While many Americans claim to pray on a daily basis (nearly as many don't), the bigger question is who are they praying to and are they getting a response?
With the results of a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life now available, it is estimated that 58 percent of Americans pray on a daily basis but only 19 percent say they receive an answer "at least once a week."
Among evangelical church members polled in the Forum's Religious Landscape Survey, 78 percent say they pray daily, but only 29 percent hear from God. Nearly 40 percent (38 percent) of evangelicals told the researchers they received answers to their prayers only "several times a year" or "seldom or never."
While these statistics may indicate we are a praying people, Richard Land believes that for some of us there is a disconnect between our lips and God's ears.
We know that God is faithful to respond when believers come to Him with praise and petitions in line with His will, said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, citing Matthew 7:7 and 1 John 5:14-15. "For too many people of faith, our prayer lives are reflective of the startling separation from God that is evidenced in the Pew Forum study," he said.
"Our nation needs a great movement of the Holy Spirit," he said, "and it is not going to happen without sustained prayer from God's children." Noting the teaching of 1 John 1:9, Land said there is a desperate need for Christians to take any unconfessed sin to God.
Land noted there is no merely human solution to the truly momentous issues facing individuals and families across the nation. He said the only hope is a spiritual revival among those who know Christ, which then ripens into a spiritual awakening that will usher in a "reformation that will change America for Jesus Christ."
We have "God-sized problems that are beyond our checking account, our programs, and our resources," he added, saying that when believers come back to God on their knees, another Great Awakening may sweep across the land.
He noted real, lasting answers to society's troubles will not be found in Supreme Court rulings, Congressional action, or White House initiatives. "The future of America rests in the hearts and prayer closets of followers of Christ all across the nation," he continued.
Land's burden for the spiritual health of individual Americans and the spiritual state of the union led the ERLC and the SBC's North American Mission Board to launch a wide-ranging, cooperative call to prayer among Southern Baptists — the 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal.
The 40/40 Prayer Vigil will begin in late September and conclude on the Sunday morning, November 2, before Election Day.
"The vigil consists of forty days of prayer from September 24 to November 2, 2008," Land said, noting it begins with thirty-seven days of daily prayer and concludes with forty hours of around-the-clock intercession during the final three days for God to move in believers, in churches, and in the nation.
Land said this cooperative effort by the ERLC and NAMB is aimed at helping God's people embrace God's call in 2 Chronicles 7:14: [If] my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board, is delighted that the two SBC entities are partners in such a vital and timely effort, and he is hopeful that Southern Baptists across the nation will cooperate together in this critical endeavor. "This is a strategic opportunity for Southern Baptists to join hands in praying for our nation, asking the Lord to grant sweeping repentance, renewal, and spiritual awakening," Hammond said.
"Prayer is the only hope for a nation that is looking more and more like Corinth," Land observed, noting that city was the sexual and moral cesspool of the Roman Empire.
Despite the tremendous growth in the number of "born-again" evangelicals in the U.S., Land said, "Instead of influencing the culture, it appears on most fronts the culture is influencing us. Too often, instead of being 'salt' and 'light,' we are being salted and lit by the secular culture around us."
"Our churches are in need of a truly spiritual revival, and our nation is in need of a great movement of God's Spirit," Land said, emphasizing that nothing will happen without God's blessings.
Land said that before Bible-believing Christians can impact others' lives, they must first be changed by God's touch. "We must pray for and experience spiritual regeneration, or spiritual renewal on the part of believers, and then recognize and accept our responsibilities as Christians to be 'salt' and 'light' in our families, our churches, our communities, and our nation. If we're going to demonstrate faith in practice, we've got to get our faith right first," he explained.
"As Christians, we need God to give us wisdom as we select the next president of the United States," Land said, stressing that whichever candidate Americans tap on Election Day to be their next chief executive, the country, as well as the next administration, needs divine guidance and direction.
"People must realize that government, at every level, is a lagging social indicator," he said. "True and lasting change in our nation will come from spiritual renewal in the hearts of America's citizens, not from government programs.
"Government is a caboose, not a locomotive. If and when the country is spiritually awakened, it will be the locomotive of spiritual awakening that will pull the government 'caboose' along behind it," he continued. "Real, lasting, meaningful change begins in individual hearts and in individual families, churches, and communities, not Washington, D.C," Land added.
"The battle for our nation's soul is not just about voting booths. This is first and foremost a spiritual contest. A spiritual battle is being waged across our nation, and it must be met first of all with spiritual weapons. God's people must pray for a great outpouring of God's Spirit on them, their families, their churches, and the nation. Then, when God has responded with His outpouring, His people will be empowered and motivated to do the hard work of restoring our nation's moral foundations," reads the introduction to the prayer guide.
Land said the prayer vigil promises to have far-reaching impact for families, churches, and the nation, if Southern Baptists and other people of faith embrace the effort genuinely and enthusiastically. It is Land's prayer that the routines established during the vigil by those involved in the effort will become a lifelong habit of prayer and meditation upon the things of Christ.
The guide has a page dedicated to helping individuals pray every day and every hour of the vigil. Each page references Scripture that is relevant to that day's prayer theme, which ranges from prayer for revival to prayer for renewal and wisdom, as well as a suggested prayer focus.
God draws close to those who call out to Him, Land said, paraphrasing Psalm 145:18. He hears and is faithful to answer our earnest prayers, he added.
"It is God's way or no way," Land said. "It's not God and country; it's God alone. When our perspective is right, God will use us — His people — for His purposes in our land," he said.
Praying for Revival and Renewal
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the North American Mission Board are partnering in a Convention-wide prayer initiative calling Southern Baptists to engage in a time of prayer for personal spiritual revival and national renewal this fall.
The initiative will feature forty days of prayer beginning September 24, concluding with a dedicated forty hours of prayer in churches and homes across the U.S., which will begin at 4 p.m. October 31 and end November 2 at 8 a.m.
The intent of the 40/40 Prayer Vigil is to encourage Southern Baptists to focus on their own walk with God, to reflect on His values as revealed in Scripture, and to ask God how His values should direct their lives.
The emphasis of the 40/40 Prayer Vigil is on personal spiritual revival, not politics, although our nation will profit greatly when believers come to God on their knees.
Visit iLiveValues.com/prayer for more information, as well as a day-by-day prayer guide.
Dwayne Hastings is a member of Clearview Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and is vice president of editorial and print communications for the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.