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A REVIVAL OF PRAYER NEEDED
“The prayers of the saints . . fire . . cast into the earth”(Rev.8v3-5)
“Ye have not, because ye ask not . .”( James 4 v2)
If there were a revival of prayer among the children of God, there would soon be a “revival” of blessing in the world outside the Church. We understand very little about intelligent prayer. It is opening out to many as a very definite work, as much as a “work”of preaching. Turn then to James 5 v16 RV, “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working”.
There is a work accomplished by prayer, but it must be the “supplication of a righteous man!” Not only righteous by imputed righteousness, but righteous in his attitude to sin, and in the personal life. This is an absolute condition for the prayer that works! The one who prays must live in personal victory. The first question therefore is: if you want to understand and to know prevailing prayer, are you living in personal victory? Do you want to live in personal victory? Are you determined to live in personal victory? There are many who talk about victory who are not willing to fulfil the conditions of victory.
HOW ELIJAH PRAYED
Now observe how prayer worked in the example mentioned by James. The Apostle refers to Elijah and says: “Elijah was a man of like nature with us”, and then proceeds to show the effects of his prayer. As much as to say, what is possible to Elijah is possible to you. “He prayed fervently that it might not rain; and it rained not.” This man had power to close the heavens, yet he was a man of ‘like nature with us’. The working of his prayer was such, that when he prayed that the heavens should not give rain, there was no rain.
To be able to pray so that the heavens close over a whole country is “work” indeed; we have not understood the possibilities of this work of prayer. Prayer to many is something to be done when there is a bit of free time, and even then but rarely. But prayer is a definite work, greater and vaster in its issues, and greater than any other service to be done on the earth, if the soul understood how to pray.
Elijah - a man of like nature with us - could thus pray, and accomplish such work by his prayer, that he could touch a whole country.
What we need is our minds open to the possibilities of such prayer, and to set ourselves to know God, so that we could pray like Elijah. Here is a tremendous possibility to any believer willing to learn. If you could learn to know God, so as to know the mind of God when God wanted such and such a thing done, you could pray like Elijah. Elijah both knew God, and he knew the will of God so as to pray the prayer that worked for Israel. You, too, could touch the whole country, yea, the whole world in the same way, if you knew God’s will; for prayer according to the will of God “availeth much in its working”.
BINDING AND LOOSING PRAYER
There are two aspects of prayer mentioned by James in connection with Elijah, to which Christ made reference when He was on earth, i.e. the binding and loosing of things on earth by prayer (Matt. 18 vI8). Elijah closed the heavens, and he opened the heavens. Speaking of this power of prayer, the Lord Jesus said, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. The context clearly shows this to be the binding and loosing of prayer, for the Lord went on to say, “If two of you agree . . . it shall be done”.
We have come to the point now in service, where as workers for God we must get to a place of knowing God, and knowing this kind of prayer. We have not yet reached the prayer-point that will meet today’s need. “He prayed that the heavens should not give rain, and it rained not for three years.” Then, simply it is said, “And he prayed again, and THE HEAVENS GAVE RAIN. This is all that James says about such a tremendous thing. He does not say, “What a wonderful Elijah!” There is no excess of language in the Bible, but sober statements, with no exaggeration, but a calm, majestic omnipotence. When God does vast things, He does them quietly, just as He did in answer to the one who “prayed, and the heavens were opened, and gave forth rain”.
From this brief glimpse of Elijah, let us look at another picture of this work of prayer, or rather, the prayer that “works”. Let us glance at Moses, and his “binding and loosing” work in Exodus 16. Israel was in desperate need of water, and in that need they began to reproach Moses, saying, “Moses brought us out of Egypt, now let him give us water”. Moses just went to God. “He cried to the Lord” for the needs of the people, and then the Lord told him what to do. He was to go to a certain rock, and then “I will stand before thee there. . . thou shalt smite the rock and there shall come water out of it” (v 6). Moses did it, and there was water. In this aspect of prayer to meet the people’s need, note especially Moses’ cry, and God’s response.
THE LIFTED HANDS OF MOSES
But in the same chapter we have another aspect of prayer altogether. Amalek came against Israel in an attack. Moses did not “cry” to the Lord then, for he knew what to do. Taking the rod of God he would stand on the top of the hill, and lift up his hands (v 9-I5), whilst Joshua went to the valley to fight the foe. When Moses’ hands went down, Amalek prevailed, and when he kept them up Israel prevailed. What was Moses doing? Surely lifting his hands against the unseen foe at the back of Amalek attacking the people of God.
To understand this you must remember that the Bible says clearly that God dealt with all these nations in such judgment, because He had a war with the gods they worshipped. All through the Scriptures we are shown that idolatry is demon worship (see especially I Cor. 10 v 19-20) . At the back of the gods of the Canaanites lay the satanic forces, as to-day in every land where idols are worshipped.
