The Interceders Encourager No. 44
The Chennai Prayer Conference May 2012
In January 2012, I was invited by Joshua Daniel, the leader of the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship International to attend the annual conference/retreat of the fellowship, held on the site they own near Chennai in South India called Beulah Gardens. I was given the assurance that once I got there, everything would be provided for me. So in May 2012, the Lord having, through various means, provided the money for the fare, I flew out to Chennai for my first visit to India.
It was certainly a unique experience, very different to anything I had ever experienced before. The most obvious thing was the climate. It was very hot the whole time, even during the night, so that the heat hit me when I stepped out of the air conditioned airport terminal, even though it was 3.45 a.m.! The temperature increased while I was there, going well above 40 degrees Celsius, so that even the local people thought it was difficult to contend with. I saw the perspiration dripping from their foreheads, so I was not alone in my discomfort. I was told that due to ‘global warming,’ the temperatures had gone up considerably over the past decades.
The next thing I noticed was the traffic. The number of vehicles on the road was considerable. What was striking was the much larger number of motor bikes on the road, a huge number of small but very noisy three wheeled yellow taxis, called autos, the preponderance of large dirty lorries, with no lights on at night time, and drivers hooting their horns almost incessantly. What was also noticeable were vehicles overtaking on the inside, and vehicles going through traffic lights at night when they were red.
When I ventured on to the roads in the centre of Chennai as a pedestrian, I felt it was quite dangerous, especially when trying to cross roads at a roundabout. But I was thankful that a traffic control official took pity on us and helped us across.
The fellowship has its offices and central worship building in the centre of Chennai, which was where I stayed for two nights before being taken to the conference site at Beulah Gardens. This is a very extensive site with the printing press of the fellowship, accommodation blocks, kitchens for the campers, various stalls, a bookshop, four baptisteries, the main worship centre, plus open spaces and woodland. The buildings had all been carefully sited to try and preserve as many trees as possible, for they are a valuable source of shade during the day, as well as a source of food at harvest time.
The central area was dominated by the worship centre, a very impressive building with wide entrances and a very high roof, which was completed only about five years ago. The ground floor is a large open space with no fixed seats and open arches at the sides so that any wind can blow through. The floor, which is slightly sloping towards the front, is made of marble, which I understand was offered at a very low price. Due to the large floor space and the large galleries, it can hold thousands of people. This was necessary, for there were over 6000 people in attendance. Most people sit on the floor, though some plastic seats were put out nearer the back, as many as were needed. Looking towards the front, all the men sat on the left while all the women sat on the right, with a space about one metre wide left vacant in the centre.
Two plaques have been built into the wall by the front entrance. One states when the place was opened, and by whom, with a reference to Joshua’s mother being there in her 103rd year. The other is a quotation from Genesis 28:16-17 “The Lord is in this place…How dreadful is this place. This is the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” In my experience, that was true, and every time I prayed for someone inside the
sanctuary, I prayed that God would make it true for them. Inside, on the back wall, there are two large pictures, one being the crucifixion, with the words of Gal. 6:14 underneath, showing the emphasis on holiness, separation and world renunciation.
On the opening meeting of the conference, I went into the sanctuary and up to the gallery. The sight that met my eyes and the sound that met my ears was simply overwhelming. They were nearly all young people, and they were singing an old fashioned hymn, “In tenderness He sought me.” The presence of the Holy Spirit was so strong that I broke down in tears, for I realized that all those young people were there testifying to a strong faith because of two men, Joshua Daniel and his father, who started the fellowship; and I was also thinking that no large congregation in the Western world would have sung such songs for decades. There was something very, very special there, which we, in the West, have lost. Later, I sought to formulate what that was.
After the visit upstairs, I went back down to the ground floor. The organizers had provided an enclosed air conditioned room at the side of the sanctuary for Westerners, so we wouldn’t have to put up with the heat in the main sanctuary, but I didn’t want to be cocooned in a special privileged place. I wanted to be among the people as much as possible, so I didn’t use it. Many people sat outside listening under the trees, as all the proceedings were relayed outside through very efficient loudspeakers, and one or two Westerners did that. But I wanted to be in the sanctuary, so at that first meeting, I sat near the back to try and catch some of the cooler air coming in. But afterwards, I went much further forward, and sat on the floor. I found an area right by the tables placed in the centre on which the camera man was recording the whole sessions. This was much better, even though it was rather hot there. But that was a small price to pay for being right in the centre of things. After two or three meetings sitting there, however, when the floor seemed to be getting harder and harder, some boys said I should sit on a chair, so they brought one down and I sat on it by the camera man’s tables, and stayed there for all future meetings. I still stood for the hymns and knelt for the prayers, but it gave me a position where I could see the men and the women in front and at the side of me, and could also see many of the people upstairs in the galleries. It also gave me a position where I was right in the middle of the singing, which was wonderfully uplifting.
