Pete Greig on the global 24/7 prayer movement and personal battles

Millions of people, thousands of prayer rooms, but behind the scenes, 24-7 Prayer founder Pete Greig was in a personal spiritual battle, writes Aziza Green.

In 1999 Pete Greig was leading a church that was doing well by conventional standards, when he felt an arresting personal challenge: “If God died, would we notice?” Realising that he had outsourced much of his prayer life to faithful older generations, Greig began to thirst and seek after God night after night. “Saint Augustine says, ‘Thou hast put salt on our lips that we might thirst for thee.’ God was rubbing salt on my lips,” Greig tells Eternity.

This stirring led to establishing a prayer room in the church, where a small group of believers committed to pray fervently 24 hours a day, seven days a week for one month. As they sought God with all their hearts, they encountered his presence and more people, especially students, wanted to be in the room.

Soon miracles began breaking out and people were getting saved.

That month of prayer became an international, interdenominational prayer movement.

Sometime at the beginning of the 24-7 Prayer movement, Greig wrote words on the wall which became a vision statement. It somehow got out of the prayer room, and within a month was translated and published in the underground newspaper in China, servicing over 100,000 churches. It was being used in the National Mall in Washington, DC. In Valladolid, Spain, there was a dance troupe who had choreographed a dance to the statement. This and more came out of one simple prayer room.

That month of prayer became an international, interdenominational prayer movement, which is now entering into a quarter of a century of non-stop prayer. The 24-7 Prayer movement has spread to over 100 nations, with over 22,000 prayer rooms.

“We work with everyone from the Catholic Church at the highest levels, through to the Salvation Army at street level,” says Greig.

God goes silent

And yet, behind the scenes of this successful prayer movement lies a very different story. Eighteen months after 24-7 Prayer went viral, Pete’s wife Sammy was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Amidst signs and wonders happening all around through the growing prayer ministry, God seemed silent on the matter of Sammy’s sickness.

“My wife got very sick and nearly died multiple times. She had a brain tumour, and I watched her slipping into epileptic fits again and again, which is horrible,” shares Greig.

Pete and Sammy Greig

Pete and Sammy Greig

He cried out to God to make the seizures stop, but it didn’t work. “I went from believing that my prayers could save the world to questioning whether they could save my wife,” he says. “Our second child was seven weeks old. And I was wondering as I put him and his brother to bed every night, will I one day have to hold up a photograph and try and explain how wonderful their mum was?”

Greig realised there was only way forward: “the path of discipleship, which is to embrace the full Easter experience.” He shares that this discipleship journey must not only embrace the resurrection of Easter Sunday, but the silence of Holy Saturday and the agony of Good Friday. “In those three days together, we find a balanced faith,” he says.

“It’s only Jesus Christ and him crucified that makes sense of the pain and the brokenness and the vulnerability of life.” – Pete Greig

Greig explores this perplexing theme in his book, God on Mute. He says that his first book Red Moon Rising, “set people’s hair on fire with the reality of the power of prayer. I followed that up with a book about unanswered prayer.” Writing honestly about unanswered prayer and prayers that are answered in unexpected ways has encouraged people more than Greig expected. He shares that “many people have said ‘it’s brought me back to faith in Jesus’ or ‘it stopped me quitting because I realised that you don’t have to deny your experience to follow Jesus’.” He highlights that it’s “only Jesus Christ and him crucified that makes sense of the pain and the brokenness and the vulnerability of life.”

On suffering

Greig says that the Bible is more honest about suffering than the church is; the struggle, the searching questions, things left unresolved are all in the Scriptures. It’s tempting to approach prayer as, “God, you’ve got to do a miracle and rescue me. Sometimes God does miracles, but more often than rescue you, God kind of parachutes in and joins us,” says Greig.

This has been his family’s testimony. “I don’t know why God didn’t heal my wife. She survived brain surgery, but she’s lived with a chronic illness ever since. That’s a part of our life. But she is alive, and we celebrate birthdays like you wouldn’t believe. We are so grateful.”

“Sometimes God does miracles, but more often than rescue you, God kind of parachutes in and joins us.”

Greig shares that Sammy’s darkest valley was in the MRI tube. “When you’re lying for half an hour in a tube that is determining your fate, you are utterly alone. The first time she went into the MRI scanner, she vomited, she was so terrified,” shares Greig. “The second time she went in, she memorised Psalm 91 and recited it in her head over and over. She said, ‘I experienced God’s presence in there with me.’”

Greig encourages, “God’s not insecure as to whether we or others believe in him. Our job is not to do his PR. It’s to be truthful about our experience and cling to him.”

When it feels hopeless

In the midst of Sammy being rushed in and out of hospital, their youngest son Danny, who was only a baby, got chickenpox. “It was the worst thing ever. He had those little itchy spots all over his eyelids and his nose. And so of course he’d scream and cry,” Greig recalls.

“I had no way of telling this little baby, ‘this too shall pass.’ I had no way of telling him that, apparently, it’s quite good for a baby to get chickenpox as they develop some immunity. All I could do was hold Danny in my arms as he screamed, until he fell asleep in my arms.”

“Press on in prayer, be it with mighty words or aching sighs.”

Greig acknowledges the times when we are hurting so badly that we don’t know when or if we will ever feel better again. “Those are the times when we need to allow our Heavenly Father to hold us, even though our instincts may be to push him away,” he says.

Corrie Ten Boom’s father used to say to her, “When you’re on a train in a long, dark tunnel, this is not the time to get off the train.” Pete Greig says to anyone who feels hopeless in their situation, “‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:13). Do not give up. Allow God to lead you through your valley and press on in prayer, be it with mighty words or aching sighs.”

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