The apostle Paul understood the necessity of a personal, living connection with God. He voiced in these words the danger of becoming so busy working for God that he might neglect to serve Him, "Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." 1 Cor. 9:2'7. By these inspired words Paul throws out the warning to preachers,—those who have presented the truth to others,—that only disappointment, or to "be a castaway," may be their unhappy lot, unless they make first things first.
If I were asked to tell what I believe is the greatest need in our ministry, yes, in our church, I could tell it in one word. That one word is "prayer." We need to call our people back to the prayer life. It was prayer that started the early church on her triumphant march. As long as men and women prayed, the church went forth conquering and to conquer. It was a ten-day prayer meeting that settled all differences between the brethren. It was a prayer that brought the Pentecostal power. It was the preaching of a praying man that converted thousands at Pentecost. It was prayer that brought the world commission to the disciples. I believe it will take prayer to fulfill the climax of the great commission.
I have great regard for my brethren in the ministry. I esteem them for their works' sake. I long for a more powerful ministry. I want to see the keepers of the vineyards successful, and I know this can be so only by each keeping his own vineyard. In fact, I believe I am safe in saying that the man who does not keep his own vineyard will never properly keep the vineyard of others.
The natural trend in the world is away from God. The swift currents of unbelief and skepticism rush madly about us. With some who bear His name it is out of date to pray. The efficacy of prayer is actually denied by many. Science is substituted for salvation, preparation for consecration, program for passion, and psychology for theology.
If there was ever a time when we as ministers needed power from God, it is now. The task is far too great and the responsibility too sacred for us to touch with only human hands. Some men who have been mightily used of God set a worthy example of Christian devotion. In a book I recently read, the prayer life of some of these men is recorded as follows:
"Charles Simeon devoted the hours from four till eight in the morning to God. Mr. Wesley spent two hours daily in prayer. He began at four in the morning. Of him, one who knew him well wrote: 'He thought prayer to be more his business than anything else, and I have seen him come out of his closet with a serenity of face next to shining.'
"Luther said: 'If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.' He had a motto: 'He that has prayed well has studied well.'
"William Bramwell is famous in Methodist annals for personal holiness and for his wonderful success in preaching and for the marvelous answers to his prayers. For hours at a time he would pray. He almost lived on his knees. He went over his circuits like a flame of fire. The fire was kindled by the time he spent in prayer. He often spent as much as four hours in a single season of prayer in retirement.
"Bishop Andrewes spent the greatest part of five hours every day in prayer and devotion.
"Sir Henry Havelock always spent the first two hours of each day alone with God. If the encampment was struck at 6 A. xi., he would rise at four.
"Earl Cairns rose daily at six o'clock to secure an hour and a half for the study of the Bible and for prayer, before conducting family worship at a quarter to eight.
"Dr. Judson's success in God's work is attributable to the fact that he gave much time to prayer. He says on this point: 'Arrange thy affairs, if possible, so that thou canst leisurely devote two or three hours every day, not merely to devotional exercises, but to the very act of secret prayer and communion with God. Endeavor-seven times a dayto withdraw from business and company, and lift up thy soul to God in private retirement.' Doctor Judson impressed an empire for Christ, and laid the foundations of God's kingdom with imperishable granite in the heart of Burma. He was successful, one of the few men who mightily impressed the world for Christ."
Just as God has had in the past, praying preachers, men in whose lives prayer has been the controlling force, so in this our day, He longs for men who will spend much time in secret prayer. May we not disappoint Him.