“Missionaries Credit Prayer With Saving Their Lives.” So read the headline in a state Baptist newspaper some years ago. The story is fascinating:
Ruth Nolen couldn’t get Ed and Linda Ables out of her mind. Ruth and her husband, Steve, are Southern Baptist missionaries in Mendosa, Argentina, 600 miles west of Buenos Aires, where the Ableses are missionaries.
Ruth felt such an impression to pray for the Ableses that she kept trying to call, starting at 10:30 that night, but failing to get through.
Tragically, her fears were well-founded. When Ruth finally reached another missionary in the area, she learned Ed and Linda were in a hospital emergency room being treated for wounds and bruises from a robbery and beatings in their home.
“At the same time that Ruth was praying for us, one of the robbers had cocked a pistol, put it to my head and snapped the trigger,” said Ed about the June 15 attack in which he was hit in the head at least a dozen times and in which Linda was struck on the head and in the face.
He figured the gun used by the robbers was empty but police later told him a person could not pull the trigger on such a gun unless it had shells in it. In fact, the gun simply misfired.
Let me ask you two questions on the basis of that story. Really think these through before answering them.
- Do you believe that story is true?
- Do you consistently and fervently pray every day?
I will go out on a limb and guess that for many of us the answer to the first question is “yes” and the answer to the second question is “no.” Meaning, we believe in prayer and the power of prayer but we do not pray as we should. What that means is, of course, that our belief in prayer is largely theoretical and not practical. At least, it is not our practice. If the answer to the two questions is “yes” and “no,” respectively, may I ask a third question? It is this: Why?
Brothers and sisters, if we truly believe that prayer is a privilege, a commandment, and is powerful, why do we not pray? The third line of our third section of our church covenant reflects a corporate commitment to fervent prayer.
As a body of born again believers,
We covenant to become an authentic family by
loving one another as Christ loves us,
praying for one another,
speaking truth to one another in love,
being patient with one another,
protecting one another,
considering one another as more important than ourselves.
We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by
studying God’s Word faithfully,
learning the gospel together in family worship,
giving ear only to sound doctrine,
living out the gospel in our lives,
embracing the whole counsel of God.
We covenant to bring glory to God by,
gathering for worship faithfully,
singing to the glory of God,
joining together in fervent prayer
In his 1972 article, “A Theology of Prayer,” Baptist theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. wrote the following:
The relative values of liturgical and spontaneous prayer and of verbal and silent prayer have been debated among Christian communions and in various epochs. Nevertheless, as Nels F. S. Ferré has written, “The history of the Christian Church is, more than we know, the history of believing prayer.”
O, where are kings and empires now,
Of old that went and came?
But Lord, thy church is praying yet,
A thousand years the same.
My prayer for us is that we would realize this great fact (i.e., that the history of the church is the history of believing prayer) and that we would live out this truth (i.e., “the church is praying yet”).
Prayer should be the predominant characteristic of God’s assembled people!
When Jesus cleansed the temple he made a comment that forever prioritized prayer as the predominant characteristic of the church’s life. We read of this in Matthew 21.
12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
The great tragedy of the money-changers and merchants in the temple was not merely what they were doing. It was also what they were neglecting, or the way that what they were doing was causing other people to neglect this thing. This disrupted thing, this neglected thing was prayer. Jesus highlighted both aspects of the tragedy. They had (a) made God’s house a den of robbers and (b) kept it from being a house of prayer. In saying this, Jesus quoted both Jeremiah 7:11 (“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.”) Isaiah 56:7c (“for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”).
Is it not noteworthy that the Lord said His house was to be a house of prayer. Prayer should be the predominant characteristic of God’s assembled people! He did not say that His house was to be a house of preaching, a house of giving, a house of serving, or a house of singing. Of course, scripture says all of this elsewhere and all of those are vitally important and necessary! But when Jesus sought to rebuke those who had distorted the true worship of God, He reminded them that God’s house is to be a house of prayer.
In Acts 2 we see that this devotion to prayer was understood and picked up by the early band of believers.
42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The early church was “devoted” to prayer. The Lord Jesus announced that God’s house was to be a “house of prayer.” The early church carried their commitment into their corporate gatherings. On this basis, how can we neglect this gift?
There is power in prayer!
What is more, scripture is filled with evidences of the power of prayer!
In Acts 4, God visits the early church with power as they pray!
31And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
In Acts 9, the Lord brings Dorcas (Tabitha) back to life as Peter prays!
40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.
In 2 Corinthians 1 we see Paul asking the Corinthian believers to help the early apostles by praying for them and says that the prayers of the church will lead many to give thanks as they observe the effects of the church’s prayers on the apostles.
11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
In 1 Thessalonians 5 we find a short, blunt appeal for prayer from Paul.
25 Brothers, pray for us.
In 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul tells the church of Thessalonica that their prayers will help spread the gospel in the world!
