David Butts - "Harvest Prayer Ministries"
3:43AM Jul 9, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today we're very privileged to be speaking with David Butts, founder of harvest prayer ministries and for about 15 years chairman of the board of the National Day of Prayer. David, we're extremely honored to be speaking with you today. Oh, my privilege. David, you and your wife Kim in 1993, established harvest prayer Ministries, a ministry that's focused on helping grow a life of prayer and individuals and churches around the country and worldwide. What is it that turned you and your wife to this focus on prayer?
So excellent question. We
were pastoring I served for many years in independent Christian churches, pastoring different positions continue to grow in the area of prayer, but it was actually in 1980 That I absolutely caught on fire regarding world missions. And with that, I ended up through an innocent question that I asked with a group of mission leaders. They were talking to me about, they were moving in a direction, looking at the 1990s as a decade of missions, you know, moving towards the year 2000. It was exciting time. And I was really honored to be on this meeting of all these mission leaders. I was really the only pastor there. But I had been invited and listen to all this. Halfway through the afternoon, I raised my hand and asked him a question. Where's prayer and all this? Crap, they jumped on the call? Yeah, that's great question when you do that. I walked out of there as their national prayer Chairman, I said so. So really, what you're asking me to do is to mobilize a million people. And that was about the size of our fellowship, to, to pray effectively, biblically, World missions. They said, yeah, that's pretty much it. And I took it seriously. And so from 1988, up through 93, I was really, really growing in this teaching on doing things. People kept saying, Dave, we need you to do this, you just need and so we, we finally, sense that permission from the Lord to jump into this. We began harvest ministries. In August of 93. We had no money. We had no supporting churches, we had a call from God. And with much fear and trepidation, we launched it. And it was exciting because actually from the very beginning, we're just swamped with requests to come in and speak and that's really what kind of kept us going for a while was simply go traveling to church. And so that was in 93. So we're in this in August of 2019. We'll start our 27th Year of full time prayer ministry. Pretty exciting. never in my wildest imaginations, dreamt what could happen, the opportunities to serve with an astral prayer committee, National Day of Prayer, various ministries that I get to work with. I'm a walk around typically with my mouth open in all what God's doing.
What an amazing journey you've been on 27 years of prayer ministry. I'm sure there's been some incredible mountains, mountaintop experiences, I'm sure there's also been some deep valleys. If you knew now what you know, and we're speaking back to yourself 27 years ago, when you're contemplating starting this venture, what would what advice would you have given yourself?
Sometimes you have a prayer ministry and you get so busy getting people to pray that you forget to pray. My prayer life has grown. I don't mean But I would have, I would have focused even more on my own personal life, I think I would have done a better job funding upfront. And I didn't know anything about it, how to fundraise or anything, but I, we have spent much of the 2627 years scraping the bottom, you know, I mean, the fact is God's taking care of us. We're the 27th year. So it has worked. It's amazing if God has provided, but that part has been tough. I think the other thing is I would have started writing earlier, I would have told myself self right. And I my first book did not come out into 2001. And so there was about an eight year gap there. Now, having said that, I also have to realize that I'm not sure how much I would have had to say in those first few years sometimes We write books before we are ready. And so now we're kind of cranking them out now a little more, because so the number of years of doing prayer ministry, there's a lot more to talk about.
And you have written a number of books, all of which looked really, really interesting just to name a few. Most are in 2017 prayer, peace in the presence of God. 2015 forgotten power 2013 when God shows up 2009 prayer in the end of days, and this is only naming a few of the many books that you've written, you and your wife, what area of prayer ministry, are you contemplating on writing next? Okay,
that, you know, I could give you a list, I think but actually there I have two that I'm working on now. And I mentioned that we actually have two, one that Kim and I wrote together that just was released. We could go outreach, magazine Outreach Ministries asked us to write a book on a volunteer, per ministry handbook. And so that was really fun to write because it really kind of just compiled stuff we've been writing and writing and reading and teaching over the last couple of decades. So that's out on Amazon now. And then, then a book that's coming out in September. It's all done out off of my desk. It's called the giving church. And it's a short 21 day prayer journey for churches that are in the midst of giving campaigns, you know, whether it's to, you know, put up a building or reduce debt or go on a mission dadgum you know, but it's, so I just felt like that was something that I don't, I don't see something out there like that. And my publisher and suggested that I do that and so, so that's, that's out there, what I'm working on right now. And I actually have two that I'm better in process. And I basically when I write I do a lot of time, upfront before I start writing just to study, preparing. Sometimes it's a whole year before I actually start typing.
