Introduction To Book Eight – Prayer
Ron Christian, Compiler
In his most helpful book, "Alive To God Through Prayer", Donald Demaray notes: "We must remember that we are all the product of prayer. Apparently no one is saved aside from someone's prayers… There is absolutely no substitute for the work of prayer… If we had even a glimpse of the value of prayer we would rise with new eagerness to the challenge of its work." (pg. 124)
Every great revival in history has been preceded by earnest prayer. It was so of the 1970 revival which is now referred to as the' Asbury Revival' (which started in the small community of Asbury, Kentucky, on the campus of Asbury College). The following is by Dwight Gregory, a first-hand (eye witness) account of the beginning of the 'Asbury Revival'. "By now many of you will have already heard of the revival which began at Asbury College and is now spreading across the continent. It has been my privilege to share in this awakening, and I would like to relate my own impressions of what is happening. The movement, I believe, can be traced to what was termed the Great Experiment, suggested by Asbury College President Dennis Kinlaw at the beginning of the year. A number of students covenanted together to discipline themselves in prayer and study of the Bible in a more serious way. When people do this, something is bound to happen. On the morning of February 3, 1970, the college chapel service was given over to testimonies. After a number of the predictable cliché-ridden testimonies had been given, one or two campus leaders with notoriously non-spiritual reputations stepped to the pulpit to bear witness to real transformation within that week. Right after that, a faculty member stepped up to say that there might be others who wanted to surrender their lives to God. Almost immediately, the altar was filled with over 150 students. By the next day, the revival had spread across the street to the seminary, and nearby newspapers and television stations had begun reporting the story. People were making confessions, being reconciled to fellow Christians, and being filled with the Holy Spirit and giving radiant testimonies. There were many new conversions and a number of testimonies to physical healing. By the weekend, teams had gone out to witness in many other schools and churches, and were bringing back reports just as dramatic as what was being seen in Wilmore. Classes were dismissed at the college for a full week."
Looking back – in retrospect – it can be said that the 'Asbury Revival' (in which thousands were converted throughout the Nation and even other Countries) was one of the 'greatest revivals' of the twentieth century! It all started with several college students who became serious about the discipline of intercessory prayer!
Prayer is the most important activity in which any child of God can be engaged! The Scriptures tell us that the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects (James 5:16). Prayer is "loving communion (with God) which may help in the promotion of
God's will, where as without the prayer it might be frustrated." (A Place To Stand; Elton Trueblood; pg. 90) Said St. Augustine many years ago: "Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not." It is God who is the Source of power, but His power is 'released' as a result of the prayers of His faithful children!
It is important that every family becomes a 'praying family'. Why? For many good reasons, but one reason is summarized by the popular slogan: "The family that prays together, stays together!" Prayer is a great cohesive factor for the Christian Family. A 'family altar' should be in every home, adapted especially to the children of the home. Variety and regularity are the two important ingredients. Use an interesting and colorful Bible Story Book with the smaller children. Begin using songs – choruses, Scripture songs, hymns – with your younger children ( one of the most important things you can do in your 'child rearing'). Let various family members take turns praying out loud. Keep your 'family altar' time simple, interesting, short – but consistent. For adults, use a helpful family devotional guide, such as 'Our Daily Bread' or one of the many devotional books authored by E. Stanley Jones (or one of many other devotional books and booklets). Praying together helps keep God at the center of your home, and it helps develop a prayerful and reverent attitude in your home.
Choose a prayer partner, and pray regularly with him/her. There is great strength produced when two pray together and share together and rejoice together. Jesus said that when two or three are gathered together in His name that He is in the midst! He also said that if two of you agree as 'touching any matter', the request shall be granted! Believe together and you will receive together. Choose a prayer partner and begin to build a prayer life together. Meet once a week together and spend some time sharing specific needs – and believe and expect those needs to be supplied. Some prayer partners may choose to share with each other daily – over the phone. Ask God to reveal to you whom He wants you to 'partner with' – your spouse, your close friend, or even a new believer.
Be sure to participate in a 'Prayer Group'. There is sufficient Biblical precedent for the small prayer group. Acts 2:1 says, "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place." Pentecost came upon a group, not a single individual. Acts 4:31 speaks again of a group prayer meeting: "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." It is urgent that several prayer groups be established among the families in a local church – if that church expects to see a revival happen in its midst. Donald Demaray notes that "in every case of a movement of God's Spirit, group prayer is involved."
