Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Prayer Is Action!

Dannah Gresh: Wouldn’t it be great if God moved in a sweeping way and brought revival?! Karen Ellis says, “We need to pray!”

Karen Ellis: Every single advance of God’s kingdom in the New Testament is preceded by prayer! I’m opening up the Scripture now, and I’m seeing prayer, prayer, prayer . . . kingdom prayer!

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of Seeking Him, for October 1, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh. 

Welcome to October, where everything is flavored pumpkin-spice-something. Nancy, do you know they have pumpkin-spiced bacon!?

Nancy: I did not know that, but I’m not sure that’s something we really want to have in our house.

Dannah: No,I feel like I should say, “My sisters, this ought not to be!” But you know, here at Revive Our Hearts, the month of October is going to have a strong flavor, too, and the flavor is, Cry Out!

Nancy: Yes, and it’s such a timely theme, something we need all the time . . . but especially as our world is in such upheaval and turmoil. As our team was praying and seeking the Lord, we felt that we wanted to devote this entire month to call women around the world to cry out—individually and collectively—to the Lord.

We’re going to be talking a lot about that theme over this next month. There will be teaching; there will be interviews. We’re going back to the Word of God, which tells us over and over again that we’re to cry out.

I’m looking at a list of those verses right now: “I cry out to God most high, to God Who fulfills his purpose for me” (Ps. 5:2). “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles” (Ps. 34:17). “O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you” (Ps. 88:1). 

Again and again and again through Scripture, we see the need to cry out—which, of course, Dannah, assumes that there is some sense of desperation. I think that’s been growing in our hearts and that many of us are ready to cry out in a new way to the Lord.

Dannah: I know I am, and what we want to do this month is not only motivate you and encourage you to cry out to the Lord with us, but move this message beyond the airwaves, out of the podcast into your home and invite you to be a part of a 31-day prayer challenge.

We’d like to send you, really, a devotion every day that takes you to some of these Scriptures that encourage to cry out, and how to cry out, written by some of your familiar friends here at the Revive Our Hearts ministry. All you need to do is sign up for that. Give us your email; it’s our gift to you, it’s our encouragement to you.

We want to resource you, give you the tool to actually get into the work of crying out to God on behalf of your family, your nation, your church—this broken, broken world.

Nancy: And you can sign up for that by going to ReviveOurHearts.com; there’s a banner there, it will be really clear. You say, “Yes, I want to receive those emails,” and then you can share those with others, with your small group, with the women in your church, with other friends. 

Let’s join together in crying out to the Lord over these next days, believing that there really is a God who hears the cries and the prayers of His people, and that through our crying out, God is going to be moved to work in our world, to advance His kingdom in a powerful way!

Dannah: You know, Nancy, you were sharing with me that as God was laying it on your heart to launch this Cry Out! initiative this month, He led you to whom you felt was the right person to help launch us into this month. Tell us about her.

Nancy: Yes, Karen Ellis was really on my heart as this began to unfold. Karen is a fairly new friend, but I have followed her ministry for a number of years. She was scheduled to speak at True Woman ’20, and then we have had to postpone that event. 

But I have gotten to hear her heart, to know her, and I’ve been so blessed, encouraged, and challenged! Thank you, Karen, for being a part of this conversation.

Karen: Thank you so much. You have no idea what an honor it is for me to be included in this series! I’m “the least of these,” especially when it comes to something like prayer. I consider myself a learner, but I’m very excited to spend this time with both of you and learn some things together!

Nancy: Karen, you’re passionate about theology and human rights and global religious freedom. If our listeners follow Karen on Twitter, you’ll often see her bringing to our attention what’s happening with our brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world. 

Sometimes here in the United States we forget all about that, but Karen, you don’t forget those who are suffering, and you keep bringing them to our attention. Karen is the Director of the Edmiston Center for the Study of the Bible and Ethnicity, which is housed at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta.

Karen, I think the thing that really captured my attention over these last few months, as I’ve followed you on social media and as we’ve had conversations, is in the midst of our world being in a state of like total chaos . . . I said to you the other day, “Karen, you’re saying things that I hardly hear anybody else saying.”

We have people interjecting opinions and commentary and things we need to do. I’m talking about Christians who are saying, “We need to do this,” or “We need to do that.” But I feel like your voice has been a different kind of voice. You’re addressing this moment, this time in our world, but from a different vantage point. Just tell us, as you’ve been following what’s going on in our world, what has God been putting on your heart?

