It's a movement dating back to 1775, when General George Washington first flew the flag emblazoned with an evergreen tree and the words "An Appeal to Heaven" proclaiming the power of prayer. Rooted in the culture of the Iroquois Native American nation, the liberty tree symbolizes eternal covenant, liberty and peace.
Bible teacher and author Dutch Sheets was serving in a Christian academic setting when he encountered this historic symbol in 2013. A year later, Sheets resigned his position and launched a years-long journey across America—spreading a message of repentance, revival and awakening to foundational values in God's Word, notably the sanctity of human life.
"I believe there is a two- to three-year window for us as a nation to see certain things change," Sheets said in Charisma News. "I feel a great responsibility and stirring in my spirit to be a part of leading in this. It has to do with prayer and, of course, the revival that I know is coming." He spent a year researching, seeking God for the heart of this message and writing a book entitled An Appeal to Heaven.
In November 2015, Dutch Sheets mobilized the first national Appeal to Heaven gathering in Middletown, Ohio. Months later, it was followed by a prayer event in Daphne, Alabama. The latest Appeal to Heaven gathering on April 28-30 occurred in America's heartland, the quad-cities area situated between Iowa and Illinois.
An election year is giving fresh energy to this movement focused on governmental intercession. The next Appeal to Heaven prayer event is slated for August 18-20 in Tucson, Arizona.
Significant portions of the days-long meeting in Illinois were spent praying for lives in the womb—seeking God for forgiveness from the sin of abortion, believing for the adoption movement to grow and proclaiming reconciliation where divisions have kept believers from working together.
Brought together by Dutch Sheets, leaders such as Lou Engle of TheCall, Will Ford, Matt Lockett of Bound4LIFE International, Chuck Pierce and Tim Sheets often passed the microphone to local pastors and forerunners—who united in concerted prayer.
An itinerant speaker and author who teaches at Christ for the Nations Institute, Will Ford began the pro-life petitions, crying out, "God, I'm asking that You'd raise up in this hour new voices for the voiceless in the black community." In the past, some have criticized Ford for refusing to be silent on life issues.
Ford continued, pleading for principled leaders while noting how Planned Parenthood has targeted minorities: "God, raise up prophets and wise men in this season who won't fall sway to the money and influence of Planned Parenthood—the eugenic influence that is pushing to snuff out a whole generation. We ask that You would raise up leaders after Your own heart, and raise up a new civil rights movement that would include the unborn!"
Drawing parallels between the abolition of slavery and ending abortion, Ford inspired faith in the thousands gathered: "Raise up adoption centers. Raise up crisis pregnancy centers all over the nation. Raise up a new underground railroad for the unborn."
A mother of ten children, including six through adoption, Kelsey Bohlender provided a living example of how these prayers can be answered—giving a certain weight to her words. "As a woman and a mother, I stand for life today. We ask, God, that You would end abortion in America. We rend our hearts today and we repent for how we have said no to the babies, how we have even said, 'No, two is enough. Three is enough.'"
Involved in leading an adoption agency with her husband, Bohlender continued: "God, I pray that as a prophetic statement that You would raise up in this place, even in this city, mothers and fathers who would say prophetically, 'We'll take another around our table because we want the babies.' God, I pray that by Your compassionate heart, You would make homes for those who aren't aborted. God, I pray there would be a statement in the Spirit that is made: the church wants the unborn babies."
Many occurrences at the event began to confirm the words spoken in faith—including a message received during the conference from another Christian leader praying thousands of miles away. "Be assured that God has heard our appeals and that the Third Great Awakening has begun," Dutch Sheets wrote following the conference. "Let's not stop now, however. Let's keep appealing in faith."
Lou Engle, visionary of TheCall known for mobilizing stadium prayer gatherings, connected his own personal journey with the recent revival breaking out in West Virginia and other parts of the nation. He spoke of a message he has carried for decades, regarding the court case Engel v. Vitale "which removed prayer from schools" as Engle summarized.
Referring to his friend Brian Barcelona who leads OneVoice Student Missions, Engle said, "Hundreds of thousands of kids are being touched in high schools. God led Brian to a place called Roosevelt High School. It is the only high school that has a Planned Parenthood on campus, and they've got hundreds of kids getting saved in that very high school!"
Engle launched into prayer: "God, we declare that You're coming to the high schools! You're going to put prayer back in schools by the spirit of revival."
"We declare the release of an adoption movement, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children," Engle continued. "We declare that what You began with a great story, You're the author and the finisher. God, You're going to end abortion. You're going to send transformation and revival to America."
The worship team began to sing a version of the Life Band prayer: "Jesus, I plead Your blood over my sins and the sins of my nation. End abortion. Send revival to America. We declare life to America." Their chorus was followed by another leader, Becky Jackman, who offered her prayer as thousands joined in faith.
"Father, we stand in agreement with Your love for the next generation," she began. "We speak right now to the destiny of the next generation. We speak life and purpose. We say, get on our shoulders. We want you to go further, higher and longer than our generation could ever go.
"Even now we repent. I repent as a Hispanic woman who loves family but feared what others would say. We say, no more fear, in the name of Jesus. Be broken off this generation. This next generation is meant to run, meant to be fearless, meant to love. The wailing women have not been forgotten. It's your time. It's your time to go further, go harder, go faster: fulfill the dreams," Jackman prayed.
Advancing the themes of compassion and forgiveness, Matt Lockett marshaled the many truths God has revealed over 11 years of intercession at the Supreme Court.
He prayed, "Father, we ask out of our deepest wound and greatest pain that You would raise up a voice. We thank You, God, for even those that have participated, who have had abortions, who have paid for abortions, that even from that place of pain—that You release forgiveness and a supernatural healing. You are the God who forgives and Your arm is not too short to save."
"God, would You raise up a voice of redemption out of the greatest wound?" Lockett pleaded. "We ask for a prophetic woman's voice—the post-abortive voice of the wailing women—to rise in this nation, giving voice and prophetic articulation to the pain and the great forgiveness. Those who've been forgiven much, love much."
He found particular agreement in the crowd from Luana Stoltenberg, a friend who had testified before Congress only months before of how she regretted her abortion.
Lockett lifted up a heart cry in closing: "We ask that You would release the greatest wave of love and healing in the nation like we have never known because You are the God who reserves the privilege to take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it to good. You're the only one who can do that, God. So we ask for the turning to come."
Leaders and local forerunners are preparing now for the next Appeal to Heaven prayer gathering on August 18-20 in Tucson, Arizona.
After 10 years on staff at The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family, Josh M. Shepherd currently serves in communications at Bound4LIFE International – a grassroots movement to pray for the ending of abortion and for revival worldwide. He and his wife Terri live in the Washington, DC area.
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