And why it matters to Baptists now
HEARTLAND | Eric Reed
After his election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd has called Southern Baptists to prayer, but not just any prayer—extraordinary prayer. The phrase is not original to Floyd, as he stated from the start. It’s almost 300 years old.
Credit Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher with poor eyesight who often read from a manuscript his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
Floyd adopted the term “extraordinary prayer” from a book by Edwards called “An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People, in Extraordinary
Prayer, for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time.” (Titling was not their strong suit in the 18th century.)
But what did he mean by extraordinary prayer?
From Zechariah, Edwards drew a picture of prayer that would result first in revival of the church, then awakening and regeneration of lost people. “God’s people will be given a spirit of prayer,” Edwards wrote, “inspiring them to come together and pray in an extraordinary manner, that He would help his Church, show mercy to mankind in general, pour out his Spirit, revive His work, and advance His kingdom in the world as He promised.
“Moreover, such prayer would gradually spread and increase more and more, ushering in a revival of religion.”
Edwards offered an example he had witnessed personally. In 1744, a group of ministers in Scotland called on believers to engage in prayer. “They desired a true revival in all parts of Christendom, and to see nations delivered from their great and many calamities, and to bless them with the unspeakable benefits of the Kingdom of our glorious Redeemer, and to fill the whole earth with His glory.”
The group pledged to pray every Saturday evening, Sunday morning, and all day on the first Tuesday of each quarter—for two years.
During that time, many churches were renewed. In one town alone, 30 groups of young people formed and committed themselves to prayer for revival. Buoyed by the results, the ministers sent 500 letters to pastors in New England urging their own two-year commitment.
Edwards noted: “Those ministers in Boston said of this proposal: ‘The motion seems to come from above, and to be wonderfully spreading in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and North America.’”
And they extended the two-year pledge to seven years of prayer.
Edwards, who with George Whitefield and others, was at the heart of the First Great Awakening, cited prayer as vital to the movement of God’s spirit in the colonies.