Karen: That’s such an interesting way to put it, that I’m saying something that you’re not hearing in other places, because I feel like I’m saying things that I’m hearing on the ground from other people that are just really far away from the places that we normally go to, to hear how we should think, how we should behave, what kind of responses we should have to the world around us.

So I’ve been intentionally hanging out with—not just people around the world—but also people at home who mostly live on the margins of society. They are more inclined, I guess, to be folks who are really just working out their faith in fear and trembling by practically applying the things that they read in the Bible.

And so, I’m just really bringing the things that I’m hearing from their conversations. So it’s not really coming from me; it’s just I’m reflecting things that people on the ground are saying that are just really ground into Scripture and kingdom intentionality.

You mentioned that I’ve always been sort of this advocate—an unwitting advocate—for the underground church and the persecuted church overseas. I’ve really been a person on their margins for about the last twenty-five years. I have just had an interest in amplifying those kinds of voices of folks that you don’t usually get to hear from. 

I guess, somehow, the Lord has had that bleed over into my social media feed. I think that might be a representation of what you’re seeing and hearing on my feed: voices that you don’t usually get to hear from, because they’re just not on social media.

Nancy: So, Karen, who were you talking to, having these conversations with? Give us some sense of where these people were.

Karen: I started reaching out to friends in closed countries, people who have been through revolutions, they’ve been through civil unrest. They know what it is to have a limited-mobility church. 

For different reasons, because they had their own restrictions, they just were familiar with a lot of the things that I was seeing happen and unfold here since the pandemic has been on. 

So I called a few of them and I said, “What do you guys do? What are we supposed to be doing right now? What does the church do? How does the church function where you are?” And they pretty much said to a person, “Go to prayer! If I were you, I would go to prayer!” 

We had offered a prayer course shortly before the pandemic came on, and that was great preparation because it grounded us in a concept of kingdom prayer. It’s a very practical course. You spend more time praying in class than you do actually studying books—although we do read books about prayer. 

But it’s very practical, and we had been prepared—sort of—for the pandemic, to get this message: Start praying! So we gathered around a friend of mine who was my previous pastor, and he had done a lot of thinking and writing about prayer and had given us the curriculum for kingdom prayer.

One of the first questions we started asking was, “What is kingdom prayer? How is kingdom prayer different from other kinds of prayers that even Christians may be praying?” He was drawing a distinction between prayer that is centered on what he calls “domestic prayers”—prayers to maintain the status quo of our lives, prayers for protection . . . Those have a place. But we see a lot more in Scripture people praying kingdom prayers that are more in line with the mission and the complete upending of the order as we understand it to be.

Nancy: And, Karen, when we pray those kinds of prayers, we have to be prepared for our own kingdoms to crash and burn—maybe the things that we hold dear or that we consider essential to our stability. 

If we’re praying for God’s kingdom to come, we may be opening the door and lifting up our hands and saying, “Lord, you can disrupt my life; You can disrupt our world, our social order.” It’s a little bit scary if you are holding onto those things, if they mean too much to us, right?

Karen: It is! You actually need the Holy Spirit to enable you to pray those kinds of prayers, because it completely goes against everything that’s in us. We want the things of comfort, and those things are not always the things that advance the kingdom.

My husband and I really started challenging ourselves to pray those uncomfortable prayers, very Christ-centered. Jesus is the foundation for kingdom prayer. Through His prayers He calls down heaven’s infinite grace and power to inaugurate and advance the kingdom!

So we started studying Jesus’ life—His life of prayer, His teachings on prayer. We started asking Him to give us a spirit of prayer and to use us to birth a praying people and to join with other folks who were like our friends overseas and like our friends here on the margins domestically—to join with those folks and find each other so that we could pray together.

We started thinking about the concept of, “prayer is action.” We heard a lot of people praying for revival. We started to realize that prayer is actually revival itself; prayer is the beginning of revival. And just kind of refocusing ourselves has changed how we pray, how we approach prayer, and how we’re encouraging others to pray.

Nancy: Karen, you took a little bit of a hiatus from social media, and it seems to me when you came back you started talking a lot about prayer, and it seemed that you got some pushback, even from well-meaning Christians. People saying, “Okay, prayer of course is important, but we need to do something; we need to do more.”

And you kept coming back saying, “No, prayer is action! It’s not something we add to action; prayer is action.” And that is something that has really captured my thinking, as I’ve been watching and listening to what you’re saying.

Karen: Every single advance of the kingdom in the New Testament is preceded by prayer! I’m opening up the Scripture now, and I’m seeing prayer, prayer, prayer—kingdom prayer. One of the things I’m working on . . . I’m doing a research project on the Moravians and their hundred years of prayer and how the Lord unfolded an enormous movement out of that, that spread the gospel around the Carribean through the first African-led congregation in the Americas. They were a product of that. 