Observes William Sangster: "Something seems to be added to prayers offered in fellowship which is not available in the same measure to the same prayers offered by the same people in separation."
Give high priority to the establishment and maintenance of prayer 'cells' in your local church. Notes Sangster: "If prayer is fellowship with the Almighty God of the Universe, how can it be other than the chief business and privilege of every day?"
Notes Donald Demaray: "Just think what a bulwark against temptation group prayer really is! Just think of the planning, aspirations, and dreams that come to light in the group! Think of the burdens shared! The joys revealed! The courage restored!" (Alive To God Through Prayer; pg. 66) During the early years of my pastorate (when I myself was only in my twenties), I became a member of a small prayer group, the results of which were 'far-reaching' in my young life as a minister. All the other dozen members in the group were elderly (from about 60 to 90 years of age). I cannot find the words to describe the joy and comfort and insights which I gained from those 'old saints of God', all of whom were 'seasoned prayer warriors' (they knew how to 'bring heaven down to earth' through their fervent prayers). All of those 'old saints' are now 'citizens of the heavenly kingdom'. I had the privilege of preaching at each one of their funerals. They, 'being dead', still speak to me! The ten or more years during which time I weekly spent praying with them (in the 'cottage prayer meetings') were some of the 'greatest years of my life'! I shall never be the 'same' for having known and prayed with those sweet and saintly persons, and I look forward to meeting them some wonderful day in heaven! From this most 'delightful experience' of praying with these older folks, I would strongly encourage every younger person (including every young pastor) to 'team up' with one or two (or a dozen) 'old saints of God' – to pray and to read the Scriptures and to share joys and sorrows – in a 'cottage prayer group'!
Another 'means' by which you can effectively practice prayer is through your participation in your church's 'Prayer Chain'. The 'prayer chain' is for the purpose of informing all in your church 'family' as quickly as possible of urgent prayer requests. Each person in the 'prayer chain' is asked to make his call to the next person on the 'chain' as soon as possible. In a matter of a few minutes nearly all in your church family can be aware of prayer needs. If you are not actively involved in your church's 'prayer chain', I would encourage you to become a participant. If your church has no 'prayer chain', why not ask your pastor if you can be responsible for starting a 'chain'?
Just as breathing the air of the atmosphere is essential for physical life, so breathing from the celestial atmosphere of prayer is imperative to maintaining spiritual health. When breathing ceases, life is snuffed out! Spiritual life cannot long last without prayer!
Prayer is our privilege and our responsibility. It is our privilege because God has allowed man to help Him to carry out His purposes for this world. It is our responsibility because there is reason to believe that if we do not pray, God's will is thereby frustrated.
Says E. Stanley Jones: "Most of the casualties in the spiritual life are found at the place of a weakened prayer life. When the prayer life is toned up the whole of the rest of the life is toned up with it. Prayer is pivotal. I find I am better or worse as I pray more or less. If prayer fades, power fades. When I pray I'm like an electric bulb put into the socket, full of light and power. When I don't pray I'm like that same bulb pulled out of the socket – no light, no power. And it is as simple as that. And it works with a mathematical precision. In prayer our weakness is linked to Almightiness, our ignorance linked to Infinite Wisdom, our finite self to the Infinite Self. When every other way is closed, the way of prayer is open." (Christian Maturity; pg. 302)
In your 'practice' of prayer, it is helpful (and enjoyable) to use considerable 'variety'. For instance: (1) Getting on your knees in a specific place (great men in history had a special 'prayer closet' to get alone daily to commune with their God and to fervently intercede for the needs of 'lost persons'); (2) Sitting comfortable with eyes open, carrying on a normal conversation with God (one of the 'great prayer warriors' whom I knew, when I was a college student, was Dr. Mary Alice Tenney – a professor at Greenville College, Greenville, Illinois – who greatly enjoyed sitting on her couch and looking out the picture window of her house into the 'forest' in her back yard, while she communed in prayer with her Heavenly Father); (3) Walking and praying. For several months, when I was a young pastor, I daily walked around a block in my neighborhood three consecutive times, in the cool evening, praying while I walked. The three times reminded me of the great triune God. Each of the three blocks, I talked to one of the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Walking three times around the block also symbolically represented the bringing of the whole of myself (body, mind, spirit) to the whole of the triune God; (4) Riding or traveling in your car, 'practicing the presence of God' by visualizing God sitting in the seat with you, talking and communing with you; (5) Jogging in the early morning, and praying with relaxation as you jog (this has been a long-time and very 'profitable' experience for me, with physical and mental and spiritual benefits); (6) Writing out your prayers in a 'daily journal' or a diary (once a month or once each quarter have a 'half day of prayer and meditation' in the mountains or alone somewhere, reflecting on your diary entries and your written prayers); (7) Praying with the Scriptures using great portions such as Psalm 103, 111, 145 as the 'guides' for your praying and praising; (8) Using a book of written prayers occasionally (like the classic written prayers by Peter Marshall). The hymn book is an excellent source of written prayers that eloquently expresses the deep desires of your soul. Most mornings, during my 'personal devotions', I receive great encouragement and comfort from reading the poetry – hymns – written by Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts or another 'great hymn writer'; (9) Fasting and praying one or two meals a week; (10) Keeping a prayer notebook, and recording answers to your prayers.
