Pete Greig, founding champion of 24-7 Prayer, interviewed on prayer, mission and church planting.
How did the 24-7 Prayer Movement come about?
I had planted two churches, that were missional communities, and was being invited to go and speak at conferences, but something became deeply dissatisfied in my soul. I think it was simply that my own spiritual experience was shallow and I realised that the key issue was prayer. I needed to learn to stop outsourcing prayer and get to know God for myself, learn to know his voice for myself and stop surfing off everybody else’s stories.
We weren’t trying to start a movement we were just trying to put the first thing first, put God first.
So I cancelled everything, we started a prayer room in 1999 and we just thought “let’s just try and learn to pray” – we weren’t trying to start a movement we were just trying to put the first thing first, put God first.
What happened in terms of you own experience – did it take a long time to go deeper with God?
God wants to meet with us more than we want to meet with him. We often forget that the greatest miracle of all is hunger. Hunger and thirst don’t feel nice. It’s very easy for God to fill us with his word but if we’re not hungry his word becomes repulsive.
I think we live in a culture that has lost its hunger for God. For me the encounter with God began with me just weeping, asking God to change my heart …. I think God began to meet with me in his grace the moment I got hungry and thirsty for his presence.
Do you think the spread of 24-7 has something to do with people relating to that hunger?
Yes. We have to put the first commandment first “To love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength” everything else flows from that. I didn’t marry my wife as a child raising strategy, I married her because I was passionately in love with her and I wanted to spend time with her. The miraculous by-product of getting married has been children.
And so is everything in terms of mission and justice a natural overflow of this intimacy?
I’m a natural activist and someone who, to this day, doesn’t find prayer easy. I was always very suspicious of people who prayed a lot because I was worried they never did anything. And the truth is some of them didn’t and don’t.
I was always very suspicious of people who prayed a lot.
But you know I can’t read my Bible any other way, it begins with the Lord walking and talking in the garden with us. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the cool of the evening before there was any sin, any sinners, any cancer, any problem in the world – many of us wouldn’t know what to talk about if there wasn’t any church to plant, any sickness to rebuke.
We’ve got to come to a place in our relationship with God where we enjoy his presence for it’s own sake, where we can just do life with God. Then out of that, just as out of the intimacy of marriage, children are born, so out of the intimacy of prayer, fresh vision, fresh mission, fresh calling, those things come – we’ve got to put the first thing first.
Do you think there is a danger in missing what is fundamental in the emphasis on new forms of church?
I remember attending a conference just as 24-7 was beginning, I turned to the guy next to me who had spent the last 25 years church planting in E. Europe and asked:
“what is the main thing you have learnt about planting church?”
“if you mobilise people to pray first then it’s really easy to mobilise them to plant churches, but if you mobilise them to plant churches you will always struggle to make those churches survive and you will struggle to get people praying”
For me it was a defining movement, I saw how it all fit together.
I was going to ask you about discernment and seeking God on direction when it comes to mission, but I guess this is prior to any of that?
I’ve got a big vision, I’m an activist, I work hard, I think I reached a point in my life as 24-7 was about to begin where I was burning out trying to win people for Jesus. And it suddenly hit me. If I get an ulcer trying to get someone saved, so they get an ulcer trying to get someone else saved, so they can get an ulcer – at what point does the kingdom of heaven kick in? At what point are we so living heaven that our lives are the message we are bringing? Or are we so busy marketing like salesman this notion called heaven that we never actually have time to live it? I realised I have to live the intimacy with God that I am trying to bring people into.
The enemy doesn’t really mind you sitting around forming a committee but he hates it when you start to pray.
I am a being not a doing, I am called to live in relationship with God, and you can have a great marriage even if your childless – even those that’s great pain to you – you may never lead someone to Christ, you can still have an extraordinary relationship with the Father – This is before strategy.
Is this why a lot of prayer meetings are boring? Because there isn’t that intimacy?
There is spiritual, social and physiological reasons why prayer can be difficult.
The spiritual reason is that the enemy doesn’t really mind you sitting around forming a committee but he hates it when you start to pray. So you will be opposed. The social reason is because we live in an instant culture that is hooked on instant gratification. God is not a slot machine. The physcoligcal reasons is that it isn’t always easy talking to a being you can’t see and you can’t hear (normally in literal senses).
We have got to have a cultural revolution in the way we pray equivalent to the cultural revolution we have had in worship. Over the last 40 years we have [had] an upheaval in worship. And we need the same thing with prayer.
I would encourage people to do anything to make prayer enjoyable, interesting and sustainable. Use the imagination you use for a lot of other issues in life to address the issue of how to pray in ways that are engaging.