When the idolatrous heathen attacked Israel, Moses did not “cry” unto the Lord, but stood on the hillside, and lifted the rod representing the power of God against the supernatural powers behind Amalek (see Eph. 6 v 10).
Here then are two aspects of prayer illustrated in these incidents - the aspect of supplication, in Moses going to God, and pleading for the people, “Lord, give them water!” and the other of standing with God against the foe, when he took the attitude of uplifted hands. In the former God shows him what to do to get water, but there is a change of attitude altogether when conflict comes. Then he sought the hillside, and lifted his hands.
We might say: “Moses, why don't you go and fight in the valley?” But he would reply: “I am fighting - Joshua is dealing with flesh and blood down there, but I am dealing with something else up here. I have the rod of God in my hand. And in that position of unbroken resistance, Moses had to remain until victory was complete. It was not such easy work as his work of supplications for it meant prolonged suffering until the victory was gained. At the end of the chapter the key to Moses’ action is given in the words, “The Lord is my banner!” In lifting his hands with the rod of God, Moses was lifting a banner against the unseen foes.
It is a striking picture of the two aspects of the work of prayer. In Elijah you see the binding and loosing power of his prayer for a whole land, and in Moses you see the “binding” of the enemy’s power, and the loosing of water for the needs of the Lord’s people.
THE PRAYER AT PENTECOST
If we turn again to the Church at Pentecost, and to the Apostles’ attitude to prayer, we shall see how to them prayer was a work. There came trouble to that Spirit-filled Church, and in the midst of it the Apostle said: “we will give ourselves to” putting this matter straight? No. But “we will give ourselves to PRAYER, and to the ministry of the Word”.
The early Church knew how to pray. They knew how to open the prison doors for Peter. They did not go with a petition to Herod, but betook themselves to “instant and earnest prayer”. That was praying that “worked” just as effectively as with Elijah and Moses. Here are the Apostles - men baptised with the Holy Ghost - saying, “we will give ourselves to prayer”. Is this the order of “work” in our lives?
We are responsible for the things over which we have not prayed. We think too often that “prayer” means half-an-hour in the morning, special risings, hours, places - even prayer-meetings where half the people go to get right with God, or go mainly for their own personal needs. Would Elijah have had that mighty, effective prayer, if he had all the time to be going to as “prayer” simply for his own personal growth? No wonder we do not understand that prayer is a work, and that every prayer should accomplish something.
We have seen the work of prayer by Elijah for a whole country, and the work of prayer in Moses for the chosen nation; now let us take the example of Paul in his work of prayer for the Churches, and individual believers. first, see how Paul himself craved the prayers of the saints he addressed, although he was a man baptised with the Holy Ghost. He knew God, and yet almost with tears he pleads that God's children should join him in his intercessory life, and share with him in his service and conflict. Have we not left the pulpit unprotected by prayer? How much do you pray for your minister? How much have you prayed for the man in the pulpit, side-tracked by the doctrines of demons of to-day? We are responsible even for the things we grieve over in the Church, because we have not watched unto prayer. It has not dawned upon many of us that we must pray for all saints, and all God’s people; and that specially every man in an exposed position should be the subject of our persistent prayer.
HOW PAUL PRAYED
See how Paul prayed for the Churches, so strenuously in the midst of his strenuous life. His epistles are saturated with prayer. Take Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians, for the Philippians, and other believers, and if you want to know how to pray in the will of God for others, pray those prayers. You are always safe in offering them for every child of God you know. It must be better to pray those prayers than any words of your own. You will be safe to ask in the will of God then, for the will of God is in them.
Observe also what Paul asks on his own behalf, and you will see how Paul’s needs touch the needs of the servants of God to-day. Oh, that God would give a deep knowledge to you of this work of prayer. There is not a single one of you that cannot give yourself to God for this. How are you to get time? Time? Why, all day long. You say you could never do it, for you have work to do. But think of the empty moments that could be occupied with prayer, and turned into golden treasure for the Church of Christ.
Briefly, what did Paul ask for himself? Romans 15 v30, “I beseech you, brethren, by the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of the Spirit, that ye STRIVE TOGETHER WITH ME in your prayers to God for me”. Now here was a definite co-working with Paul and the saints in the prayer for himself. He said “Strive with me”.
Do you know how to “strive” for another in prayer? If two people pray, and one is intense, with deep purpose towards God, and the other is just as weak as the other is intense, without purpose, without intensity, then there is no “striving together”. Do you know the way to “strive together” in this united prayer?
PRAYER FOR PAUL
Notice, too, what he prayed for. “Pray”, he said “for me, that I may be delivered”. What, Paul? Yes. “Delivered from the disobedient!” Yes, pray for God’s messengers that they may be delivered from opposition and difficulty in their service. It ought to mean that all evangelists go out to work with a mighty, gripping, strong prayer-force behind them. This is the matter with the Church: lack of prayer - lack of the work of prayer - lack of definiteness in prayer.
