PRAYER is the greatest force in the universe, for it taps the very Source of power. "In this atomic age when forces are being released that stagger the thought and imagination of man it is well to remember that prayer transcends all other forces," states Dr. F. J. Huegel in his challenging book Forezier Triumphant. Yes, prayer is a power —divine power. And that is what is needed in our ministry today.
But let us think briefly of the content of our prayers. Too often there is much petition and little praise. Yet praise is the most vital part of true prayer. Note the prayer of Jesus at the grave of Lazarus. It was brief but positive—"Father, I thank thee," "Thou hast heard me," "Thou hearest me always." What certainty there is in these words. He was on intimate terms with His Father. Another example is the prayer of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:18-22. It was when the leaders began to praise the Lord that victory came.
One of our workers recently visited our home, his face aglow, with an inner joy. This brother is not a seasoned veteran with decades of service behind him. He is just coming into the prime of life. When we were quietly seated in my study, he looked me straight in the eye and said: "You know, brother, I just had to come and share something with you. My heart is so full I feel like shouting 'Praise God.' Jesus has done something wonderful for me and my family."
As he spoke his face beamed. Then he related a couple of wonderful experiences that had come in answer to his and his family's prayers. He had visited our home before and we had enjoyed fellowship together when he was a missionary in one of our large overseas divisions. But since the days when first I met him this brother had grown much in grace, and the effect of that growth is evident.
After a brief season of prayer and praise we said good-by. When he left I could not help reflecting on the effect of his visit. How different it was compared with some others! His life has not been a bed of roses by any means. There have been real disappointments, even tragedies. But his heart was full of joy and his prayer was full of praise. The Holy Spirit made Jesus vitally real to him. This was evident in what he said and how he looked.
Who Looks Redeemed?
Nietzsche, the unbelieving philosopher, once observed with a sneer, "You will have to look more redeemed if I am to believe in your Redeemer." And Helmut Thieliche sums up our attitude in these words: "When we come from church we give the impression that instead of coming from the Father's banquet, we have just come from a sheriff who has auctioned off our sins and now we are sorry we cannot get them back." That may be too strong, but it points up the need for us to live lives that reflect the joy of salvation.
When our prayers are largely praise, both our outlook and our inlook will be changed. Ministers, more than anyone else, need to learn to pray in the Spirit. Paul said: "I will pray with my spirit—by the Holy Spirit that is within me; but I will also pray intelligently—with my mind and understanding" (1 Cor. 14:15, Amplified*: see also Wuest's translation). When our lives are filled with the Spirit, prayer becomes a joy. "Prayer won't be a chore any more," remarked one minister who had entered into this deeper experience with his Lord. Prayer a "chore"? Perish the thought. But it can be. Our reluctance to linger in the closet may well be an indication of our estimate of prayer.
Prayer School More Important Than Theology
One of the most deadening experiences in Christian living is merely to say prayers instead of communing with a Friend. We often refer to Paul's words in Romans 10: 9 when bringing new converts to the full acceptance of the Christian way, stressing the importance of both belief and confession: "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart. . . you will be saved" (R.S.V.). And that is true, but not only do new converts need this, it is just as vital in the life of the mature Christian. Only by the Holy Spirit can we confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). And this confession must be a daily experience. It is not enough to confess our sins, we must also confess our Saviour. Not only in our preaching but also in our prayers, in both our private and public prayers. "Preaching that kills is prayerless preaching," says E. M. Bounds. "The preacher who is feeble in prayer, is feeble in life-giving forces. . . . Professional there is and will be, but professional praying helps the preaching to its deadly work. Professional praying chills and kills both preaching and praying. . . . Long, discursive, dry, and inane are the prayers in many pulpits. Without unction or heart they fall like a biting frost on all the graces of worship. . . . A plea for short praying, live praying, heart praying, praying by the Holy Spirit—direct, specific, ardent, simple unctions in the pulpit is in order. A school to teach preachers how to pray as God counts praying, would be more beneficial to true piety, true worship, true preaching, than oil theological schools."—Power Through Prayer, pp. 25, 26. (Italics supplied.) Not only do we as ministers need to learn the secret of real prayer, we also need to teach our dear people how to pray.
