Key to the success of Ipswich Town Pastors are the people that pray through the night every weekend. Emma Haggar considers what she has learnt about prayer over the past nine years, and encourages us to get involved to grow the current team.
Let me start with a story…
There was a fight happening at Lloyds Avenue, some years ago. I knew this because I was sat in the Town Pastor prayer room listening to the panicked voices on the radio. You could hear the fear in the voice of the person reporting it to the CCTV camera operator, there was a large group of people and things were getting violent with drink fuelled egos causing things to escalate at an alarming rate. About 90 seconds later the same voice came back on the radio, no longer panicked but sounding a little confused. ‘Um, it’s OK, they’ve all stopped fighting and are hugging each other and walking off.’ What had happened in that 90 seconds?
My time in the Town Pastor prayer room has changed me as a person, as a Christian, and as a pray-er. I joined the Town Pastor base prayer team in 2009 and the story I’ve just told you is my favourite answered prayer story; partly because the poor fellow on the radio sounded so confused, partly because we’d just said ‘amen’ and the timing was perfect, but mostly because it summarises the transformation that God offers us. Anger is turned into love. Fists into hugs. Bystanders are left confused at something that doesn’t follow the rules of this world (alcohol + disagreement x ego = violence) and somewhere, in a room with a radio, two prayer team members are listening with smirks on their faces, praying their thanks to God, and trying to make sense of the shock that they themselves felt when their prayer was answered immediately, practically, and miraculously.
Even now I am still surprised when prayer is answered in this way. This worries me a bit! Surely it shouldn’t be like that? I clearly trust that God could answer prayer, otherwise why would I bother praying about anything, but sometimes it feels like a Christian scratch card – pot luck about whether you’ve prayed the right thing for the right situation that matches with what God wants to do. My own pondering on this subject has led me to question my whole approach to what I think is happening when I pray.
Town Pastors has taught me to dare!
Too often my prayers are like an online supermarket shop. I have my list, I place my order, and then I wait, hoping that I’ll get what I ask for but realistic in the knowledge that some items will not have been available and I will receive what they feel is a suitable replacement. ‘I’m sorry, we didn’t have ‘complete healing’ available today. Instead we can offer you a tin of ‘comfort’ and a packet of ‘strength for the family’. Please shop with us again.’ And in the end, no matter how hard I try, my self-protection mode kicks in and I daren’t ask for what I really want, only for what I think I’ll end up with anyway.
Town Pastors has taught me to dare! There’s something about the immediacy of hearing a situation unfold, or hearing first hand from a Town Pastor when they come in for a break, that takes you out of your cautious place to pray outrageously and extravagantly. And once you have a collection of stories, the moments when miracles happened, it becomes a lot easier to pray big. But on the face of it, the way I pray in the Town Pastor prayer room is no different from my usual shopping list of sometimes answered, sometimes not, prayer requests. So what do I think is happening when I pray?
God could change things without us but I believe He responds to our prayers because of what it does for us, the pray-er
I once read a quote, I think from Philip Yancey, that intercessory prayer is like climbing a mountainside to go sit with God and look out on the world. Prayer isn’t the bit when we ask for things, so much as the mountain climb to be in relationship with God and discover a little of what He is looking at. Sitting in the Town Pastor prayer room in the middle of the night (9:30pm-4am) is my mountainside. In a place I have specifically gone to, at a time that I am sacrificing what I would usually be doing (sleeping!), I plonk myself down next to God and spend 6 hours listening and watching as God opens His heart of love for the people of Ipswich.
And what do I see happen from my mountainside? Things change. Sometimes they’re outside, visible changes that I hear over the radio or in the stories the Town Pastors tell. Other times they’re changes that I never hear about, seed planting in people’s lives that won’t bear fruit for months or years. The clever bit, which I only really notice when I look back in my journal, is that I change. God could change things without us but I believe He responds to our prayers because of what it does for us, the pray-er. Every time I take my seat on the mountainside and bring my heart in line with His, it softens a bit more. Every encounter in the prayer room builds our relationship, even on the evenings when it’s been tough and you just wanted to go to bed. Every prayer for people who have got themselves into a mess through their own doing removes my desire to judge that individual and compels me to a place of love.
What is happening when we pray? We’re saying ‘here I am’ to God. We’re nurturing our relationship with the Father and aligning our heart to His. We’re inviting His Kingdom to come and real change to transform our town and its people. And I love it!
I believe that God is calling forward a new generation of prayer team members
So I want to end with an invitation to you. When I first started in Town Pastors 9 years ago we always had at least 2 people in the prayer room and several people each hour on a rota praying from their homes. In the past couple of years this has dwindled to 1 person in the prayer room and fewer home pray-ers on the rota. I believe that God is calling forward a new generation of prayer team members. They’re people who know something of sitting with God, or who have read this article and wished they did. They’re all ages and denominations who have experienced the love of God. Some will probably be worried about falling asleep whilst praying. Some aren’t sure what happens in Ipswich between 9:30pm and 4am but still feel a stirring to reach out to this hidden community.
Is this you? Please get in touch with Ipswich Town Pastors through our website if you’re interested in seeing how you could be involved.
So, some final thoughts. Firstly, it’s incredible how you can stay awake for 6 hours if you have access to enough tea, coffee and toast. Secondly, if you think praying for 6 hours is boring…you’re doing it wrong. It involves worship, conversation, tea, Bible reading, more tea, times of intense prayer, times of occasional prayer, another cup of tea, hospitality to the Pastors and visiting police officers (offering them tea, of course), and that all important walk up the mountainside to sit with God and see through His heart. And finally, prayer changes things. It will change you too, if you let it.