What is a Prayer Vigil?

what-is-a-prayer-vigilWhat is a prayer vigil?

A prayer vigil is a time that is set aside for prayer, where the people who are praying stay up all night for a specific cause. The fact that you give up sleep to commit yourself to pray causes the time spent in prayer to be more intense.

What happens to your body, mind, and spirit during a prayer vigil?

Your body begins to feel tired because you are used to sleeping. You have to fight distracting thoughts in your mind to focus yourself on continuous prayer throughout the night. You realize how undisciplined your mind is when you are fighting just to maintain mind alertness. But the spiritual benefits are worth it. Your spirit is more awake and more focused on the Lord.

How are prayer vigils different from fasting, and yet similar?

If you have ever fasted from food, you know that going without food causes you to feel physically weak and empty. That emptiness causes you to cry out to God and pray in a much more intense way. God says that when we seek Him with ALL our hearts, we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13) Often while fasting for a family member or friend going through a crisis, my pounding on the doors of heaven through fasting has caused me to find God in a deeper way.

The weakness I feel during a fast from food is physical, and the weakness I feel during a fast of sleep is also physical. The first is a physical weakness caused by hunger radiating out of the stomach and weakening the whole body. The second is a physical weakness caused by exhaustion and the fight against wanting to fall asleep. The mind then starts shutting down during the prayer vigil, making it harder to pray than during fasting. You are fighting against the flesh and the mind, rather than just the flesh.

The body doesn’t hurt physically during the prayer vigil if you are eating, whereas the body does hurt physically during fasting, however.

If you have gained discipline and mastery over your mind in different areas of mental sin, you will probably find the prayer vigil not as hard as fasting. If you have no mental discipline, a prayer vigil is harder than fasting.

Are prayer vigils Scriptural?

Jesus stayed up praying all night before He chose His disciples:

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.” Luke 6:12-13 NASB

In the book of Acts, when the early church was devoted to prayer, they were conducting a prayer vigil for Peter, who was in prison. In the middle of the night, an angel let Peter out of prison, and Peter walked through the dark streets until he came to the house where the believers were praying. When he knocked on the door, Rhoda the servant girl couldn’t believe that Peter was standing there! Because of her joy, she didn’t open the door but ran back into the house, and no one believed her that Peter was at the door. Finally after knocking for a long time, the believers let Peter into the house, and they rejoiced. (Acts 12:5-16)

In the instance with Jesus, there was a specific reason for His prayer vigil: the choosing of the disciples. This was a crucial decision, and He wanted to make sure that He was fully submitted to the will of the Father in making this decision.

In the same way, when the early church was going though a crisis with Christians being killed and imprisoned, the church conducted a prayer vigil to pray for Peter to be saved from being put to death. Herod had already put James the brother of John to death with a sword a couple of verses before, and now he intended to deliver Peter to the angry mob. The early church was highly concerned about this situation, deciding to pray all night together, that God would somehow deliver Peter.

Stay tuned for part 2: My First Prayer Vigil

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2 Responses to “What is a Prayer Vigil?”

  1. There are also 24 hour vigils where people sign up for a specific block of time. To keep a situation bathed in prayer, without keeping the same people up the whole time.

    • Susan says:

      Yes, what you’re describing is exactly what my church did. I will be talking about that in my next blog post. It has several drawbacks, but it was still effective.

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