But there was an even greater advantage to that position. Brother Joshua spoke at every session, and when he finished the Bible exposition, he called the congregation to prayer. Straightaway, most of the men and women in front of me and to the side of me got down on their knees or on their faces on the marble floor, and started to pray in their own words while he was leading in prayer.
His leading in prayer was very distinctive. He started off praying in a very earnest way for one thing, then a related thing, then another, with pauses between, giving people the chance to think about it and pray about it in their own words. Every prayer was from his heart, with great intensity. Moreover, his prayers were very honest, with him often confessing his own weakness and deficiency. The people knew this, so they could enter fully into heartfelt prayer with him.
As soon as he started to pray, they started to pray, and the sound of their praying echoed and reverberated round the building, especially up from the marble floor, to make a noise like thunder. I was right in the middle of it, and it was an incredibly humbling yet exhilarating sound. I have never heard anything like it. Their praying was not raucous shouting but intense heartfelt prayer, meant for God alone. Yet, even though it was so loud, we could still hear Joshua through the loudspeakers.
The emphasis on prayer in the fellowship was shown in that wherever I went, I would be asked by people to pray for them, and whenever I went in to the sanctuary, especially later in the evening when it was quieter, there would still be people on the floor, praying, especially women. Whenever I went in, I noticed that there were always four or five
times as many women as men praying. It was beautiful to see them praying, and I recalled a prophecy that was made about a hundred years ago that Britain would be saved by praying women. I had always assumed that it would be British women, but maybe it is going to be Indian women.
The same gender difference was noticeable at the baptismal services which were held during the conference. There are four baptisteries close to one another, and at the services, all four are used at the same time, with long queues of people at each one; three of them for women and one for men, showing that three quarters of the hundreds of people being baptized were women.
The fellowship has its own hymn and chorus book called ‘Sing unto the Lord.’ It includes a fair selection of the great hymns of the faith, plus some recent additions, especially among the choruses, but what is striking are the large number of good old fashioned hymns that were popular among evangelicals 50, 60 or 70 years ago.
These include: ‘Beneath the cross of Jesus,’ ‘Years I spent in vanity and pride,’ ‘Have Thine own way, Lord,’ ‘In tenderness He sought me,’ ‘Take time to be holy,’ ‘On a hill far away,’ ‘More about Jesus would I know,’ ‘There’s a work for Jesus,’ ‘Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,’ ‘Standing on the promises,’ ‘There’s a land that is fairer than day,’ ‘I’d rather have Jesus,’ ‘Will your anchor hold,’ ‘I need Thee every hour,’ etc.
This is due to the influence of Joshua and even more, his father, as they were well aware that since those times hymns have become shallower, less challenging, with less emphasis on repentance, on holiness, on total surrender, on being crucified with Christ, and on total reliance on the Lord.
There is also another reason why so many of the hymns would be considered old fashioned in these days. “Today’s music and singing,” wrote Joshua in the introduction to the hymnbook, “leans heavily upon electronics, and it is only in the high decibel atmosphere that people seem to respond….But it is noticeable that the end result is that they feel tired and deflated.” I am not sure that this is entirely true, but certainly anything that is dependent on electronics and high decibel sound is far removed from the deep spiritual work accomplished in past revivals. As Joshua wrote, “In the early revivals, under my father’s ministry, hundreds would weep, even as they sang some of those newly composed songs, written by deeply convicted, repenting souls.”
The conference included reports from the different centres, (the fellowship has over 2,500 centres), and it was specially interesting to hear the reports from those on the front line, in places such as Nepal, Bhutan, Kashmir, Burma and China.
One very noticeable aspect of the meetings was that even though choirs sang, people played instruments, reports were given and preachers spoke, nobody ever applauded. All the glory was given to God. It was so refreshing and such a contrast to the way that most churches in the West behave, where they “receive glory from one another, and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God.” (Jn. 5:44)
Brother Joshua gave me the opportunity to address the conference and speak about Britain, so I told them how the nation had changed alarmingly over the past 100 years, not only through it departing from the living God, but also through letting in so many immigrants, millions of whom follow Christ denying religions, so that our country is infected with idolatry and thousands of evil spirits. The need, therefore, is very great, for there is no fear of God in the land. I also told them of the state of the church in Britain, and how it had become weaker and more worldly; and asked them to pray for Britain.
Before that, I told them how privileged they were to belong to the Fellowship. I said that I had found nothing like it in the West, no association of churches that was so Biblical; so
spiritual, so honest; so centred on the Cross and being crucified with Christ; so unashamedly old fashioned, with such high standards; so missionary minded, with such a vision for reaching others with the pure, challenging gospel; with such an emphasis on Christian literature as a means of instructing, inspiring and challenging their own people; so driven by real, heartfelt prayer; so dependent on the Lord; and led by such a humble, broken, spirit filled leader.
I told them that the combination of all these things is very precious, and they should treasure it, and thank the Lord for it. Certainly, Britain would be a lot better if we had more churches here like their centres.
