“I want to know everything there is about the prayer life of apostolic leaders and movement catalysts. Have you written something about this in your book?” This was the immediate response of Joseph Nelson, Senior Pastor of my sending church “Jesus Haus” in Düsseldorf, Germany, the moment I handed him a copy of my book Movement Catalysts. “There is nothing I want to know more, because every ministry success flows out of our prayer life.” With that, not even waiting for my answer, he turned to the table of contents, looking for a heading mentioning prayer in the life of effective catalysts.
While my book does include such a section, this post takes a closer look, responding to Joseph’s and others’ desire to learn how to deepen their prayer life. You will be able to take a peek into the prayer life of effective movement catalysts and get a glimpse of the quality of their prayer. I also examine how much catalysts pray, and the findings may surprise you. As always in my posts, I will also offer some very practical steps you can take to deepen your own prayer life.
The six factors that correlate with movement breakthrough
I recently posted an article on “The factors that actually start movements.” This posting has had more views in a short time than any of my other posts. I presented the six factors that correlate with movement breakthrough, based on analysis from the broadest-ever research into movements.
Three of the six factors are internal – factors that catalysts can influence directly and implement together with their teams and partners. These factors are:
Developing the right ministry strategy
Using a discovery group approach
Raising up leaders effectively
The other three factors that correlate with movements are specific qualities of the primary movement catalyst. Research has shown that the person of the catalyst is key in catalyzing a movement. An effective movement catalyst is characterized by a set of particular traits and competencies, which I call Catalytic Qualities. I have blogged about this previously (see here). The three Catalytic Qualities that correlate with movement breakthrough are:
Influencing others’ beliefs
In this post we will focus on the first: deep prayer
Thorough statistical analysis of movements worldwide reveals that ultimately six factors actually correlate with movements, three of which are qualities of the catalyst.
How MUCH do effective catalysts pray?
You may have heard it said: “Two hours or more of daily prayer is the standard among movement catalysts.” I wanted to find out for myself if this was an urban legend or actually holds true. So I went to effective catalysts and asked them to tell me how many hours on average they spend each week praying, by themselves or with others, on behalf of their adopted people. Have a look at the chart below to see the answers they gave.
You can see that 41% of all effective catalysts report that they pray on behalf of their adopted people less than ten hours each week. This translates to less than one and a half hours each day. So the saying about effective catalysts’ prayer life cannot be confirmed; it does not hold true. However, 59% of them do spend ten or more hours in prayer every week, meaning more than an hour and a half on average each day. Of all catalysts, 7% pray 4-5 hours every week (less than one hour daily) on behalf of their adopted people, 10% pray 2-3 hours weekly (less than half an hour daily, and 12% get by with praying for this only 0-1 hour weekly (under ten minutes daily).
Still, if you compare the hours effective catalysts spend in prayer with the hours of non-catalysts, you see a massive difference. Whereas 59% of all effective catalysts spend 10 hours or more in prayer for their adopted people each week, only a quarter of non-catalysts do. That is 2.4 times as many!
Several insights stand out from the data:
Most effective movement catalysts pray a lot.
Many effective movement catalysts pray more than other pioneers who have not been able to start a movement.
A good portion (41%) of effective catalysts pray significantly less than has been assumed.
Some effective catalysts don’t spend much time in prayer (less than 30 minutes, or even less than 10 minutes a day).
Thus the correlation between being a powerful pray-er and the ability to catalyze a movement is not based solely on the amount of time spent in prayer.
In summary we cannot say that effective catalysts pray a lot, and that explains at least in part why they are able to start a movement. Some catalysts pray surprisingly little, yet they have started a movement. Where else then can we find a correlation? In other words, what is it about prayer that has an effect on movement outcomes?
I had a hunch that if it isn’t the quantity, it must be the quality, but I wanted to counter any confirmation bias and let the data speak for itself. So I investigated further, in order to test my hypothesis.
My working hypothesis was that what matters is how deep the prayer life of effective movement catalysts is, not how lengthy it is. Therefore I went back to the data, the 27,000 data points from 147 movements, and tried to find out which attributes characterize catalysts’ prayer lives. I wanted to answer the question:
Marks of the Deep Prayer of catalysts
When asked about their prayer life, the catalysts consistently reported that it is characterized by the following qualities:
Their deepest desire is Hunger for God. They yearn to know and love him more deeply. They have discovered the spiritual disciplines that suit them best, and practice these often and for extended times. Their longing for God Himself, for genuine relationship with Him is deeper than their desire for ministry fruit, for a movement. Starkly speaking, they do not seek God primarily in order for Him to give them something – a movement – which would be using God as a means for an end, but their seeking of God is the end in itself.
Their posture is Listening to God. They regularly take time to hear from Him, wait on Him, and seek guidance for their life and ministry, ready to obey whatever He says.
Their prayer is fueled by Expectant Faith that God will show His power through their lives and will grow a movement and bring many to saving faith.
The world-ward outflow is Fervent Intercession: the catalysts pray regularly and passionately on behalf of their adopted people for many to be saved in a growing movement.
