A.W. Tozer, in his introduction to his book “Born after midnight”, wrote, “To speak to God on behalf of men is probably the highest service any of us can render. The next is to speak to men in the name of God. Either is a privilege possible to us only through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
I have been a Christian for four decades and during that time, I have experienced many highs and lows in the exercise of prayer, both individual and corporate.
Jesus’ teaching about prayer, as well as the example and content of his prayers, is never far from my mind. “And when you pray…Pray then like this” Matthew 6: 5, 6, 7, 9. “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” Matthew 9: 37,38. “The children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray” Matthew 19:13. “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12; and how many of us have marvelled at the staggering insight we are given into prayer in the intimacy of John 17?
The Apostle Paul recognised the priority of prayer; and as we seek in A Passion for Life to mobilise our churches to make known the good news of the gospel, we find encouragement in the prayers Paul himself offered up, as well as the regular requests he made for the churches to pray for the work of the gospel. Being an avid reader, Luther, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Wesley, Bunyan, Muller, and Brainerd have all challenged my prayer life; and I am thankful for the exhortation of Coleridge who acknowledges that for us to pray with all our heart, strength and mind is the last, the greatest achievement of the Christian’s warfare upon earth!
Encounter with Prayer
I came to faith in the context of a prayer meeting. Salvation was not what I had planned that evening and as for prayer meetings, I had never been to one in my life. In my late teens, and in pursuit of the opposite sex, I found myself in a youth group, where following someone’s preaching on John 10:10, I came under what was, I realised later, a real conviction of sin.
The invitation at the end of this particular gathering was not to raise a hand and go forward, nor to enter some enquirer’s room, but that there would be a prayer meeting. If you wanted to stay you could; and if you did not want to stay, you were free to leave. I stayed and, having exhausted the paucity of reading materials on the walls of an unattractive church hall, I began to watch and listen to people as they prayed. The impact was profound and life-changing, for at that point I did not know and had never encountered the God they were engaging with in prayer. However the knowledge and understanding of the shepherd who had laid down his life for his sheep would soon fill my heart with the fullness of life that he promised.
Fast forward some years, and many prayer meetings later, some of them inspiring and many of them not, I still find myself longing to make more time for prayer both in private and amongst the people of God. When I was training for the ministry at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow in the mid ‘80s, I encountered someone I would truly call a man of earnest prayer.
He was a very unassuming South Korean with a terrible sense of fashion and he was speaking one morning at College worship, where we all dutifully took turns to encourage one another. I was sitting among the colour-coordinated, culturally-relevant, we-have-it-all-together types, (thank you for your grace, Lord!) as JJ started his message.
He spoke of the way in which God had graciously blessed him with a fruitful ministry in his homeland and of how many of the Pastors would ask him to share his secret with them. JJ would tell them, “I do not have a secret, I prepare, I pray, and I deliver the gospel and people come to faith.” “No, No JJ,” they replied, “we all do that, what is your secret?” JJ, a little bit frustrated, replied, “I don’t have a secret, I prepare, I pray, I deliver the gospel and people come to faith.” They replied, short in patience, “No, NO, JJ we all do that, what do you do that we do not do?” It went on like this for some time until JJ concluded his message at the peak of his frustration by saying, “I don’t have a secret, I prepare my message and then on Friday evening, I pray all evening and then I get up and pray all day Saturday and on Sunday I preach, and God draws people to himself in salvation!”
It was not about measuring the hours; it was the earnestness, the belief, the conviction that prayer changes everything.
Prior to being in pastoral ministry I served as an itinerant evangelist, preaching the gospel in many different settings. Many years ago in a University setting in Aberdeen, as part of a University mission, I was able to witness and participate with a group of students who had caught a vision for prayer and evangelism. It was a fruitful mission, but what I remember most was the hunger for God, the compassion for the lost and the earnest cries that these students were making in prayer.
In another setting, as I led a team of young people to serve the church in Uganda, one of the team, a young teenage girl was beside herself in tears. As my fellow leader and I made enquiries, thinking she was homesick or something, she turned and said through her tears, “Can you tell me why here in Uganda, we pray in the morning and by the evening we are giving thanks to God for the answer, and at home we don’t even know what to ask?” Good question! There was something about the context that gave our prayers an earnest dependence upon God.
We all have our prayer stories and as we journey together, I might share a few more. Or better still, how about we allow God to write a few more on our hearts? As we partner together in A Passion for Life, as we encourage one another to develop a culture of mission in our churches, as we train and equip our people to make Jesus known, may prayer, which Simon Barrington-Ward described as “that apparently useless activity, without which all activities are useless,” play a pivotal part.
“Let us Pray”
Don Carson in his book, “A Call to Spiritual Reformation,” says simply, “Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray”. Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, gave thanks for their partnership in the gospel, their partnership in grace and their partnership in prayer. As we partner together in A Passion for Life, may we make plans, individually and corporately, to respond positively to the simple yet profound invitation, “Let us Pray”. To join in prayer with brothers and sisters around the UK and Ireland, take a look here.