Another thing we as shepherds need is the assurance that our flocks are praying for us. How often Paul asked his converts to pray for him! His success as both a pastor in the church and as an evangelist in the world was doubtless attributable to the power of prayer. Even before he went to Rome he urged the brethren there to pray for him and his workers. "Now we beseech you, brethren," he wrote, "for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" (Rom. 15: 30). To the Ephesian believers he says: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Eph. 6:18, 19). In similar strain he appealed to the Colossians, Corinthians, Thessalonians, and the Philippians. What humility and deep insight are revealed in these requests! If this apostle and leader felt his need of the constant prayers of God's people in order to make a success of his ministry, what should be our attitude in these closing hours of history? More than a "little talk with Jesus" is needed if we are to measure up to the demands of our time. Isaiah lamented the fact that none "stirreth up himself to take hold of thee."
Surely the great need of our day is for men with clearer insight, untarnished holiness, spiritual vigor, and fearless faith; men who can lead the church back to those days when they shook the very buildings with their prayers. And God will find these men and women. They may not be in our ranks today but the Lord will lead them to us. When that time comes the emphasis will definitely be on spirituality and prayer, and great will be the results.
An interesting and challenging article appeared about five years ago in Conquest for Christ (the official organ of International Students, Inc.). It was written by Bakhtsingh, one of India's earnest Christian leaders. He is not criticizing, but lamenting, a situation we cannot deny. Reading these words may well humble our hearts before God. He says:
"The indigenous churches in India have a great burden for America just now. . . . You feel sorry for us in India because of our poverty in material things. We who know the Lord in India feel sorry for you in America because of your spiritual poverty. We pray that God may give you gold tried in the fire which He has promised to those who know the power of His resurrection. . . . In our church we spend four or five or six hours in prayer and worship, and frequently our people wait on the Lord in prayer all night; but in America after you have been in church for one hour you begin to look at your watches. We pray that God may open your eyes to the true meaning of worship. . . . You have a great dependence on posters, on advertising, on promotion, and on the buildup of a human being; in India we have nothing more than the Lord Himself and we find that He is sufficient. Before a Christian meeting in India we never announce who the speaker will be. When the people come, they come to seek the Lord and not a human being, or to hear some special favorite speaking to them. We have had as many as 12,000 people come together just to worship the Lord and to have fellowship together. We are praying that the people in America might also come to church with a hunger for God and not merely a hunger to see some form of amusement or hear choirs or the voice of any man."
A Change Coming
It may seem strange for one in another country to express himself concerning this great "home base" in our world program. But this brother is not harsh in his judgment; he is just observant. When we compare our prayer meetings with similar meetings in other countries we surely must hang our heads in shame. It is easy for us who have received so much to be content with so little. In some areas of the world God's people seem much nearer New Testament Christianity than we are in such a favored land as this. But a change is coming; it is nearer than many of us realize. But let us remind ourselves that true revival is always born in prayer. It comes in no other way.
Laziness After God
"Brethren, the crying sin of the church is her laziness after God," declares Samuel Chadwick in his book The Way to Pentecost. When we lead our people to discover the real power of prayer we will prepare them for the latter rain. We all believe that "prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence." Then let us reverently use that key. And when we pray don't forget to praise.
A New Testament repetition of this truth is Acts 9:15, where God stated that Paul was "a chosen vessel." Cannot this same declaration be made of every true minister of God? Paul in turn encouraged Timothy with the thought that every person can be "a vessel unto honour" (2 Tim. 2:21), regardless of the vessel's composition, whether it be gold, silver, or earthenware. Recognition of God's special calling and plan for our lives gives point to our existence and value to our service. No preacher makes progress unless there is a deepening awareness of God's supervisory capacity in the area of controlling circumstances and the execution of His will in and through Him.