I guess it’s just causing me to have a sort of different take and to see things through a different lens, that it’s hard for me to go back to that argument that prayer is not action. 

I would challenge anybody who would say that prayer is not action or prayer is passive, or prayer is the wimp’s way out. I would challenge them to go through Scripture and look at all the places where people called out to God and find one place where He didn’t move!

Nancy: Wow. So, what does it look like for you to be praying with some of these friends, these people with whom God has connected your heart? What do you see God doing? I know you’ve had kind of a front row seat to some of what God is doing in stirring up His people to cry out to Him. Give us a glimpse of some of what you’ve seen in that.

Karen: It sounds kind of redundant, but we’ve been praying for prayer. We’ve been praying for prayer and praying for God to help us find the people of prayer and peace. And in the middle of all of that, we’ve found ourselves in some really interesting situations. 

We stumbled on an ongoing prayer gathering that’s been happening in Fairfield, Alabama, that I wrote about in United We Pray, at their website. In the middle of all of the global confusion, all of the domestic confusion, a friend of ours who is the pastor of a church that has declared bankruptcy and has all sorts of problems that you would associate with a city in bankruptcy, on top of that, they’ve got civil unrest now. 

He called a prayer meeting and just sent out a basic email. I don’t know how many people he sent it out to, but about three-hundred people showed up. It was such an incredible experience, because the building was an old Dollar store. They didn’t wait for the big renovation to have the big church.

It felt so much like the condition of my heart at the time. The store was stripped, just rubble pretty much. Spread to the side so they could put up some chairs. There was no electricity in the building so they had some generators outside providing a sound system. It just felt very bare-bones, very much gutted.

I think a lot of us showed up with our hearts feeling gutted at the time. It wasn’t dramatic. The prayer that went on there; it was just three-hundred people. We heard a message where the pastor called out to God and reminded us that we are one, and then we just set about praying. 

It wasn’t something you would associate with, “Oh! Something significant happened!” or “We came out with a game plan of how we’re going to move and fix all of these things that are wrong with the city!” It wasn’t that, but I think everybody who was there just knew something significant happened, even if it was just the miracle of three-hundred people. 

Some of us had driven two-and-a-half hours to get there. Three-hundred people just coming together to pray in a hundred degree heat in a gutted building together as one. We see things like this popping up all over the place! They’re happening virtually: people starting these little prayer pods (I don’t know what else to call them) of people studying prayer, turning to prayer.

Actually, a big part of it seems to be laying down our idols, laying down the things that we have allowed to replace the Lord within our heart. There is probably much, much more going on that I have no idea, but it just seems that something is happening, something is stirring the Church to pray. 

We have been praying in a global online prayer group, like I’m sure some of you are affiliated with and participating in. We’ve been praying in one for God to stir His people to kingdom prayer. So pray for prayer! Praying for prayer is probably the most important thing we could do right now.

Dannah: You know, my heart is about to burst, because what I’m sensing . . . it’s almost like a eureka moment for me. I think that you’ve described this: how can you walk with the Lord for twenty-five years and suddenly be awakened to prayer?

I feel like, at this moment, I’m hearing, “The point of it is the prayer!” Hello-o-o?! The point of it is the prayer; the point of it is not, “What are we going to get out of the prayer?” So many times we come to God . . . My question I want to ask you right now (and I’m not going to), but the one I want to ask you is, “Well, what happened after you gathered in that dilapidated building? How did God move? What came next?” 

But I’m sensing this satisfaction that you just came and you were with God, and that was the point! And maybe that’s why the Lord is letting things fall apart, do you think?

Karen: Sure! I think the most significant change was in us . . . or at least in me; I can speak for myself. That was where the most significant change was. You know, the children of Israel cried out, “Lord, we don’t want to go if You don’t go with us!” 

I think the folks that we’re meeting, from whom we’re learning, are sensing that there’s always a cultural moment coming after the moment that you’re in. Cultural moments are like Pez candy dispensers: there’s always another one. You flip the head back, there’s another one, there’s another one. And we don’t know what that next cultural moment is going to be.

But if we become a people of kingdom prayer—not prayer centered on politics or culture, but on kingdom—if we become a kingdom of prayer, we may be a little bit better prepared for whatever is coming, even as our hearts are being stirred to the most basic confessing our idols and laying them down.

So, I’m content to sit in that space. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t go and respond to my community’s needs and continue doing the work of the kingdom and the mercy ministry and all of those things. That doesn’t mean that I stop all of that and just commit everything to prayer. We’re not talking about a kind of monastic existence here.