I must mention Joseph Daniel’s teaching ministry. Every time, before he spoke, he asked the congregation to sing, ‘Spirit of the living God,’ for he wanted God to work.
It is difficult to summarise what he said for he spoke on so many passages of Scripture.
His concern was always that the people of the fellowship should be straightforward, trusting and completely untainted with the world. There must be no deception, no duplicity and no pride. Everything must centre on the Cross. There must be willingness to humble oneself, to learn, to have faith and to obey.
There must be no complaining, no doubting, no negative thinking, but seeking the things that are above. There must be no satisfaction with ourselves as we are.
He emphasised the uniqueness of Christ against all other religions. No other religion has any power. Only Christ can cleanse us from all sin and purify our hearts
He warned of the dangers of covetousness, pointing out how today’s world is besotted with money, and that the fellowship must not be polluted with any concern over money or things, but must put God first, and trust God for everything.
He challenged people to think greater thoughts, have greater faith, and see large enemy strongholds demolished. If we increase in faith, we will see great things. If we decrease in faith, we take others down with us.
His father said, if this fellowship fails, there is no hope for this nation.
He challenged people to live lives of faith, as he does, yet, also, to be disciplined about the money that the Lord entrusts them with, and to pay their bills on time,
He asked what does Jesus being a Saviour mean. It means to be saved from selfishness, and to be concerned about all other people. If the Spirit of Christ is in us, we will be concerned about the state of the world, including our own nation.
The most precious thing that God gives us is our time, which we have to redeem and use for the Lord.. All members of the fellowship have to be economical and hard working.
We mustn’t trust in our worldly qualifications for our effectiveness. They can be a snare and a temptation to pride and reliance on other things, and not on the Lord.
Our worldly reputation doesn’t matter. All that matters is God’s opinion of us.
Yet I want the highest standards for the fellowship, for God says, ‘As many as I love, I chastise or punish.’ So accept His correction, and seek His best.
We must have our thought patterns changed into conformity with His will. Those who do not have their thoughts conformed to God’s thoughts are dangerous people.
We are either builders for Christ, or we are demolition contractors for the devil.
The Christianity of the West, based on wealth, prosperity and self interest, spells the death knell of Christianity. Now that the West no longer sings, ‘I was sinking deep in sin…, it has lost real Christianity.
Beware of a gospel with no preaching against sin. This is a false religion which is trying to come into the Fellowship. As long as the Spirit of God reigns supreme in this place, as long as I keep humble before the Lord, the devil cannot make such incursions. People today do not admit to any sin at all, for they do not acknowledge God’s law, so
don’t know what sin is; and the double tragedy is that the Church is going along with it, and therefore, is in league with the devil.
I don’t want anything I have built; only what has unmistakeably been built by God.
We must learn to be content with whatever things we have, and seek nothing else.
Plead with God to remove all the baggage in your life.
The Facebook is the devil’s book. Christians should not have time for such rubbish. They should be praying.
People want a life without risks, but the life of the cross is one huge risk. No true Christian lives a life without risk, for it will always need faith to carry you through.
The nations must be challenged with the truth of God. The politicians must be challenged with His Word, so that righteousness flows like a mighty river.
An evangelist said to me, ‘You can’t have retreats like this in America,’ but our God is able to do this anywhere in the world.
In the middle of the night, I have sighed and groaned because the members of the fellowship are so worldly and not living in the heavenlies, (as did Robert M. M’Cheyne).
If you have truly realized the transitory nature of this life, this will have a radical effect on the way you live.
Everything you do at this retreat is meant to have permanent results, like those who hold the word fast,,,,and bear much fruit.
Lord, save this fellowship. Make us content for You to be our one reward.
Lord, give us the victory over electronics, so that we are not dependent on them.
Lord, make us disciplined people, like disciplined athletes, careful about everything.
Lord do not forsake me until I have shown Your strength to all the generations.
Lord, stand on this platform, and let us disappear.
I pray, O God, that You will raise up more leaders, and use them more than me.
I noticed that some of the women who were praying in the sanctuary were praying in a very earnest way, as if in a state of desperation. I think I experienced something like this myself two or three times as I prayed in the centre of the sanctuary. The Holy Spirit seemed to be breaking me down in tears, and causing me to pray in fervent supplication. I felt a kind of inner compulsion that caused me to plead, to call out, to cry in a way I had not known before. It was as if I was being taken along by the Spirit, and the prayers and the sobs just took over. I thought that perhaps this was what Finney called the spirit of prayer that has to take hold of us in order that we can “storm the battlements of heaven,” and bring the blessing down.
1. Pray for that spirit of prayer, for a greater earnestness and desperation in our praying.
2. Pray against the evil spirits that have been brought into this country through witchcraft and other religions, and claim victory over them in the name Jesus Christ, who came to destroy the works of the devil.
3. Pray for the preachers to be raised up like John the Baptist, who will declare to this nation their sins and their rebellion against the one true God.
4. Pray for the Holy Spirit of God to come down on this land, change the whole spiritual atmosphere, and bring conviction of sin.