These are only a few suggestions to add greater 'variety' to your prayer life, but there are many other ways by which you may develop creativity in your approach to the Almighty God! Use your own 'sanctified imagination'!
Exercising 'patience' is one of the 'challenges' in your work at developing an effective 'prayer life'. Learning to be patient as you learn to pray and to wait for tangible (visible) results is very important in the life of a person or in the corporate life of a church. One pastor comments: "Too many people start a disciplined devotional life thinking it's going to be a source of great joy from the beginning. That's not true. It often feels like drudgery, particularly at the start. The joy only comes slowly, in snatches. That which is worthwhile only comes slowly. It was Alexander Pope who said, 'Some people will never learn anything because they understand everything too soon.' If we are willing to take our time and be satisfied with truths slowly revealed as God unfolds them, we'll begin to see the fruits of the devotional life." (Leadership Magazine; Winter 1982; 'pages 37,38) Learning to pray might be likened unto learning to play the piano. Learning to pray, like learning to play the piano, may be slow at first, but the longer you persist in practice, the more skilled you will become and the more enjoyable the practice of praying will become. Remember, the test of effective praying is not how exhilarated you feel, but how well the insights gained through prayer are worked into your daily life. "If we have really exposed ourselves to the Word and come into contact with God, it will affect our daily life. And that is what we want." (Lorne Sanny)
There are 'problems' ('challenges') that any sincere believer will 'encounter' in his attempt to develop a mature 'prayer life'. One of many 'problems' is the problem of distractions of one's mind when he is attempting to pray. Notes Lorne Sanny concerning this common problem: "As outside things pop into your mind, 'simply incorporate those items into prayer. If it's some business item you must not forget, jot it down… It will be natural for things to occur to you during your prayer that you should have done, so put them down, pray about them and plan how you can take care of them and when. Don't just push them aside or they will plague you."
One 'aid' to help you to deal with this 'problem' of 'wandering thoughts' is to use a written prayer list. "Making a prayer-list is a means of grace in itself. Some people make a list to cover a month; others work on the week as a unit; nearly all these serious intercessors have a 'priority' list, which is constantly changing, for people in the most urgent need and for whom (during their period of acute necessity) they pray every day… Certainly we cannot use a prayer-list as though it were a telephone directory, and just run our eye down a list of names. Nor is it much better, I think to speak the names aloud, if it is all done at speed. There is more in it than that. Wait before God in the quietness. Recollect his presence, His power, and His love, Wait…" (Daily Readings; William Sangster; pg. 204)
Another one of the many 'problems ' (challenges') in learning to pray effectively is the problem of learning to wait quietly before God – especially in our modern society when there is a great 'premium' placed on quickness and speed, and when most people (by 'nature') are 'impatient'. It is hard for some Christians to understand, in our society
which is accustomed to receiving food quickly at our many 'fast food restaurants', why they should be 'required' to wait for answers to their prayers! But, learning to wait quietly before God is an absolute necessity if we are ever to develop skill in communication with God and to enjoy communion with the Divine One. How can you 'deal' with this problem of impatience? Perhaps to begin with: Pray short prayers more often rather than longer prayers only 'once in a while'. The point is this: Be consistent in talking to God daily regardless of the length of your talks with God. The more you talk to God, the more you will come to 'know' Him and the more you will come to rely upon Him. When that reliance upon God increases, your prayers will become more 'natural' and more 'frequent'.
