Just as every room has five key elements—a doorway, an atmosphere, walls, floorboards, and a ceiling—these same five elements are useful in describing the upper room.
Theo Burakeye is one of my heroes. He is a church planter who lives in South Africa, and one of the most extraordinary leaders I have ever met. When I was introduced to him, I was told that in the past fifteen years Theo and his colleagues have planted more than 79,000 churches in thirty-two different African nations.
“The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history.”
“You can’t get a thousand-dollar answer for a ten-cent prayer.”
Have you ever seen three thousand people choose to publicly follow Christ and get baptized at one time? Better question: Would you like to witness that?
What happened on that particular day of Pentecost when God poured out His conspicuous presence on the upper-room seekers in Jerusalem was only the beginning as His followers began ministering to Him. God no sooner had manifested His tangible presence to the believers inside the upper room when a crowd gathered to see what was happening. Devout Jews who had flooded Jerusalem from all over the Mediterranean had literally came from the north, south, east, and west.
Prayer is a two-way street. When we first learn to pray, it may seem as though we are the ones doing all the talking. As we grow in prayer, however, we learn to recognize God’s voice. When we speak with Him, He speaks to us. Learning to recognize the voice of God’s Spirit is critical to effective prayer. Jesus told his disciples: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). God activates our hearing receptors, so every born-again Christian can hear God’s voice.
When a group of God’s people consistently minister to the presence of Christ, we have discovered a remarkable pattern—the heavens thin out, and God begins to change the spiritual atmosphere in the region.
The heavens opened when Jesus was baptized, and when Stephen was martyred. Similarly, God thins out the atmosphere and simultaneously manifests His presence more conspicuously over the region where God’s people minister the His presence. An open heaven is a spiritual atmosphere over a geographical region that is more conducive to the rapid advancement of Christ’s kingdom and, specifically, to supernatural activity.
Hang on—I’m about to stretch you.
Most of us are familiar with what it is to minister for God. I want to shift our focus a little bit from ministering for God to ministering to God, and, more specifically, to ministering to the presence of God.
Ministering to God is what one-third of all the angels do all the time. Think of it—hundreds of millions of angels were created for no other purpose than to minister to God. Their entire existence is to do nothing other than look at God’s presence and express admiration for him and His virtue. You may be thinking, Yeah, that’s fine for the angels, but I’m no angel! Fair enough, but you must admit, if God likes it enough to create millions of angels to minister to Him nonstop, He must like it a lot. And if He likes it that much, He might also like it when we do it too.
When God visits us, it is often messy, out-of-the-box, and unpredictable. One of the only predictable characteristics of the upper room is that it is unpredictable. We need to understand that our God is creative and unlike coaches in the National Football League who pace up and down the sidelines with their laminated play sheets, our God has an unlimited number of plays He can call. For this reason, we have learned at the beginning of every upper-room prayer gathering to ask God for His leadership and direction. He is much better at play-calling and upper-room leadership than we are, and He always leads us to receive.
The greatest revolution taking place today in the church around the world is an awakening and rediscovery of the distinction between the omnipresence of God and His manifest presence.
God’s omnipresence, or His everywhere presence, is a wonderful reality taught throughout the Bible. It’s comforting to know that no matter where we are, we cannot escape from God’s everywhere presence. We must understand, however, that God’s omnipresence is not what separates the church from the sports bar or fitness center down the street.
The more perplexing question about the disciples’ prayer life is not why they failed, but how did they succeed? If they could not pray one hour on the final night of Jesus’ life, how did they pray 10 days—or the better part of two hundred-forty hours—only a month later?