1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you
James, in James 5, twice speaks of the power of prayer, first in terms of healing the sick and secondly in terms of spiritual healing.
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
And these are only New Testament examples! Over and over and over again, from Genesis to Revelation, we find the same basic message about prayer: prayer is powerful! Prayer has God-ordained power! God heals through the prayer of faith! God blesses through the prayer of faith! God moves the gospel forward in the world through the prayer of faith! Prayer is powerful! Why would we neglect it?
The command of Jesus and the power of prayer should lead to intensity in our prayers!
This consideration of the command of Jesus, the example of the early church, and the scriptural evidence for the power of prayer helps us to understand how we should pray: we should pray with intensity and focus and resolve. We can see this kind of earnestness in the prayers of the New Testament saints. For instance, in Acts 12, Luke describes the kind of prayer that church offered up for imprisoned Peter:
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Earnest prayer! There was nothing casual or flippant or occasional or timid or relaxed or happenstance about this prayer. No, it was earnestprayer, focused prayer, intense prayer.
In Romans 12 Paul sounds another note concerning the quality and nature of our prayers:
12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Constancy! Determination! Consistency! Resolve! Do not stop praying! Do not give up praying! Pray with all of your might and do not stop!
In Romans 15 Paul introduces another descriptor for prayer:
30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf
We should “strive together.” There is a holy struggle about prayer! A similar image is offered in Colossians 4.
12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.
We should, like Jacob, wrestle with the angel, properly understood. We should pray with such earnestness that we refuse to let go until we have been blessed. I am not speaking here of presumption and entitlement. I am speaking rather of the assumption on the part of the child of God that God wantsto answer, that God wantsto bless, that God wantsto heal! If He does not, it will be made clear, but strive is to assume a yesuntil a nois given.
We are encouraged by Paul in Colossians 4 to three more qualities in prayer:
2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
The first is steadfastness, the second is watchfulness, and the third is thankfulness. Perhaps we might also say that this is a call for constancy, vigilance, and gratitudein prayer. We are to pray, then, with our convictions firm, our eyes open, and hearts rejoicing in the goodness of God!
The call for steadfastness in prayer is echoed again by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:
17 pray without ceasing
And, again, we see the call for urgency in 1 Timothy 2:
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people
Paul urgedTimothy to lead the church to pray! The picture that emerges from a careful consideration of the New Testament teaching on prayer is one of resolute, unyielding intensity. It is no small thing to pray, for prayer is no small thing. The quality of our prayers should honor the seriousness and the power of prayer itself. Martin Luther, in writing to his barber on prayer, cautioned against a lax attitude toward prayer.
Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.
No, do not wait to pray! Do not delay your prayers! Pray with intensity and pray now! Pray that the God of Heaven would advance His word in the world, protect and bless His people, heal the sick, convict the rebellious, strengthen the weak, and keep our eyes focused on Christ. Pray, Church! Pray!
Prayer is an offering to God!
After all, prayer is an offering to God. This becomes abundantly evident particularly in the book of Revelation. Consider these images of prayer for Revelation:
8And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
3And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
I ask you: if the “golden bowls full of incense” are “the prayers of the saints,” and if the incense of the “golden censer” is offered “with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne,” how great, based on the current state of your prayer life, will your offering of prayer to God be? How aromatic will the incense be? How pleasing will the offering be? How big will the bowl be that holds your prayers?
What a great honor it is to pray! To pray is to make an offering to Almighty God before His throne of majesty. Theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. has written:
Prayer is imperative for the Christian, for prayerlessness is the taproot of the Christian’s sins and failures, and praying brings the believer into God’s presence. It is at once privilege and duty, at once from God and by man. Prayer necessitates, as Hallesby contends, a veritable wrestling with God. Forsyth has affirmed that “it is truer to say that we live the Christian life in order to pray than that we pray in order to live the Christian life.”
What an amazing thought: “it is truer to say that we live the Christian life in order to pray than that we pray in order to live the Christian life.” We never think of prayer like this, or rarely. This is because we have conceived of prayer in utilitarian terms, as a means to an end, as a way of getting something we want or think we need. But what if prayer itself is the end? If prayer is communion with God, then surely this must be so. Prayer is a gift! Prayer is a privilege! For in prayer, we communicate, in the name of King Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the Lord God Almighty!
“Missionaries Credit Prayer with Saving Their Lives,” Baptist Messenger (September 2, 1993): 5. Quoted by Dan Crawford, Prayer-Shaped Disciple. (), p.12.
James Leo Garrett Jr., “A Theology of Prayer.” Southwestern Journal of Theology. 15(1972), p.14.
Martin Luther. A Simple Way to Pray. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), p.18.
James Leo Garrett Jr., “Prayer.” Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists. Vol.2 (Nashville, TN: Broadman), p.1102-1103.