Pray short 'flash prayers' throughout your entire-day. Practice saying a quick 'flash prayer' for everyone that you talk to. Practice having a 'short prayer in the home of everyone that you are with for any length of time, especially when you visit in the home of another Christian. Without becoming 'pious' or 'unnatural', make praying with your friends and family 'a way of life'. Be 'short' and 'natural' and 'joyous' in your 'on the spot' praying with your friends (especially with fellow believers). When someone asks you to pray for him (which is rather often), stop right there (if possible) and pray a short and specific prayer with that person about the request you have just received from your friend. Too often, we tell persons 'I will pray for that request' and then we 'forget' or 'neglect' to pray specifically for our friends' specific needs during our 'quiet time'.
Frank Laubach, the author of "Prayer, The Mightiest Force In The Word", notes that "everybody in every ordinary day has hundreds of chinks of idle wasted time which may be filled with 'flash prayers' ten seconds or a minute long." Laubach gives illustrations of such moments: Upon awakening in the morning; in the bath; dressing; walking down stairs; asking the blessing at table; leaving the house; riding or walking to work; waiting at the red lights; entering the elevator; between interviews; waiting for an appointment; preparing the lunch; falling asleep. And you can think of many other times when you can easily engage in 'flash praying'!
Why pray? For many reasons, but one of the most obvious reasons is because 'prayer works'. There is 'great power' in prayer. Prayer 'works' because prayer is the means by which a human being comes to know the Creator of the Universe more intimately! Said one wise soul: "The purpose of our life on earth is to know God." Mediate for a few moments on Isaiah 30:18 – "And therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you." Andrew Murray says about this amazing verse: "The vision of God waiting on us will give us new impulse and inspiration to our waiting on Him… If God waits for us, then we may be sure we are more than welcome; that God rejoices to find those he has been seeking." Just think about this truth – you are so important to God that He is waiting to have fellowship with you! The following is a 'letter from Jesus' (the 'product of some person's imagination' but 'very stirring' and 'revealing'):
I just had to send you a note to tell you how much I love you. I saw you talking to your friend yesterday, and I waited all day hoping that you would want to talk with me also. As evening drew near, I gave you a sunset to close your day and a cool breeze to rest you. I waited. You never did call on me. Oh, yes, it hurts; but I still love you.
I have many gifts for you. This morning you awakened late and rushed about your work with no thoughts of me, and my tears joined the rain. Today you looked sad. I wanted to touch you and let you know I was near, but I didn't.
It makes my heart ache to see you so sad. I understand what it is like when friends hurt you and let you down. My friends have done that many times. I will love you no matter what. If you would only stop long enough to listen to me when I speak to you.
I speak to you in the blue sky and the green grass. I whisper my love on the trees. I breathe my love in the scent of the flowers. I shout it in the mountain streams. I sing in the bird's song. I clothe you with the warmth of the sunshine, and I give perfume to scent the air you breathe. My love for you is deeper than the ocean and bigger than the biggest want or need. If only you knew how much I want to walk and talk with you. We could spend an eternity together in heaven. I know how difficult it is living in your world… I really do know.
I want you to meet my Father. He can help you. My Father is like that, you know. Please come and talk to me, anytime. I have so much to share with you. You are free to choose me. It is your decision. I have chosen you, and I will wait … because "I love you."
Prayer is powerful because prayer is the means of coming to know God more intimately. Also, prayer is powerful because prayer is a means of gaining strength to live faithfully in an ungodly world. One person noted that the first fruit he recognized as a result of his devotional life was "an improved ability to live increasingly untainted in a tainted world." Francis de Sales, a 'saint' from the distant past, called prayer the 'spiritual nosegay'. What is a 'nosegay'? A nosegay was a small bouquet of sweet-smelling flowers that ladies carried in the streets of seventeenth-century Europe so they could
stand the stench of the open sewers along the streets. So, spiritually-speaking, prayer becomes a means of living faithfully in a sewer-like world that reeks with the stench of evil and brokenness and wretchedness! Prayer makes life 'endurable' for the believer, and the result of prayer in the life of a believer is the aroma of Christlikeness which is spread as a believer is surrounded by the odor of sin.
