In 2001, ten years into leading the united prayer movement at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), I had a great desire to see a campus house of prayer where students could pray 24/7. Since Rez Week, the annual united prayer and worship gathering near Easter, was approaching, we decided to give students a taste of this by hosting a 24/7 prayer tent during the event. We thought that this experience would inspire students to want a permanent space for 24/7 prayer.
The 24/7 prayer tent during Rez Week was a smashing success. Students loved it. However, when we followed up with students who participated to see if they would like to have a permanent house of prayer, they all said, “No.”
Year After Year
Every year, during Rez Week, the prayer tent was packed. Every year, after Rez Week, no one was interested. I was extremely saddened and discouraged, so I tried appealing to a “high power,” the college pastors. They, too, were not interested.
For five years, I pleaded with students and pastors. For five years, I tried to manipulate the circumstances to create a hunger for 24/7 prayer at UT.
I became increasingly frustrated that no one wanted a house of prayer on campus, so I came to God with my complaints. He gave me a response though that I was not prepared to hear.
Prayer Walks and Vow of Silence
God simply said, “Stop it!” He revealed to me that I had been relying on my own wisdom and resources to make this happen, and showed me how I had been trying to manipulate people into agreement.
He asked me to take a vow of silence – not to talk to anyone about the house of prayer except Him alone. He asked me to prayer-walk the campus for an hour a day during that upcoming season of Lent, looking for a space and asking Him to deliver a house of prayer near campus. I agreed to do so and was amazingly surprised at the “results.”
Surprise #1: The Prayer Meeting
That spring break, a group of students hosted their own local mission trip in Austin, doing various service projects and such. They invited me to speak to their group on the topic of prayer (not a house of prayer, mind you). I spoke about the role prayer plays in revival, we watched some videos, and then we prayed.
I’ve not been a part of many prayer meetings like this. The Holy Spirit was very present, and all of a sudden everyone started praying out loud at the same time. Everyone started asking God for a House of Prayer on campus!
When prayer finally came to an end, they asked me what I thought about finding a place for 24/7 prayer on campus. I smiled and found a way to leave without speaking.
Surprise #2: The Clipboard
At Rez Week that year, someone put a clipboard in the 24/7 prayer tent that said, “Who would like to have a house of prayer on campus?” Seventy-two people signed the clipboard.
We had similar clipboards in years past, but only had 10-12 students sign, and only after I had made a ridiculous amount of pleas for sign ups. Now, with no prompting at all by me, 72 students signed up.
Surprise #3: The Location
During my 40+ prayer walks around campus, three places stood out as possible locations for the house of prayer. Each day I would circle them, praying that God would miraculously give them to us. Then I would circle the whole campus asking God to give students and pastors a hunger for a prayer room.
During Rez Week that year, a college pastor called me to tell me that they were about to move out of their building into a new one. He said that he felt led to see if Campus Renewal would have use for such a space.
I was aware of the possibility of them moving, and their building was one of the three I had been circling in prayer every day. God had opened the door and that became our Campus House of Prayer!
A Humbling Reminder
Who knew that forty prayer walks and a vow of silence would be the key to birthing UT’s Campus House of Prayer? For the past nine years, students from forty different campus ministries and churches have been praying 80-120 hours a week there.
It’s humbling when God has to remind you that prayer is the most important thing you can do when trying to start a house of prayer. It seems silly to think or act otherwise, but sometimes we simply need a reminder. I sure did.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.