Why Did Jesus Convene the Largest Gathering of Christian Men in Church History 20 Years Ago?
[Editor’s Note: This year marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most extraordinary events of its kind—ever. David Bryant was directly involved both in the planning and execution of Stand in the Gap (SITG). Now two decades later, thousands of men are preparing for a 20th-anniversary celebration of SITG on April 29, 2017. David looks back to pinpoint the main reason men gathered on the Mall in 1997. Jesus has a mission from Heaven in 2017 that is twice as critical for our nation as it was in 1997.]
This morning as I write this blog post, I’m also preparing what I’m going to say to a very special gathering of Christian men. The annual event known as “Rally in the Valley” draws thousands from northeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and beyond to spend a Saturday digging into what it means to be fully committed to Christ. The event is scheduled on April 29 in a large arena in Youngstown, Ohio; up to 9000 men are expected. To learn more about this free event visit Men’s Rally in the Valley. Maybe you can come and bring friends, co-workers, fathers, brothers, sons, or other relatives!
This year’s rally is serving as a commemorative celebration of one of the most extraordinary Church gatherings in the past 2000 years. In fact, the 2017 theme is taken from this massive convocation on the National Mall in our nation’s capital back in 1997, namely Stand in the Gap.
This year’s event will open with a message from legendary college HOF football coach and ESPN commentator Lou Holtz, and they’ve asked me to conclude the day with a consecration service reminiscent of what I led at the historic 1997 gathering in DC.
I want to tell you what I plan to share with them and why. It could set you on a new course with Christ as well.
Were You There—When We Fell Before the Lord?
Were you there at the first-ever Stand in the Gap pictured above, among the multitude brought together by the Promise Keepers men’s movement?
Do you remember how 1.5 million men gathered in DC to pray for six hours for a Christ Awakening? Do you remember when I invited them to prostrate themselves flat on the grass before King Jesus? Do you remember how we spent three minutes in total silence, worshipping Jesus, like John did in Revelation 1? Do you know what happened during those three minutes?
What happened in those moments is that the Spirit of God blessed countless lives with an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ that was for them as if they were meeting him again—for the first time. Over the years in my travels I’ve lost track, quite honestly, of the numbers of men across the country who have approached me with remarkable reports:
• During those three minutes of utter stillness (when all you could hear were birds in the trees) not a few were actually converted to Jesus—during the silence.
• Others were physically or spiritually restored and healed.
• Others, with their faces buried in the sod, experienced a rebirth of love for Jesus they have never lost.
• Pastors have testified that when they stood up again they sensed they had been recommissioned into ministry for Jesus.
In other words, in those moments when we did “nothing” the Lord Jesus did “everything”!
All of this happened because we bowed before God’s ascended and anointed Son, focused exclusively on his glory—like the twenty-four elders in Revelation 5—eager to hear his voice and obey.
Falling to the ground in holy awe was our way of declaring King Jesus to be the supreme answer to all our prayers that day and the supreme hope for the reclamation of our nation.
Ultimately this was why Jesus called this event into being on October 4, 1997, drawing men from every part of the Church and every corner of the country. He wanted us to “stand in the gap” on behalf of the Church and the nation—to take our place there before him, and with him, and in him, and for him.
The Key Phrase Most of Us Overlook
That whole Mall event might be summed up with a key two-word phrase found in the theme verse for Stand in the Gap. This is the same text that serves as the event text for this April 29 commemoration. It is Ezekiel 22:30.
Unfortunately, when reading this verse most believers skip right over that key phrase. Rediscovering it and the meaning behind it, however, provides even more reasons to hope for a Christ Awakening today than we did 20 years ago. Let’s look at the text for a moment.
With Jerusalem facing the menacing fury of the Babylonian army, God announced through his prophet that the city walls—that is, the spiritual defenses of Israel—needed immediate repair:
I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one (NIV).
What most people miss in the Ezekiel 22 passage is that little phrase “before me.” From the Hebrew it should be literally translated with three words: “before my face.”
God was searching for someone, anyone, to pursue him, and to do so on a very intimate basis: face-to-face. He wanted a volunteer to (as we might say) “get in his face” on behalf of the land—to be direct with him about it, not indirect; to deal with him in a way that was up close and personal.
The call through this verse is not for an army of men who unsheathe their swords and converge at the breach in the city’s defenses in order to wage hand-to-hand warfare against the invaders and push them back.
Rather, Jehovah is inviting his saints to ask him to fight the battle for them—he wants to defeat the enemy for them in answer to their cries to him. The phrase “stand before me” basically signals the need for a work of prayer.
In other words, God is not urging horizontal combat. He is calling for vertical intercession.
In the Old Testament we’re told the Levitical priests—who formed the frontlines of prayer for Israel—were those who “stood before the Lord” as they served in the tabernacle and later in the temple. For example, we read in Deuteronomy 10:8:
At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister [on behalf of the people] and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today (NIV, emphasis added).
In Ezekiel 22 God candidly invited all who heard his voice to take up the Levitical role as priests. The situation had become so ominous it was time for the whole nation to become intercessors.
Christ Takes This Calling to Whole New Levels
Of course, in principle Ezekiel 22:30 applies to Christians today—to the Church’s ministry on behalf of our nation. But it does so in far more dynamic ways. Let me explain.
Today the Church faces the forces of darkness arrayed against us. We remain under attack from the Evil One who actively exploits every one of our spiritual vulnerabilities in his attempt to destroy the work of Christ. Satan seeks to invade all our spiritual gaps—the broken places in our families, among our youth, throughout our communities, within our governing bodies; wherever the Church’s unity and vitality are collapsing; wherever there is a disintegration of our moral fiber and spiritual heritage.
But the good news is that today Christians have a tremendous advantage in this battle that Ezekiel knew nothing about! That’s because the Church is living on this side of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God, the King of Glory, our Great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession in all the “gaps” by virtue of his victorious, “indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16).
John 17 records how in the upper room, shortly before Gethsemane, Jesus stood before God, offering an astounding prayer. Face-to-face he appealed for his Father to intervene and prevail on behalf of his disciples, then all the saints, then all the nations, and finally all the ages to come.
Thankfully, the New Testament assures us over and over that he has not ceased to carry out this powerful ministry right to this very hour—concerned for the same crucial agenda.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? . . . Christ Jesus . . . is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8, NIV, emphasis added).
Whenever we start praying about the threatening breaches we’ve uncovered, our Lord Jesus has been praying about them already, standing in the gap before the Father’s face, just waiting for us to join him. Before any of us ever takes up the calling of Ezekiel 22:30, our Royal Priest has already answered the summons to “stand before God’s face in the gap.”
Whether in 1997 or 2017, Jesus Summons Us to Join Him in the Gap
Therefore, in this age of grace, we who have been raised up with Christ and seated with him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2), we who are welcomed to come boldly before God’s throne in prayer (Hebrews 10)—to us belongs the high, holy privilege of joining the Son of God “in the gap” in prayer before the face of the Father.
When we intercede for those places where the advance of the Kingdom appears to have momentarily broken down—beginning with many current forms of spiritual disrepair throughout the Body of Christ today—our chief concern is for much more than simply patching holes in the wall. We’re asking the Father to replace every breach with the exalting of Jesus’ name, the spreading of his fame, the extending of his reign, the increasing of his gain, and the ratifying of his claim. That’s where the victory lies! That’s how the Enemy is defeated.
We will triumph over our enemies whenever our prayers are lifted up together in union with the Lord Jesus, for the praise and glory of the Lord Jesus (not just to preserve my family or my nation), through the victories won for us by the Lord Jesus, by the power and fullness of the Lord Jesus poured out upon us as we pray, and for the saving mission of the Lord Jesus among the nations.
Stand WITH Jesus. Stand IN Jesus.
Finally, note that we are commanded in Ezekiel 22 to fill the gap by standing. Is that really enough?
Do you recall what King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20) prayed to Jehovah as his troops prepared to war against an overwhelming force of invading Moabites? He prayed: “We do not know what to do but our eyes are upon you.” In that moment of grave danger, he and his army could only “stand” still and look into God’s face, waiting for him to take action on their behalf.
But then, as they sang hymns of praise to God, miracles happened! Their Redeemer assumed full responsibility for the battle in answer to their prayers; not one soldier had to raise a single weapon. By supernatural intervention, the enemy was destroyed in less than a day while God’s people watched and praised. Encourage your heart and faith by taking time to read that account today.
A similar mandate is found in Ephesians 6 where Christians are called to stand—to pray, to watch, to wait. Put another way, we must take refuge in Christ if we intend to join him in cosmic combat with principalities and powers.
Standing is our strategy, as we wear the pieces of armor Paul describes in Ephesians 6, which really are key dimensions of who Jesus himself is in terms of his matchless supremacy, as our all in all. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” is a great phrase from Romans 13 that urges the same thing.
Equipped like this, in the thick of the battle the greatest thing we can do is simply to stand, anchored in Jesus, under the reign of Jesus, with expectant faith about the power of Jesus—alive in him, clothed by him, serving with him through the ministry of prayer.
This Will Be My Message on April 29. Make It Yours, Too.
These glorious themes will shape my message at the rally on April 29. With this vision of Christ and who we are in him, I intend to guide the multitude of men into a time of silence before our victorious Savior—to freshly focus on his great love and reigning glory, open for him to do a deeper work in each of us, there and then.
Just as happened on the Mall 20 years ago.
May these men leave the arena newly empowered by an undeniable encounter with God’s Son in his supremacy—ready to fan out in all directions, to their churches and communities, as an army of priests who join Jesus in the ministry of prayer for his deliverance for our generation.
May this gathering on April 29 result in one more powerful step toward the nationwide Christ Awakening movement that the Spirit is bringing to America.
How I wish you could be there.
Even if you can’t, beginning today you can start standing with Jesus before the Father in prayer on behalf of the broken walls all around you. Clearly, the time has come for nothing less.
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ-proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI) and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely-read book at www.ChristIsAllBook.com.