I think what we’re talking about is making that central, asking God, “Where are we going as a people? What are we doing as a people? How are we responding as a people in a way that comports with the kingdom that You’re building . . . not the kingdoms we want to see?”

Dannah: Can I ask a personal question? 

Karen: Sure.

Dannah: What are some of the idols the Lord has confronted your heart with?

Karen: Well, you want to go there, okay. One of my biggest idols is people, and I know that probably sounds strange coming from a person who presents as very strong. But I’ll tell you a secret: most people who present as strong struggle with: “Am I accepted? What if I do something and I’m not accepted? What if God calls me to do something that I get cancelled? What if God calls me to do something and it puts me in the ‘out’ group? Am I content with all of that?” 

So, for me, one of my idols is the fear of man.

But I'll tell you another thing, what are our cultural idols? Go to the mall next time—when the pandemic is over and COVID is no more—go to the mall and walk around and ask God to show you what our cultural idols are. They are displayed very well in the mall, the things that have captured our hearts.

Prayer walking the mall is a great thing, because you’re like, “Oh, my goodness! There are all the idols; there’s the temple!” It really exposes where our affections lie. What are yours, Dannah?

Dannah: Well, I just feel like the Lord has stripped me of them during this pandemic. The approval I get when I travel and get to minister to other people, the security I feel that my bank account is sure and the paycheck is coming. We don’t know that right now; we don’t know that anymore.

Even just some of the entertainment and the pleasures—football games are cancelled in my hometown! If you know Penn State University, we have blue blood when we’re born! Everything is stripped and for whatever reason, it hurts . . . and it feels right . . . all at the same time. 

God is letting me see what needs to come away so that I will be a woman who is willing to cry out and be satisfied with Him and Him alone.

Nancy: It takes me back to what I’ve said for years (people who have listened to Revive Our Hearts have heard me say it many times): “Anything that makes me need God is a blessing!” So we think about the things that have made us need God . . . this year, 2020! It’s COVID and all the changes and adjustments and losses and confusion and polarization around COVID.

Adding to that, as many may be aware who are listening, my husband Robert is now on his second bout with cancer since March, going through chemo treatments for the rest of this year. These were not things we’d planned, they weren’t things we’d scheduled, and they’ve stripped us of any sense of control we had of our schedule or our plans.

But they have made us need God. We always needed Him, but I think they’ve helped us to be more desperate, to be more dependent. It’s not been a fun thing for Robert to feel weak and sick, and we wouldn’t have thought of health as being an idol, but we had good health. Then that gets stripped, and we’re needing God. So we’re crying out to Him in a different way.

And, Karen, I’ve been so encouraged and helped by your focus. The ultimate goal of our crying out right now is not for things to go back to normal or for health to be restored—of course we are praying for that—but above that, higher than that, bigger than that, richer than that, sweeter than that, is a prayer that Christ will be magnified in us, through us. 

I’m thinking about some amazing contacts that the Lord has allowed my sweet husband to have, has allowed us to have. A physician that we love dearly, that has been a part of our lives, that Robert was on the phone praying with yesterday, there are doors of opportunity opened to glorify Christ, to realize that in our weakness Christ is strong. His grace is displayed in our weakness.

These are hard things but they’re really good things. They’re bringing out in us, I think, a new kind of praying that is birthed out of need, out of desperation.

So what that looks like for you as you’re listening today may be very different than what that looks like for Karen or for Dannah or for me.

In fact, Karen I’m thinking, for the mom who has two school-aged kids, and there’s nothing normal about school right now, her hands are full. She’s trying to do a job, maybe both parents are having to work and trying to get kids educated. Life just feels upended, in chaos, and she doesn’t know of any one of these prayer groups around her.

How would you encourage this woman to think, to respond as we enter into this month of crying out? Speak to this woman. She doesn’t have your friends. What can she do to live out what God is stirring, I believe, in her heart right now of wanting to be a part of kingdom praying?

Karen: Sis, you’re never alone! God has promised you that He will never leave you nor forsake you, and He has promised by His Holy Spirit that even when you’re isolated, even when you don’t have an ounce of time left in your day, He’s with you. Talk to Him. Pour out your heart to Him. “Well, I’m already doing that!” That’s wonderful. Do it more!

Begin to pray through Scripture; start in Psalms. When we pray God’s Word back to Him, it’s a beautiful thing. We pray in agreement with Him. He can’t say no! Pray in agreement with His Word and call out to Him. Then ask Him to either send you someone—or someones—or to give you the boldness to go and find some people and start a small group online.