These four qualities mark the prayer life of effective movement catalysts. And even though the amount of time they pray for their people group varies considerably (from more than one and a half hours every day down to less than 10 minutes a day), there is consistency in the self-described qualities they demonstrate in their prayer. I encourage you to consider carefully the four characteristics above, and allow them to sink into your heart. Hunger for God is their deepest desire. Listening to God is their posture. Expectant Faith is the fuel, based on what God has spoken to them. Fervent Intercession is the outflow.
DEEP prayer, rather than MUCH prayer, characterizes effective movement catalysts
A case against an over-emphasis of MUCH prayer
Let us contrast the depth that marks the prayer life of catalysts with what is all too common in many churches.
The weekly prayer gathering of a local church I attended had more people come to pray on one particular week. The man leading the meeting expressed excitement about the unexpected turnout and welcomed the prayers with these words: “How wonderful that today we are ten more than usual. This makes it more likely that our prayers will be answered today.” Have you ever heard a similar sentiment? The belief behind it is: more people pray => more prayers prayed => more likelihood of God answering. The more people pray, the more answers. The more prayers are prayed, the more answers.
This is magical thinking! It is a belief from folk religion that has made its way into Christianity and affects the way many Christians think about what a great prayer life looks like. We must reject this, even though it is commonplace in the church.
Recently in a taxi in Singapore I talked to the Buddhist driver about faith and prayer. In his taxi he had a prayer wheel set up, also called a “mani wheel.” A prayer wheel contains printed or handwritten mantras and prayers. Why is it used? Buddhists believe that the more prayers they offer, the more merit they will earn, and so improve their chances of receiving a higher reincarnation and eventually achieving nirvana. Each turn of the prayer wheel represents one recitation of the prayers inside the wheel. Ironically, technological development has led to prayer wheels being powered by electric engines, with the added blessing that now they spin at greater speed and do so 24/7. We may look down on such prayer practices, but believing that God is more likely to answer more frequent and longer prayers is as pagan as my taxi driver’s prayer wheel.
Consider this instruction of our Master:
“When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat. 6:7 – NKJV)
Jesus himself denounces such belief as “heathen” or “pagan.” Jesus’ kingdom alternative – “Do not be like them,” he says, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mat. 6:8 – ESV) In essence, when we pray to a caring Abba-Father, neither the amount of words nor the length of our prayers matters. What does matter is knowing “your Father who knows” what we need. It’s the quality of our relationship with our Father that makes all the difference.
How do MUCH prayer and DEEP prayer relate?
To avoid misunderstanding: Jesus is not opposed to much prayer (nor am I!). In an attempt to integrate much prayer with deep prayer, the analogy of human relationships helps us. In marriage or friendships, the more you talk with one another, the longer your history, the more experiences you share, the deeper the relationship can become. However this does not happen automatically. Quantity does not automatically lead to quality in relationships, as all of us know who had great hopes for a friendship that never went deep and eventually fizzled out. A certain amount of interaction is necessary though so that depth can be developed. Much prayer can help to get to deep prayer. At the same time we can go very deep with others in very little time. Last week I had a Zoom conversation with a global church leader in Australia who I had never met before. After 80 minutes of sharing hearts, it felt to me as though we had gone really deep and experienced a meaningful encounter. The reason was that in our sharing we were both truly ourselves; authentic, vulnerable, “naked.”
Effective movement catalysts have developed deep prayer – marked by hunger for God Himself, a posture of listening, filled with expectant faith, and flowing out in fervent intercession. Deep prayer frequently leads to much prayer, and much prayer in turn deepens prayer further. The cycle can continue…
The cycle of Deep Prayer in catalysts’ lives
Self-coaching - Assessing your own prayer life
If you want to cultivate more depth in your prayer, I invite you to reflect on the current quality of your prayer life. Simply come into the Father’s gracious presence and reflect on these self-coaching questions:
How deep is my hunger for God Himself, my desire to feel close to Him rather than asking him to do things (including growing a movement)?
How much is my prayer posture a posture of dependence on God?
How often and how well do I listen to God, rather than tell Him things?
What level of expectant faith do I have when I pray?
How clearly has God spoken to me about what He intends to do through my ministry and in my people group? How do I want to seek Him, to receive more revelation?
A growth path to deeper prayer
These are specific steps you can take in order to grow in Deep Prayer, gleaned from the lives of effective movement catalysts and my own spiritual experience:
Do an honest assessment of how many hours a week and how many hours daily you spend in prayer.
Try to expand that time a little more.
Plan time for deep prayer and intercession into your weekly schedule, as you would for any other important activity.
Deep prayer is more caught than taught. Pray together with others whose prayer life is deeper than your own.
Be on the lookout for “small beginnings” as answers to your intercession and let them build up your faith. I journal daily on the question, “Where have I seen God’s hand in my day?”
Record anything God has spoken to you that you can build your expectant faith on; anything about your calling and that of your team, anything about what God wants to do in your people group. This can be through Scripture, prophetic words, dreams, visions, or impressions.
Use what God has spoken as the fuel for your prayers and as promises that you pray into being.
What are your thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private-message me, you can use the contact form.
Learn more about the other Catalytic Qualities besides Deep Prayer in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here!
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Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist