How did the Prayer Shield initiative come about?

I was spending a quiet day and the idea just popped into my mind to raise prayer around the nation and for the nation in a very simple way: a two-minute prayer every single day, and another minute or so declaring the word over the nation. If that was all you could give, that was it. Four minutes, max, and you are done.

It was an opportunity to bring the body of Christ together across different denominations. So from 2020 – 21 we had 365 Christian leaders, across all denominations, leading a prayer a day.

I think every prayer initiative that is birthed in a church breathes the life of God into the church.

The beauty about prayer is that you’re going to get two answers. If you’re persistent, you will get the answer to your prayer. But even more important than the answer to your prayer, you get more of God.

Sometimes you get so much of God, that it makes what you’re seeking Him for pale in comparison. I think that’s what happened with us and the Prayer Shield. It happens with every prayer initiative.

He says in Jeremiah 33:3, Call on me, and I will answer and show you great and mighty things.” I always say to people, leave Him to answer. Leave Him to show us great and mighty things, but where are the people who are calling? Let’s not be negligent in calling. Let’s not be negligent in coming to the place of prayer, in lifting eyes to Him, turning our attention to Him, and He will do His part.

How do you pray?

For me, prayer has moved from just a discipline to a delight. The beauty about that is that when it’s a delight, it’s not so structured; you take every opportunity to talk to God. In the evening I’ll walk for about an hour and a half and I’ll use that as my prayer time. Then I’ll set aside time first thing in the morning to spend at least an hour in prayer.

It’s a big thing for me to get prayer away from a religious ritual. I hope my sons and daughter don’t think talking to me is hard work. I hope it’s, Oh, wow, what a great opportunity to hang out with daddy again. Just jive with him and have a nice conversation with him and discuss some deep things with him.” That’s how I see prayer.

When I pray, I am saying, “God, I’m aligning with your plans and your purposes. Even when it’s not what I want, trusting that it’s the best in the final outcome.

A big part of prayer for me is conversational prayer, where God is a constant part of everything you’re doing. I try to encourage people to pray with Him in the gym, or in between meetings at work. Maintain constant communication with Him and listen out for Him, as we read in Nehemiah 2:

The king says to Nehemiah, Why are you looking so sad?” Nehemiah explains why, and the king says, What is it you want?”

Nehemiah says, Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king…”

That is mind blowing. He had the presence of mind to shoot up a prayer to God first, before speaking to the king. That tells you how prayer was embedded in his life. He had the presence of mind to bring God into everything.

I use that to constantly remind myself to pray to God before I open my mouth. It will make a world of difference.

It’s not that every prayer is answered how we want it answered; we must understand that in prayer. There must be room for God to do what He wants to do, and to answer in the way that He wants to answer. My late wife died of cancer, and we prayed for her to overcome cancer. We prayed and prayed and prayed. We had prayer chains, we had non-stop prayer, but she passed away from cancer.

Then someone who was very close to me was also afflicted by cancer. We prayed and prayed and prayed and that person was healed. So there are two contrasts.

We’ve just got to trust God, and trust that in the final analysis, He will take the best decision based on everything that He knows, which is everything.

Prayer is not trying to twist God’s arm to do it your way. When I pray, I am saying, God, I’m aligning with your plans and your purposes. Even when it’s not what I want, trusting that it’s the best in the final outcome.”

Are there any Bible passages that inspire you to pray?

I think I’ve preached more out of Elijah’s life than any other part of the Bible. I find Elijah’s story compelling. The yardstick for effectual praying in the New Testament is Elijah. In James 5:17 it says, Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.”

I was thinking, God, really, Elijah had the issues I have? My nature can become complex and complicated, and sometimes get in the way of prayer. Elijah had all that, and yet he could pray in the way that he prayed with such significant results. So for the average person like you and I, we can do some Elijah-like praying as well, with all the issues we have, and all we’re dealing with.

Are there any other stories that you could share of answered prayer to encourage us?

I believe very strongly that the reason that the Covid pandemic didn’t get to the levels that were predicted was because there was a church that was praying. There were predictions of mass graves. I remember I was so traumatised when the ExCel Centre was converted into the Nightingale hospital, because we used the building for our Festival of Life, where 40,000 people gather for prayer and worship.

I encouraged one of our prayer teams to go and march around the perimeter of the ExCel Centre and declare that it wasn’t going to happen. We’re not going to have 1,000s of people coming out of here dead; all these beds are going to be made redundant; and we’re not going to need this hospital.

It’s important to know that it wasn’t just my church, Jesus House, praying. The church in the UK responded in the way that the church should respond in the place of prayer, and then in action, by loving our community in a practical way.

I think the church had one of its best seasons in my lifetime, in one of the darkest periods in our history, and certainly in my lifetime in this nation. We prayed specifically. I was very involved in encouraging the vaccine uptake, because I said to the church, Do you remember we prayed and prayed and prayed for the scientific community to find a solution? So we can’t say now that they found it that you don’t want it, because that’s what we prayed for.”

When Boris Johnson was struck with Covid the church in this nation prayed for him. There were prayer vigils that were held for our prime minister, simply because the Bible encourages us to do so, irrespective of party affiliations. The Bible encourages us to lift him up, and we did lift him up. And, you know, one day he might find out that a lot of prayers kept him alive.