About 145 students at PLNU have been taking part in the 21-Day Challenge, a commitment to 21 consecutive days of intentional prayer and reflection.
“Well the first wave that we did in September there were about 15 students doing in. And this wave in October had about 145 students,” said junior Natalie Swift, who partnered with junior AJ Swies to bring this challenge to PLNU this year.
Every Thursday night for the three weeks of the challenge, the participants have met in the Community Life Center of First Church of the Nazarene from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. to pray and discuss the previous week’s happenings.
The challenge started over the summer when 10 college students got a hold of Becky Tirabassi’s book “The Burning Heart Contract.” The students went to Tirabassi’s church, Rock Harbor Church, and one of them happened to attend PLNU. Junior AJ Swies wanted others to be able to experience the same transformation he had. Along with nine other college students, Swies went through the challenge this summer with Tirabassi as a mentor.
“The whole point was for us to get fired up and bring it to our campuses, and sure enough, there are burning hearts groups across the nation now,” said Swies. “I first looked at this challenge as a burden, something that put a bunch of restrictions and chains on me, but I never fully realized the power of prayer until I fully dove in and gave God my all in my hour.”
Swift said that knowing God requires devotion.
“No one has a free hour in the day, so it takes sacrifice and discipline to make one,” said Swift. “I’m learning that there’s no magic equation to this whole thing, and that prayer is a spiritual discipline that is such a gift to us.”
She also talked about how Christianity should be a relationship rather than a religion.
“If we want a relationship with God, we need to spend time with him!” she said.
Burning Hearts is a Christian organization of student leaders who feel called to change culture by living out their faith dynamically through passionate call to prayer, purity, purpose and discipline. It is based on the original Burning Hearts Fellowship that began in 1947.
The challenge calls for a commitment of complete purity and sobriety for 21 consecutive days. Tirabassi herself had a complete life transformation after struggling with alcoholism. After surrendering her life to God, Tirabassi has been devoted to living a life pleasing to the Lord through sobriety and purity. She was inspired by Bill Bright’s book, “Amazing Faith” and his contract with his friends in 1947.
“Tucked away in the pages of Bright’s book is the remarkable story of how a contract with God set the hearts of ordinary people on fire for God,” Swift said.
PLNU sophomore Blaire Foltz is one of the students taking part in the challenge. She stressed the importance of campus and nationwide change.
“God is starting a movement in college-aged students hearts, and it’s so cool to see other students across the nation participating in this!” she said. “These past 21 days have been life changing.”
Foltz said that this challenge has changed the way she goes about her day, allowing her to focus on God and pray with purpose.
“I have never been the type of person to sit down and intentionally pray, so I thought this was going to be a very difficult thing to do, but God has been revealing so many things to me these past couple of weeks just because I have been listening to Him and what He’s wanting to teach me,” Foltz said.
Many of the participants have to plan to dedicate one hour solely to prayer and spiritual reflection because of the time commitment of being a college student.
“I have to plan out when I’m going to do my hour the night before,” Foltz said. “As a college student, it’s easy to focus on everything you need to do each day, but I can promise you that spending an hour in prayer will be the best thing you do in your day.”
PLNU Professor of Theology and Christian Scriptures John Wright commented on the merits of the challenge and its application whether an active participant or not.
“This week’s reading for our Sunday worship is Luke 18:1-8,” he said. “In light of the injustice and sin of the world, thank God for people who don’t lose heart but pray.”
Professor of Theology and World Religions Michael Lodahl said that the tenets of the program, to pray for an hour a day, leads students to better apply biblical the biblical teachings according to Paul.
“Since Paul writes in one of his letters that Christians should ‘pray without ceasing,’ an hour a day for 21 days is surely not a bad idea,” he said.
PLNU Dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry Dr. Ron Benefiel also commented on the cataclysmic power of the challenge.
“When you think about it, most of the greatest Christian revivals began with young people, largely on college campuses,” he said. “This is a renewal by students that starts here and will eventually spread to the church, rather than the other way around.”
Dr. Benefiel also mentioned the similarities to the beginnings of Methodism in John and Charles Wesley’s Holy Club at Oxford in the early 18th century.
“It’s at the grassroots level right now, but I believe it has real potential to become something widely-known across campus and bring about great change,” he said.
Swift said that the power of prayer is belief in His will at PLNU.
“I truly believe God’s hand is on this,” said Swift. “He is moving radically across this campus.”
The group will meet once more this Oct. 24 to recap the highlights of the three weeks.