The Bible’s Strong Emphasis on Prayer
The Power of Prayer
Keys to Effectual Prayer
The Practicality of Prayer
A Praying Church
The discipling church that will be standing until Christ comes is a praying church.
Actually, we could have started these studies by emphasizing the importance of prayer, because prayer is the spiritual dynamo of a church.
The Bible’s Strong Emphasis on Prayer
Prayer is mentioned at least 415 times in Bible, 129 times in the New Testament.
The great saints in the Bible were praying people (e.g., Enoch, Abraham, Hannah, David, Jeremiah, Daniel, Nehemiah, Paul, Lydia).
Prayer is one of the four foundational characteristics of the first church in Jerusalem (“they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and breaking bread and prayer,” Acts 2:42).
Prayer is to be first of all (1 Ti. 2:1-2).
Prayer was a major emphasis of Christ’s teaching (e.g., Mt. 6:5-13; 7:7-11)
The apostle Paul mentioned prayer 25 times in his epistles.
James said that effectual fervent prayer availeth much (Jam. 5:16).
John and Jude mentioned prayer.
Nothing is more important in the Christian life and ministry than prayer.
The Power of Prayer
God invites us to pray; He exhorts us to pray; He commands us to pray. Surely He wants to answer. I expect the Lord to answer unless He shows me it is not His will to answer that particular prayer.
Prayer changes things. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
Elijah’s prayer stopped the rain in Israel for three years (Jas. 5:17).
Moses’ intercessory prayer for Israel changed the course of history (Ex. 32:7-14).
Through prayer, we have seen people healed of sicknesses. When I was in intensive care with acute pancreatitis in 2014, my vital signs and organs were deteriorating quickly. The first four days was a fog of pain and misery. I was taken off of all food and liquids and fed only through an IV. I could only breathe with the assistance of oxygen. The doctors said they had done all they could, but I wasn’t improving. But as soon as we sent out a notice and began receiving word that people were praying, I began to heal. We received calls and emails from 1,000 people in 37 countries. When I was still on oxygen, some men in the church gathered around my bed and prayed, and within 15 minutes my oximeter reading went from 60 to above 90 and I could breathe normally without supplementary oxygen. The next day I walked out of the hospital.
Through prayer we have seen people delivered from demons. One young man was learning about the gospel when he decided to attend a charismatic church. When the people prayed for him, he became demon possessed! On a bus ride afterwards, he forced the passengers to shout praises to Jesus, warning that if they didn’t participate, he would kill them. Through prayer he was delivered of the demons and called on the Lord to save him. He attended Bible School and became a preacher.
Through prayer, the Maoist insurgency in Nepal was turned back. The insurgency gained strength year by year, from 1996-2006, and the Maoists vowed to turn Nepal into a communist state. More than 19,000 people died in the fighting and terrorism. They vowed to close the churches and turn the public schools into a Maoist indoctrination system. There was nothing to stop them. The king was overthrown; the army was powerless to stop the Maoist advance; the political parties were inept and hopelessly divided in the face of the threat. Nothing but earnest, believing prayer can explain the fact that the Maoists gave up their goal and joined the political process within a democratic system. Recently the former leader of the violent insurgency said the country must make progress “by development, not by revolution.” That is a major answer to prayer.
The Neglect of Prayer
In spite of the emphasis on prayer in Scripture, we are witnessing a dearth of prayer in the typical Bible-believing church. There is a lot of entertainment and lots of activities, but not a lot of serious prayer.
“I reviewed my consultation notes of dozens of churches I visited over the past few years. Most of them were in a slow decline. Perhaps more than any single factor, the absence of dynamic corporate prayer ministries was the contrasting element. I could not find one declining church that had an ongoing prayer ministry specifically for the lost. Perhaps these dying churches have not because they ask not” (Thom Rainer, Effective Evangelistic Churches, p. 77).
Recently I attended a mid-week prayer meeting at an Independent Baptist church, and the prayer time consisted of four minutes of silent prayer.
An evangelist friend wrote as follows of a recent experience: “We were in one church this year for prayer meeting. When they divided for prayer, my wife and I knelt to pray. Within 2-3 minutes, the auditorium became quiet. I looked up and everyone was talking in the back of the church. SAD!”
I asked a friend who attends one of the stronger independent Baptist churches in the South if he sees a lot of praying going on. He replied, “No. None at all.”
Even when a church has serious prayer meetings, it is typical that most of the people don’t care enough for spiritual things to attend.
We must double down on prayer, but it must be biblical prayer.