Paul said, “Pray that my ministry may be acceptable”. Have you ever prayed that the ministry of God’s servants might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost? Yes, pray that they may never go outside of the will of God; pray that they may be delivered; for every bit of evangelistic work that is done today is done in the teeth of opposition, as much as in the days of Paul.
In 2Corinthians 1, you will find another aspect of Paul’s need of prayer. There was some great trouble in his work in Asia, and he was “pressed down”, so that he “despaired even of life”. He had the “answer from God” that it was a “death” experience, so that he should not trust in himself; but he needed prayer. I tell you, when a man in God’s service is going through this experience he needs other souls to stand with him. Paul needed it. “I despaired even of life”, he said, but God “delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver; ye also helping together on our behalf by your supplication”.
There were prayers behind Paul. Possibly Paul did not know one half of what God was doing with him for His Church.
He lived his life in pressure, conflict, suffering, and service; hardly dreaming what God was doing for the whole Church of Christ through him.
Mighty man of God as Paul was, he was asking for the support of others’ prayers. If the mighty Apostle of the Gentiles needed this ceaseless striving together with him, in all the places that he went to with God’s message, what about God’s servants now? Oh servants of God, you are not independent of prayer. It does not matter how much God may have used you in the past, and how much you may know the Holy Ghost, and His power working through you, you still need the prayers of others for you.
PRAYER FOR OPEN DOORS
Paul needed prayers for open doors. Paul? “Continuing steadfastly in prayer, withal praying for us also, that God may open unto us a door for the Word, to speak the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4 v3). Only God can open doors for the pure truth of the Word, and at the present stage of the Church’s history, the intense opposition of the powers of darkness is such that there will not be an open door for the Gospel without prayer to open it. Every single step that is to be taken now is only possible by the work of prayer. Are the doors shut? Open them by prayer. “That God will open a door of utterance for us.”
But anybody would have had Paul to preach, surely! All the doors must have been open to him! No, he was turned out of them as often as the devil could drive him through them. Every single step of Paul’s path was only possible by the work of prayer. On every side to-day there is a report of a famine of the Word of God. On every side doors are shut. The devil is closing them everywhere. It seems almost impossible to hold the ground. Place after place is closed, in fact, it is getting to that point in Great Britain where the enemy is so holding the ground, that doors are only going to be opened by the work of prayer. Not a single door will be opened to preach the Gospel unless you put there a driving power of prayer to open that door.
PRAYER THAT THE WORD SHOULD RUN
In 2Thessalonians 3 v1-3, Paul wrote again: “Praying that the word may run, and be glorified”. On the one hand prayer is to open the door, and on the other, prayer is to make the “word run”; prayer to deliver the messenger, prayer to make the ministration acceptable, prayer to be delivered from unreasonable men; prayer, prayer, prayer; the work of prayer. It is not more power that we are needing, but more definite prayer - prayer focussed on the right points. We have been vaguely praying: “Oh, Lord, send down Thy Spirit!” instead of taking trouble to find out need, and pray on the need itself.
We need to understand definite prayer to God to open doors, and to make the word run; the driving power of prayer. But for that we must also understand the hindrances. Our lack of being able to pray the kind of prayer that works, is that we do not pray on the right points. For instance, if we pray for something that is not in existence, of course the prayer will not “work”. You must see that the thing is needed, so as to focus prayer on to it; if the door is opened, you need not pray for it to be opened.
Here is where intelligence in prayer comes in, and where learning to know God comes in. Yes - and something more - the need of knowing the enemy who hinders. Every step that Paul took was in the teeth of the enemy. He was dogged right through the whole of his life after his conversion, with opposition before him, and men spoiling his work behind him. Read the life of Paul on its earthward side and you will discover that Paul did not have an easy time of it; but he had victory right along the line. If a minister today does not know how to pray the prayer that works, and have others to strive together with him in prayer, then he is forced to turn to worldly methods to reach the people, and especially in the obtaining of the necessary funds. There is money for worldly things, and no lack of it for the dissemination of error, but no money for the preaching of the Cross, and for a man with nothing but the true message of God. Satan is the hinderer at the back, and we must bind him by prayer, and loose the money for the work of God wherever there is the faithful preaching of the Calvary Message.
Turn to the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and see how wonderfully the Apostle depicts the conflict and the victory of prayer through the uplifted hands of the armour-clad prayer-warrior.
“Ours is not a conflict”, he writes, “with mere flesh and blood, but with the despotisms, the empires, the forces that control and govern this dark world - the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare” (Eph. 6 v12). On the hilltop of the “heavenly places” the prayer-warrior is called to stand, and, clad in heavenly armour, to “take” in his hand the “sword of the Spirit”, which is “the Word of God”.
“You can work without praying, but it is a bad plan; but you cannot pray in earnest without working.” J Hudson Taylor.