It may take some time. That’s where my husband and I started. We just started with, “God, help us to find others.” It’s not like nobody around us was doing that; there were a whole lot of people around us in our immediate circles.

We started one group at our church. We’re just meeting on Zoom for Sunday school. More people signed up than I could put in a breakout room, for us to pray in small groups! But God has given us some technology right now to assist us on this. Start meeting virtually.

It’s ironic that both of you have mentioned how this pandemic season has exposed our idols. The pandemic I’ve always maintained, since it first started, is a revealer. There is not a single idol that has remained untouched by the pandemic—our health, finances, our employment security. 

I had to stop and say, “Okay, God, why have You told not just the world, but specifically the Church, to sit down?” What are You saying? I’m not saying that this is the only thing He’s saying to the Church right now, but I’m saying that it has to be one of the things, just based on anecdotal evidence, I’m seeing right now.

One of the things that He’s saying to us is, “Gather and pray!” If you'd like a resource to pray through, I'd recommend the one my husband and I have been using. It's called A Prayer Revolution. It's solidly biblical. It's Christ-centered. It is teaching us how to pray Christ-centered prayers. I know Revive Our Hearts probably has many, many to guide you into kingdom praying. Just get with somebody and work through the book together.

One of the things I love about leadership training for prayer is, they told us the first thing out of the gate: “Don’t worry about doing it right. Just gather together and pray more than you talk!” 

Dannah: Yes. As you’re saying this, I’m thinking, could it be that we as a Church have had some idols that needed to be stripped away? Maybe our coffee shops in the sanctuary, and maybe our buildings, and maybe our systems and structures and programs were getting in the way of prayer!

I’m not saying that those things can’t be really useful. Many good things can be idols. It is good that I have a paycheck and can put food on the table for my family, but that can also become an idol. And it is good that we have programs that bring us together as the body of Christ, but are sometimes those things becoming bigger than the act of just being with God and talking to Him?

Nancy: We want to continue this conversation tomorrow with Dr. Karen Ellis, and we’ll link on ReviveOurHearts.com to the book that she recommended as a resource on prayer, so you can see that there. You can also sign up for the 31-day prayer challenge there, at ReviveOurHearts.com.

I’m going to ask Karen in just a moment to lead us in prayer to close this time, but first I want to just mention how grateful we are for the prayers and financial support of God’s people who want to see this message and this ministry reach the hearts of women around the world.

So if God prompts you as you’re praying for this ministry to make a gift to help underwrite the work of Revive Our Hearts this month, you can do that at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can give us a call at 1–800–569–5959.

Karen, I’m so eager for us to talk again tomorrow. Maybe we’ll just pray through a passage of Scripture that has been deeply meaningful to you from the psalms during these last several crazy months. I love what you said today, that when we pray God’s Word to Him, He can’t say no. So would you just pray and lead us? 

We’re going to join our hearts. Just stop wherever you are if you possibly can, and don’t spectate. But lift up your heart with Dannah and Karen and me as we, in one accord, cry out to the Lord. Karen, why don’t you lead us?

Karen: Thanks, Nancy. I’m going to pray A–B–C: Audible, Brief, and Christ-centered.

Nancy: Amen!

Karen: Our Father, I thank You that we can say Our Father, because You’ve made us one—one people, one tribe, one body, one baptism, one faith. God, help us to pray into, realize, remember that reality, God! God, stir a kingdom prayer among Your people! 

You’ve set the world on pause; You’ve set the Church on pause around the world. You’re able to use this pandemic for Your kingdom purposes. God, show us where we’re going. Show us what You’re doing. Help us to be obedient. Help us to be faithful. Help us to remember we’re united as one by Your precious blood!

And God, we think of Robert even now, Nancy’s beloved, Lord. We pray that you will grant him speedy healing, grant him endurance. Lord God, be the lifter of his head when he feels discouraged. Carry him when he feels too tired. Lord, I thank You that You wrap Your arms around both of them. I pray that You would remind them afresh daily how much You love them.

This is all for Your glory and Your honor and Your fame, Lord. We thank You for being ours! In Jesus Name, amen!

Dannah: Thank you, Karen. I needed that. 

I hope you’ll be back with us tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts, where we will continue to encourage you to cry out to God!

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminds you that prayer is action! The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Speakers

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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Karen Ellis

Karen Ellis

Karen Ellis is the Director of the Center for the Study of the Bible & Ethnicity at Reformed Theological Seminary (Atlanta). She holds Master’s degrees from Yale University and Westminster …

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