But I'm working now on
I'm calling it Where do you live?
And the whole focus is dwelling in God's house. That is that intimate relationship with God. That is, I think, so foundational to prayer. You know, a prayer that I pray every day based on some 27 verse four, which basically says, I want to dwell in your house all the days of my life. And that is the foundation of this book. That's what I'm really working on. That, that idea so so I'm looking at all the passages that have to deal with welding and Gods And I'm excited by I really, really have put the second one kind of inserted its way into this just in the midst of prayer time, I realized that there's probably some stuff out there. I'm just not that aware of it. But I'm just calling it my working title is The praying pastor. Because when I begin to look at what we do, I realized that so much that hinges on pastors, that that are our men and women of prayer that they're, they're committed to prayer. And to be honest, what I find is most pastors are all for prayer. They're just not about it. You know, and that's a big difference. And so I want to write an encouraging book. I don't want to be something you know that I hit him over the head, you know, that you got to pray. But I want to show them how important it is and how vital and how, how it will make the rest of their ministry easier. Not that we're trying for easy, but but effectiveness in ministry is something we're all interested in. And I really believe that they'll get the poor part down, though they'll see a much more effectiveness in their ministry. So that's a, that's a big deal for me. So I'm working on both of those. I have no idea what we'll move ahead. You know, that.
David, in your writing and teaching ministry, you often cite Isaiah 56 seven, my house will be called the house of prayer for all nations, which is you tell us is cited in all four of the Gospels and we ought to be paying attention to what Jesus says when he says this verse. What is it that our churches can do to fulfill this vision of becoming houses of prayer for all nations?
Yeah, that's, it's so critical.
You know, when God names something, someone, we got to pay attention and in even Jesus response he walks into the tub. expecting to see a house a prayer? And if not, you sees everything except that. You know, it's kind of a hard, a hard way that Jesus says, in a sense, you're either house repair your identity. Mm hmm. I mean, that's, that's hard. But then Jesus didn't typically mince words. He's really, really clear on these things. So when you look at it this way, I think the the first most basic thing is to develop a basic theology of prayer. I know that that that it seems like a roundabout way to go there. Because my tendency in the first 1015 years of this was to come to a church and give them all these ideas for helping develop a prayer ministry. I have to be honest now, from the perspective of 27th year of this, that wasn't the best way. Because if you don't know why you're supposed to do something, you'll not give yourself to it. Prayer seems like an option for the Super spiritual, but not the main thing, then why would you give yourself to it? Why would you? Why would you put your funds into it? Why would it be on the church calendar? Why would it become a priority for your leadership? So So first of all, there's got to be a basic understanding. And that doesn't have to go super deep on this. But you got to have a basic biblical understand, you know, why prayer? Why is it so critical? Just just develop a simple theology of prayer. And you and I know, that's something that our our schools that train pastors are not doing very well. Now, I've seen, I've seen some progress made. I'm grateful that schools are beginning to talk about spiritual disciplines, which 30 years ago, you didn't hear that, but even then, the spiritual disciplines are not just prayer. And we knew we've got to focus on Currently, we have to we have to give ourselves to that. We have to And it needs to not be a I'll just sorry to get off a little option there. But in Bible colleges and seminaries, we can't make prayer, an elective. Somehow it's got to become foundational to the training of our pastors. Otherwise, when they get into churches, they'll hand that off to somebody else if they deal with it at all. But if it's been drilled into them at a basic level, look, this is what God called you to be. Now, it never I don't have this perspective that you go sit in the corner and pray and do nothing else. You know, but piers, foundational to then effective ministry, all the other things, you do all the evangelism, all the discipleship, everything else that comprises the church flows out of that relationship with God. That's prayer. And so, you build that foundation. You develop a theology of prayer, and then you go from there, and now they're going from there to me is established What, what Leonard Ravenhill calls a an established, organized method of prayer in the church, that you can't simply say, you ought to pray. You got to go pray some. And and that's where I, I actually look at my own ministry before I