A prayer vigil is a predetermined amount of time that a group of people devotes entirely to prayer. Usually organized by churches or civic groups, prayer vigils can last for 24 hours to several months. Some churches have designated prayer rooms that are open day and night, extending their prayer vigils to infinity.
Prayer vigils often, but not always, have a specific goal as the object of the prayer. Missions, special events, city or community challenges, political concerns, or sudden tragedies can all be reasons for organizing a prayer vigil. Some churches plan yearly prayer vigils preceding Easter or Christmas as they seek the Lord on behalf of the influx of expected visitors to their services.
Many times, prayer vigils organized by a church congregation are divided into specific time slots (usually 30 minutes or an hour). People are asked to sign up for one or more slots. In this way, prayers are being offered up from that church continuously (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The vigils are usually held on the church property, in a designated area, which keeps the praying intentional and often sacrificial. We can pray in our homes, on our own, but when we set aside personal comfort and convenience in order to meet with the Lord for intentional prayer, we are more likely to stay on track. Distractions are kept to a minimum when we pray in a designated place for a specific reason.
Some people call for prayer vigils over critical health needs, a church crisis, or a local tragedy. Some cities have organized community-wide prayer vigils, inviting anyone to join in prayer for city and national needs. The National Day of Prayer, begun in 1775 when the Continental Congress called for such, could be considered a prayer vigil. On the first Thursday of May, Americans are called upon to intercede for our nation. Many churches and communities host their own prayer vigils to correspond with the National Day of Prayer. Another regular prayer vigil is the See You at the Pole event, organized at schools the fourth Wednesday of every September.
The first prayer vigil is recorded in Acts 1. When Jesus ascended back into heaven, He told His disciples to wait for the gift from His Father before obeying His command to take the gospel to every nation (Matthew 28:19). Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” This prayer vigil ushered in the new age of the Holy Spirit who would from then on indwell believers (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). The outcome of this prayer vigil should be the outcome of every prayer vigil: God’s people entering into right relationship with Him so that His plans and purposes can be carried out through us (Matthew 6:10).