sought the Lord he brought into my mind a phrase that radically realigned my Christian life. It came from the Athanasian Creed; “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man…. not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by the taking of humanity into God”. This emphatically declares that the humanity of Jesus has been elevated into the glory of the Trinity. In the last few weeks another phrase from this Creed keeps coming to mind; “And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another.” The total equality of Father, Son and Spirit is the ultimate glorious foundation for the unity Jesus prayed for his Church (John 17:22). The glory of God is indivisible – Father, Son and Spirit have glory together. This means hierarchical patterns of leadership, where others are expected to follow the vision of a central senior leader, cannot manifest the fullness of the glory of God. Such top down models of ministry cannot reflect the truth that the whole Church, “lay/clergy”, “female/male”, “young/old”, “black/brown/yellow/white”, participates in the fullness of Christ equally and together (Col 2:9-10; 1 Cor 3:18-22).
Some years ago there was a network called PrayerNet WA. One day when we were praying I saw a whole lot of bubbles reflecting the colours of the rainbow. These merge together to form one large dome like bubble stretched over a completely flat surface. The small bubbles represented different networks each with a measure of the glory of the Lord, the single large bubble stands for a new level of unity and glory between the networks as they come together in love. As in the Trinity, only in total relationship between one another can the fullness of the glory of God be revealed. Such total relating is not possible where some are “set above” others; unity requires heart to heart connection on an equal plane. This image of Christian oneness and cooperation represents a prophetic fulfilment of two passages in Isaiah.
In Isaiah 4 we read, “ Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” (Isaiah 4:5-6 ESV). The word for canopy/tent over the glory is in Hebrew the term (huppah) for a marriage chamber (Ps 19:5; Joel 2:16). This speaks of the consummating love-union between Christ and his Bride. At the heart of a 24/7 house of prayer must be intimate marital fellowship with the Lord. This picture of ecstatic love must however be joined to another tent picture, that of Isaiah 54.
““Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labour! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.” (Isaiah 54:1-3 ESV). In its new covenant fulfilment this image stands for the ingathering of the nations into the presence of Jesus through the gospel (Gal 4:26-28 cf. Gen 22:17-18 = Gal 3:9). The enlarging tent means world mission. Put together, these two pictures from Isaiah spell out a global missionary movement generated by the unceasing intimate prayer of the Bride with her Bridegroom. The answer to why this is not already happening lies in styles of leadership.
In my previous teaching on an Antioch (missionary) city I referred to Exodus 24 where Moses and the leaders of Israel ascend Mt Sinai and “see God” through a transparent foundation (v.10). Significantly, the word for “leader” here bears the meaning “tent peg”. No tent/canopy holds itself up, and its form and arrangement is decided by the disposition of its multiple pegs. This has immediate application to the leadership of a mission-prayer centre.
Whilst a local ministry has a clear circumference, city wide ministry requires a city-wide leadership. The centre of all ministries remains Christ, but the fulfilment of the call behind a genuine 24/7 united house of prayer requires a coming together of visions spreading outwards towards all nations (Isa 56:6-7). This involves envisioning the same circumference, “all things”, being filled with Christ’s glorious presence (Eph 4:10). In such truly corporate leadership “none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another.” Only in the way of manifest equality can Christ the one foundation be transparently revealed and through him the glory of God (1 Cor 3:11; Heb 1:3). Such oneness is incredibly rare, but I believe I have an insight into how it outworks itself for the sake of the whole Church.
You Have Authority
Praying about 24/7 prayer and mission recently the LORD took us to Genesis 26. In this story Isaac repeatedly redigs the wells named by his father Abraham. In every case the wells are taken over by the Philistines. When he finally digs a well and names it on the basis of his own authority abundant water flows and the Philistines join with him in a covenant of blessing. Isaac needed to appropriate the truth that God’s promise to Abraham, “in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen 12:3), would come to pass through him. Today, every Christian person has an inheritance in the nations through the authority of Jesus (Matt 28:18-20). We do not go forward in the name of the archbishop, senior pastor, pioneer founder of our denomination or anyone else. The authority of the name of Christ indwells us all (Col 3:17).
The tent-peg leadership that will see the glory of the Lord’s presence over our city is one that seeks to release every Christian person, even those who think they have “no name” and no “sons and daughters” (Isa 56:3-8), into their vital participation in the global inheritance of Jesus. It is only through such inspiring hope-filled leadership that all the “nameless and faceless” builders of the 24/7 united house of prayer in Perth can possibly arise.
Isaiah prophetically speaks of a secure peg that will hold fast all the purposes of God (Isa 22:20-24; Zech 10:4), this is a prophecy fulfilled in the authority of Jesus (Rev 3:7). Whilst the tent-peg can stand for stability of leadership, there is another less cheerful use. The LORD speaks of a peg that collapses under the weight it bears (Isa 22:25). Unfortunately I have seen strong leaders marked by the call of God who have become isolated as they seek to fulfil the vision of unity and mission assigned to them. The result is often exhaustion, burn out, dryness, depression and disillusionment. This does not have to be so. The recognition of a plurality in equality of multiple leaders imaging and sharing together in the glory of the Trinity is the way to a healthy fulfilment of the vision of Christ in which we all share.
A prominent charismatic leader once wrote a book called “Churchquake” that focussed on strong apostolic ministry as the key to revival. This hierarchical model of leadership can never shake the foundations of the compromised Western Church of which we are a part (Heb 12:26). In fact it stands in the way of the glory and unity of Christ filling the Church. The way forward is a plurality of leaders imaging the equality within the Trinity, which is their glory, and ours. When such mature government comes there will be many houses of 24/7 prayer and a truly global mission move of God.