Three years ago, Pastor Nelson Foster went to Ankeny, Iowa, just outside of Des Moines. For a year, he used the Chapel on the nearby Military Base in planting his new church. The security measures at the base presented problems for visitors, so growth was slow.
After the church had grown to about fifty in attendance, Pastor Nelson noted that his somewhat traditional congregation was going through the motions, faithfully showing up for church three times a week, but not emotionally or spiritual engaged.
How It Began
Just before the General Assembly last year, he showed the first three segments of the “Transforming Your Church into a House of Prayer” DVD series put out by Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY. He recalls, “Something happened. The people began to see prayer in a new way.”
Then in January of 2009, he announced that he was changing the format of the Sunday night service from a preaching service to a prayer service. He met with some opposition at first, but he persisted. On that first evening, at the 5 pm prayer time, he showed the bonus segment out of the “Prayer – the Heartbeat of the Church” DVD series on the birth of the Church of God. He challenged his church to give themselves to prayer. It was as if some fountain opened up. Indifferent prayer became passionate. The first prayer service lasted two-and-a-half hours. Some prayer services are now lasting four hours, not by design, but by demand. “The people at times, refuse to leave. They are basking in the quiet presence of God.”
How It is Progressing
Following the prayer times, members have been making their way to Pastor Nelson and confessing their sins. Brokenness before God is occurring. A new sensitivity to His holiness is taking place. Following the confessions, the pastor is noticing a new freedom in worship. And not only that, miracles and answers to prayer are now abounding. Before prayer requests were plentiful and answers seemed rare.
A widow, the mother of one of the elders tested positive to breast cancer. She did not attend the church, but the church interceded for her. Pastor Nelson recalled, “We prayed for her after the general prayer time on Sunday evening as we gathered around the altar and mentioned needs. It was between 6:30 and 7:00 pm, well into the prayer meeting. Simultaneously, she was sitting at home. She reported to her family later that night that she had a strange and very physical experience, as if someone reached inside her body and began to rotate the golf-ball sized malignant tumor. And then it was as if the tumor began to unravel like a ball of string, like it was being pulled out of her.” She is now cancer free!
More than 100 prayer cloths have been carried away from the prayer meetings to people in the community, and answers to prayer are multiplying. Pastor Nelson exclaimed, “I have never seen anything like this!” On one evening, the Holy Spirit spoke to the congregation and declared, “I am here because you want me to be here!” God is working in the lives to people and things the pastor had attempting to get people motivated to do are happening naturally now. Some are carrying food to the poor. Two ladies out of the women’s ministry have started a ministry at the YWCA. Ministries are being birthed spontaneously, out of these prayer experiences.
Pastor Foster says, without any desire to be bizarre, that the small bottle of oil used for anointing cloths and people should have run dry weeks ago, but every week there appears to be a bit more oil in the vial – a sign?
A visitor showed up last week just to report that four prayer clothes she had received from people in the church had resulted in answered prayer. She is not the only visitor. The small church is beginning to experience a steady stream of visitors. Five teens have been saved. One has parents who are not saved. The mother of that teen announced to her daughter in the last few weeks, that she and the teen’s dad were going to stop drinking. The teen came home and found her Bible missing. When she located it, her Mom had been reading it. One of the fathers in the church family needed a job. They prayed. Two days later, he had the job. Another man, not a Pentecostal, had been diagnosed as terminally ill, with six months to live. The church prayed and sent him a prayer cloth. He didn’t completely understand. Soon thereafter, he ended up in the Emergency Room. The doctors found both his liver and pancreas to be clear – a miracle. They treated his blood pressure and sugar, and released him. He is claiming a miracle. One woman, who had complications as a result of a previous surgery found herself in unbearable pain. She was deathly sick. She was nauseous, her body reacting violently, without a remedy. Her husband said her illness persisted for almost five hours. He cried out to God and that is when he heard – by the spirit – another woman, an intercessor in the church, praying in the spirit. The sick spell was immediately broken.
Pastor Foster says, “People get lost in the Spirit. Much of the prayer time is simply music playing softly. Some walk. Some kneel. Some lay before the Lord. Some pray aloud, some softly. There is no rush.” The whole congregation seems to be moving from “having church services” to “experiencing God.” Indeed, the pastor reports that the prayer service is now affecting all other services. Teens are attending along with children. “I don’t want our children to be entertained. I want them to experience God – and that is happening.” Pastor Foster’s own daughter had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit.
The Prayer Service Format
As people gather for the prayer times, Pastor Foster calls them to order. He shares briefly, including any emergency needs or offering a focus for prayer. There is no long litany of typical prayer requests. Then, the people are released to pray. Most stay in the sanctuary. Some may fan out to an annex or Sunday School rooms. Praise music plays softly. Then Pastor Foster, after an hour or so of prayer, calls the people back together. They pray for specific needs. They anoint with oil. They pray over prayer cloths. Recently, some prayer times have gone for four hours. “The people don’t want to leave. They are hungry for the presence of God. Prayer has changed them. It has changed our church.” At the close of every gathering, Pastor Foster quotes Hebrews 13:20-21 (nlt), “Now may the God of peace who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with His blood, May he equip you with all you need for doing His will. May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him. All glory to Him forever and ever! Amen.”
Pastor Foster says that the prayer gathering has changed him as well. He drives a School Bus. And that is no longer a job, it is a mission. He admits, “At times I have to fight to control myself to keep from breaking out in prayer for these kids and their families, or even weeping for them.” The church is praying over the city of Des Moines, asking for a city-wide revival.
There could be something to this thing called prayer!