begin homeless prayer and realize I kind of failed because I, I did a lot of preaching on prayer because prayer was important to me. And then we really talked about how to do it. And we come right down to it. The only question that these typos ever asked Jesus to teach them to do was to pray. And when they asked Jesus, Lord, teach us to pray, he didn't give them a sermon on prayer, or tell them how important prayer was. Give them an outline here, pray like this. You're here are the elements of powerful, effective prayer. So, I believe that if you're gonna become a praying church, we're gonna become a house of prayer. Those in leadership have to have a solid understanding of the importance of prayer, the theology, the purpose of it, then they got to teach. How do you do it? How do you pray? We make dangerous assumptions. When we say, I'm going to preach a series of sermons on prayer, and then our people will, will be good at prayer. No, no, not enough to tell them how important prayer is. You have to show them how. And so I really believe in without going into, you know, a whole seminar on it. I really, that's the first most basic area for a church becoming a house of prayer. Hmm.
David, if I could ask you, so we want our churches to be praying churches, and yet there's some structural difficulties in in bringing that about. Our churches are organized as institutions. And maybe I'm just speaking for myself, but it's difficult to imagine from an image ethical point of view. How institutionalize prayer, how to make the church as an institution embrace the activity of prayer. We don't have monasteries, where, you know, that would be one way to institutionalize prayer to have a community life that's focused around prayer. But in our churches, many people would say, you know, we can pay missionaries to do evangelistic work. Can we pay missionaries to pray? Should our staff members be designated to have prayer responsibilities? Many might, might be confused or unclear about these these answers. What's your perspective? How do our churches engaged prayer at its structural level?
Yeah, and that is me that is so powerful, because I mean, again, without understand, I love the church. I mean, I I've spent my life just pouring into the church. So don't don't hear a critic of the church on churches, the bride of Christ. Come to Jesus It says love me love my bride. And still, so I love the church. But the way we are set up makes it extremely difficult and you get people sitting in rows, and they face towards the front, and they listen to messages, you know, the interaction, the doing, you know, that's reason why not just in prayer, but in everything else, you have this rule of, you know, the 90 and 10 or 8515, there used to be 8020, I think it's more like 9010. Now, you know that 10% of the people do 90% of the work, and it could work. That's why we're set up. We're so tough to do this. Let me give you one example, though of a way to do it. And and I don't want to hold this church up as the perfect one in any way. Because there's some areas that I would say even in prayer that were weak. My Home Church is an independent Community Church, Maryland Community Church, but they have done some things in prayer that are unique. I don't get to go there very often on the road teaching in other churches most of the time, but I love what they do. And here's, here's the idea. They have basically set up prayer on Sunday morning because they they looked at this and said, When are people together in our church? Well, it's Sunday morning. That's when they're there. Well, if we're going to make prayer important, we have to do something on Sunday morning. How do you do that? You know, you get them in groups, you know, and kind of scare them off that way. How do you do this? I love this. Because they start off and it's, it's, it's developed through the years with us. But they start off typically with a couple of songs and worship time and that but short time, and then the message. At the end of the message, every single Sunday, our pastor will say now, in response to what you've heard of the word of God, we're going to have an open altar. We're going to play place we pray. In we're going to move into a time of worship. So the worship team comes up, and we're worshiping and while we're worshiping the altars are full. And we have altars at the front, and the sides in the back in the balcony. I mean, we set up everywhere. And every Sunday, every single Sunday, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. I mean, most of the people in the church, head down to the altar to spend some time praying. Now we have, we have some prayer teams set up. And those are some special thing people if you need something, you know, someone to pray for you. They're going to be set up down there, you can go there. We, we have tables set up with the Lord's Supper, all over, all over the auditorium. People typically go get the juice and bread and we'll take that to the altar. And there they'll know they'll commune with the Lord. They'll spend time praying, you'll often see groups, and this one I love, you'll see like