Editorial: People, programs--and prayer
I asked my father one day whatmethods I should use to develop my business and be successful. He answered, “Methods are good and necessary, but without God, all is worthless rubbish. You need serious prayer to seek God’s plan, leading, and presence, and then you will be successful.”
Years later I asked him what programs and strategies to use to make a church grow and be healthy. He answered “Son, programs are good and necessary; we need to be organized. But they are all rubbish, worthless, without God. It is ‘“‘not by strength nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord of All” ’ [Zech. 4:6, NLV]. When we receive this promise, we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes when we are committed to prayer. Prayer is the tree of life.”
The apostle Paul counted all worldly things rubbish (Phil. 3:8, NKJV). The word rubbish used here, in Greek, is σκύβαλον—skubalon, which means “refuse, excrement of animals, rubbish, worthless.” However, through dedicated prayer they become useful compost, by God’s grace.
I took my father’s advice, and, praise God, the results were better than I could imagine. To discover practical examples of how prayer can change a church, look in next month’s issue.
There are times in history when prayer has changed great crowds of people, even influencing whole nations. Moses’ prayer saved Israel (Exod. 32). Jehoshaphat’s prayer gave Israel victory over its enemies (2 Chron. 20). Another instance where prayer made a great impact is the story of Jeremiah Lanphier.
In 1857 Jeremiah Lanphier invited people to pray. Initially, just a few answered, but the number slowly increased. When the stock market crashed, tens of thousands started to attend the meetings. Lloyd Stilley says that “in 1858 this prayer movement leaped to every major city in America. . . . Estimates are that a million Americans out of a population of 30 million at that time were converted in less than two years. And it all started with prayer, and it was based on prayer.”1
In the book of Acts, the disciples followed Jesus’ command to pray, wait for the Holy Spirit, and then go and work (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). About 120 disciples were in the upper room praying with dedication without ceasing. The Bible says, “These all continued with one accord in prayer” (Acts 1:14, NKJV). It seems that prayer was the means God used to transform them and the church; to bring unity, commitment to God’s work, and power for the mission Jesus gave them and thus accomplish things otherwise impossible and beyond their imagination.
Human power, wisdom, and methods alone cannot do God’s work. It takes God’s power to do God’s work, and that power comes through real, dedicated prayer. Ellen G. White underlines that “a revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work.” Then she says, “A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer.”2
Most churches often struggle with growth due to problems like internal tensions, lack of involvement, lack of finances, and a lack of power and joy. It is one thing to believe in prayer, to agree with it, and something entirely different to really be about prayer—to make it the heart of both the church and the individual. “We may be assured of this—the secret of all failure is our failure in secret prayer.”3
Can meaningful growth (spiritual and numerical) really be accomplished? If so, how? Most programs, regardless of how thorough, may help a church here and there, yet most of the time these programs do not make much difference. Often church members get tired of programs and lose faith that anything can or will change the church. Sustainable fruitful programs function only in the presence of dedicated prayer.
I’m glad I listened to my father on earth, and I’m glad I listened to my Father above. This month, we are sharing methods to help pastors equip church members to witness wherever God places them. As we read each article, may we bathe these methods in prayer, humbly and diligently praying for God to reveal how best to reach the world around us.
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1 Lloyd Stilley, “Sermon: The Priority of Praying Together—Acts 6,” LifeWay, Jan. 27, 2014, lifeway.com/Article/sermon-when-the-church-prays-the-priority-of-praying-together-acts-6-1-5.
2 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, bk 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 121.
3 An Unknown Christian, The Kneeling Christian: A Timeless Classic on Prayer (New Kensington, PA:Whitaker House, 2013), 6