Why pray? Because prayer 'works'. Prayer enables one to know God more intimately. Prayer enables one to remain 'sweet' with the fragrance of Christ's character amidst the corruption of a rotting and sinful world. Third, prayer 'works' as a God-given means of bringing about great spiritual changes in our world which desperately needs to be spiritually transformed! The Bible us filled with illustrations of God's transforming power, both in the lives of individuals and even in the corporate life of an entire nation! Several famous Biblical characters illustrate this truth: Abraham (Genesis 18:22-33). Moses (Exodus 32:11-14), Elijah (James 5:16-13). Think of the amazing power of prayer to change individuals, groups, and even nations! "Prayer prepares the way for revival, creating the atmosphere of intense desire and yieldedness of will in which the Holy Spirit can work. Prayer loosens the grip of the Evil One on enslaved wills and darkened minds and seared consciences. Prayer whets the appetite of the believer for greater spiritual blessings. Prayer brings about a unity of mind and heart and purpose among Christians, until petty jealousies and selfish desires are forgotten, and the one consuming desire in the church is that God may be glorified in the salvation of souls. In every great spiritual awakening in the history of the church, importunate, believing prayer has paved the way for revival, and has drawn down the power of God to human need." (Fred Hoffman)
I do not recall the 'source' from which I received the following account which illustrates this latter 'point' (on the power of prayer to transform individuals and groups). In 1857, a layman by the name of Jeremiah Lanphier had a great concern for people in his New York City neighborhood and he began a prayer meeting at noon in his church. The first day he met, he waited for one-half hour before six persons finally showed up at his 'prayer meeting'. The next week 20 people came to pray for the entire hour, and the third week 40 people prayed for the hour. The group decided to pray daily rather than weekly, and the number of people that responded to the call of prayer grew so fast that other churches began to announce noon prayer meetings. Because the churches finally could not accommodate the crowds, the police and fire departments threw open their buildings for prayer services. Finally theater buildings began to open for prayer meetings. On the opening day, one theater with a seating capacity of 3000 was filled and the overflow crowd gathered in the barroom. It is reported that the convicting power of the Holy Spirit was not only present in the regular prayer meetings, but pervaded the total life of the city. Women found Christ in their parlors; and a conductor on a New York horse-car was converted in his car; whole families of Jews were led to see Christ as their Messiah; the most hardened infidels were melted by the Spirit's power, and led to the cross. It is estimated that at least 50,000 were converted in New York City alone,
as a result of this prayer revival. The revival spread to other cities where noon prayer meetings were held daily. During the twenty-four-month period following the first outbreak of the Revival late in 1857, it is calculated that there were more than 1,000,000 converts!
One of the most sacred experiences of my life (as a child and a youth) was with my mother in prayer – kneeling by her at the side of her bed, or kneeling at the living room couch. My mother loved to pray, and she liked the posture of kneeling (symbolizing humility and dependence upon God). Shortly after my 94 year-old mother, Helen Irene Christian, died on March 2, 2000, the following description appeared in her obituary (which was printed in three 'city newspapers'): "Mrs. Christian, a life-time member of the Free Methodist Church, was an active and committed Christian her entire life. She was known to her family and friends as 'The Prayer Warrior'. Much of her time was devoted to prayer, Bible study – and to serving others, both young and old." To commemorate her life as a "Prayer Warrior", our friends (shortly after her funeral) gave us a plant which is called "The Prayer Plant".
"When Dr. Bacchus of Hamilton College was dying, his doctor came into the room and gave him a brief examination. Then the doctor conferred quietly and seriously with friends standing in the doorway. 'What did the doctor say?' asked Dr. Bacchus. 'He said, sir, that you cannot live more than one-half hour.' 'Then take me out of bed and place me on my knees!' he pleaded. 'Let me spend the time in prayer for this sinful world.' Moments later, Dr. Bacchus passed from bended knee to Paradise." (How You Can Pray With Power and Get Results; Lowell Lundstrom; pg. 53)
FOR VICTORIOUS FAITH
O for a faith that will not shrink, Though pressed by every foe, That will not tremble on the brink Of any earthly woe;
That will not murmur or complain Beneath the chastening rod, But, in the hour of grief or pain, Will lean upon its God;
A faith that shines more bright and clear When tempests rage without; That when in danger knows no fear, In darkness feels no doubt;
That bears, unmoved, the world's dread frown, Nor heeds its scornful smile; That seas of trouble cannot drown, Nor Satan's arts beguile;
A faith that keeps the narrow way Till life's last hour is fled, And with a pure and heavenly ray Illumes a dying bed.
Lord, give us such a faith as this, And then, what'er may come, We'll taste, e'en here, the hallowed bliss Of an eternal home.