a small group from the church and there'll be huddled over One there at the altar because they know something's going on in their life. And so they need some prayer. I've often seen people on their way down to the altar, they'll stop and they'll grab someone and say, Hey, come with me. And they go down there. And so so for 2030 minutes, great worships happening. And it sounds like chaos, but it is absolutely organized chaos. It is. It's become the culture of our church. And I've never seen a church do anything quite like that, but I love it. You know, I grew up in church, I kind of tell people I think I was born in the church nursery, in apart from coming to Jesus, or maybe rededicating my life once, after the message, what do I do? I mean, how do I respond really, I thought, but not at my church, where I'm going, not the church that I attend. Every Sunday, I have the opportunity to listen to A biblical message and then pray over that. And often the pastor will say, here's some things to pray about. Now even give us some prayer points about this. And so, to me, and again, I don't want to overemphasize this because I think there are other things that we don't do as well as we could in prayer. But as far as developing a culture of prayer at the church, where everyone feels like they can pray, that's one of the best models I've ever seen. Wow. Wow.
Thank you so much for those insights. David. David, you have served as the chairman of the board for the National Day of Prayer for over 15 years. To many of us, it seems that there's an increasing desire and hunger for prayer in the churches that we know and perhaps across the world, what is it that you've seen over these last 15 years in that position?
Well, I would say,
I certainly see an increase in prayer, but I also see what I would call waves You know, there's a there, there'll be an intensity of prayer. And then it seems to add a bit, putting shoes, human nature to a certain extent, we get excited for a while, and then we, we back off. And so I've seen that through the years. But what I would say, but but, but interesting, each of those waves, the height gets a little bit better. There's there's, there's more, there's increasing. And I've seen that when when we began harvest ministries years ago, it was a rare thing to find a church that had a prayer ministry team. Today, I would say easily, half of the churches that I'm in, I have already have developed somewhat of a per ministry team. They may not be the most effective, but they're doing something in prayer. They're trying to understand increasingly that this is part of who we are as a congregation and we need to be praying with with that, I want to say to you Time for this interview. Because we are we are on an upsurge. We are we're moving along waves. And I would suggest to you that the remainder of 2019 and on to 2020. I mean, just get ready and buckle your seat belt, I think we're going to see prayer like we've never seen before. And there's some reasons for that. I mean, one of it is there's an election. You know, when it comes to the presidential election, there's always a certain upsurge in prayer. And I look back, and I think this one even more so because of personalities and all. I think we're going to see more prayer than ever involved in this. Any of you talking about right or wrong with that, but in a sense, it is all right. It's good to be praying for our nation, are you in situation like this? Also, there's that unique year of 2020. We're gonna be talking about 2020 vision, perfect vision. There's a lot of ministry, a lot of churches looking at this year as a year of launching new vision new things. So they praying over that. And then, to me, perhaps most important, is simply the sovereignty of God. He's calling us to prayer as a part of his purpose. And God's people I think are more sensitive and responding as never before, to this movement of prayer. This past year on the national prayer, we saw over 50,000 different prayer events. But that's phenomenal. And I think it's going to be accelerated this year. We have a new president Kathy brenzel leading us in prayer. It's going to be exciting to see what happens. I can hardly wait I gotta tell you this. I had I had a group of guys I work with called me a couple weeks ago, and they were having a meeting and they spent some time working at this. They have found identified over 16 different stadium career events already scheduled for 2020. stadium events 10s of thousands of Christian gathering, prepare There's going to be a major gathering on the National Mall in June, there will be a major gathering of young people in Kansas, in in July of 2020. He is going to continue to accelerate in exciting ways. I I'm actually looking next year I told him and I thought, I'm not sure we're going to get a chance to have a vacation or anything. We just, it's just going to be kind of going from prayer event to prayer event. And interesting enough, I'm not big on per event. I'm much more about local churches becoming a house of prayer. But sometimes I think God highlights these to teach the church the importance of prayer.
This is a remarkable prayer ministry that you've been leading David, harvest prayer ministries and also working with the National Day of Prayer. What is it that's the secret of sustaining a prayer movement, please?
I believe that the key to to developing sustaining a prayer ministry, particularly when it comes to the local church has to do and they're really tied together with a good theology. You know the purpose of prayer, you're not looking at paranoid getting things from God. God's not be so as Joe Santa Claus, that you just come with your list. I'm afraid that's been too much of our default theology of prayer. Instead, we understand it has to do with with discerning the purposes of God and His will and learning to pray Your kingdom come your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Having that theology of periods huge for a sustained movement of care. But the second thing it goes with that is leadership that gets it. You've got to have leadership at the local church level that understands that theology is willing to be the leader. They can't, they can't simply hand it off. They've got to take leadership in this. And of course, that's obviously the pastor. But it's not just the pastor, there's always other leaders of the church. And they've got to stand with the pastor in this and say, even if the rest of you don't, we're going to be people of prayer. We're going to pray, cuz that's what God called us to be. To sustain it. You have to have leaders, who are people of prayer, who commit themselves to that and say, you know, in a sense, as for me in my house, we will serve the Lord in prayer. Whether you follow us or not, that's what we're going to do that will sustain it. That's that long term.
But if I can ask you a question that we've been asking all of the interviewees on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity and what is it that we can do as Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed and john 17
Wow, that, that could take a while to answer that. But let me do it real quick on this consciously to me, unity is very close to the heart of Jesus. I go immediately to john 17th. And what we often call the Lord's Prayer, typically autoweek we ought to call john 17, the Lord's Prayer. I mean, that's the great high priestly prayer of Jesus. That's where he passionately prays, first of all for himself, but then ultimately, most of that prayer is for the church and not just for those standing that are listening. But for all of us through the generations, he makes it very, very clear that he's praying for us. To me, the most powerful way we can pray is to pray with Jesus to let him invite us to a prayer meeting. And Jesus very clearly had more than any other time. topic in john 17 prays for unity, you know, Father, that they would be one, even as you and I are one. And what he's talking about is not just getting along better. He's talking about something of supernatural substance that comes only from the Spirit of God at work within us. So to me, what looking at john 17 does is it gives me an understanding of the passion of the Lord for unity. So it shows me the importance, but then it shows me practically how I can achieve that. Now, let me just say this. For me personally, I got grabbed a hold of BY JOHN 17 years ago. And so I find myself if not daily, almost daily, praying for that supernatural oneness among believers. And I'm praying that in my own life, Lord, help me. Help me to be one with others. So you start looking at this and I, because working with national they appear National Committee. I'm working with people who are very different than me sometimes. theologically. I mean, I work with, with Calvinists, I work with Armenians I work with, with kind of constables. I work with cessationist. I work with millennials, I work with pre millennial, if I will, you know, and and so those are some pretty significant differences. But I found something amazing and that is, when I began to pray with Jesus, that we would be one. Here's what I've discovered in me, okay, because it really starts here. Starts with me. In edit, I found that I'd rather die than do anything to divide the body of Christ. I'm willing, I'm willing to lay down some things that I really would like to happen in in honor of others because of Jesus, not because I think they're right Because they think Jesus, right? Because Jesus needs needs us to lay down some of our desires, in honor of his passion for unity. And so I really believe that the most practical way to experience that unity in the body of Christ is for the church to begin to pray with Jesus, Father, that, that the followers of Jesus would be one, even as you and Jesus are one. I believe there's power there, we can begin praying that we're going to see some amazing things happen
that are a great honor today
to be speaking with David but
founder and president of harvest prayer ministries and chairman of the board of the National Day of Prayer. David, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us today.
Oh, thank you. It's my privilege and a joy to
talk with you.