Some churches are participating in ecumenical prayer, joining hands with various types of churches to “bring America back to God,” but God requires oneness of belief (1 Co. 1:10). Biblical prayer is not ecumenical.
Keys to Effectual Prayer
My maternal grandmother was a prayer warrior, and her prayers were doubtless instrumental in my dramatic conversion at age 23. She taught me some practical “secrets” of answered prayer. Since then I have learned by experience the importance of the things she taught me, such as the following:
Faith (Mr. 11:24). By comparing Scripture with Scripture, we know that this does not mean that I can have anything I pray for if I only have faith. Other Scriptures emphasize that prayer must be according to God’s will (e.g., 1 John 5:14-15). But Christ greatly emphasized the role of faith in answered prayer. He emphasized this in the case of the demon possessed child that the disciples were unable to cast out (Mt. 17:18-20). Christ often reproved the disciples for “little faith” (Mt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8).
We have seen great things done by believing prayer.
When we returned to Nepal in 2001, we didn’t try to raise any missionary support. I didn’t travel on deputation. We decided to trust the Lord who had called us. We still had a house in the States with a mortgage, and our expenses basically doubled upon arriving in Nepal, but every need was met. When we needed a van, someone gave us the money to buy a new one. This is the way we have operated our missionary work ever since. I don’t travel on deputation. I don’t mention money in our prayer letters and don’t ask for any specific thing. We only mention what we are doing and planning and trust the Lord to meet the needs, and He does that and more.
When we started a full-time Bible college in 2013, we basically had none of the things we needed. We didn’t have a building, teachers, equipment, dorm parents, etc. But we were sure that it was the Lord’s will, and we started making plans and moving ahead, and the Lord supplied everything, not all at once, but step by step.
When we started planning to produce a K-12 video school for Nepal in mid-2015 toward a start date of January 2016, again we had almost none of the things we needed, including qualified teachers, a curriculum, video editors, high grade computer and video equipment, camera operators, building, etc. We were confident that it was the Lord’s will, so we moved ahead. My wife estimated that we would need at least $100,000. She suggested we mention this in the prayer letter, but I decided against that. The Lord knows where we are and what we are doing. Before the year was out, a man gave us $100,000. It wasn’t designated for the school. It was for our ministry in general, but we immediately knew what it was for.
We have lived like this for all of our Christian lives. It is how Way of Life Literature was built. It’s how we have planted churches in Nepal. It’s how we raised our children. Believing prayer in God’s will is sufficient for every need and every ministry.
Fervency (“fervent,” Jas. 5:16; “striving” Ro. 15:30). Effectual prayer is fervent, passionate, earnest, zealous. It is engaging in spiritual warfare. It is not halfhearted or frivolous.
It is Epaphras “labouring fervently for you in prayers” (Cl. 4:12).
It is Hezekiah weeping in prayer (Isa. 38:5).
Persistence (Lu. 18:1). Christ taught His thpeople to ask, seek, and knock in prayer, and the verbs are in the continual tense: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking (Mt. 7:7). Persistence is required for many reasons. For one, God tests our faith, as He did Abraham (Jas. 1:3). Also, persistence is required because prayer is spiritual warfare. Daniel had to wait 21 days for an answer to prayer because of demonic opposition (Da. 10:12-14). Most great answers to prayer have required time and persistence.
Fasting (Mt. 17:21). There is a study on fasting in the One Year Discipleship Course, published by Way of Life Literature. When we started the first Baptist church in Nepal, we had gospel meetings in our living room and many people attended, but no one was willing to turn from their idols and face the wrath of a Hindu society and potential prison time. After we had a period of fasting and prayer, people began to repent and turn to Christ in saving faith. Most of those first converts are still walking with the Lord today. One is a pastor. Another is a pastor’s wife.
Prayer partners. Paul taught the importance of this by his frequent, earnest requests for prayer (Ro. 15:30; Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Th. 5:25; 2 Th. 3:1). Your first prayer partner should be your husband or wife; pray together for each of your children from the time before they are born; don’t keep problems to yourself; that is often an act of pride, because we don’t want others to know of our imperfections; ask Christian friends to pray for you; be faithful to prayer meeting and ask the church to pray for your situation.
Praying in God’s will (1 John 5:14-15). We can pray for anything good and right, but we need to focus our prayers on things that are clearly God’s will. Then we can have confidence in prayer. We see this in Paul’s prayers. He focused on evangelism, the salvation of souls, church planting, and spiritual power and blessing.
When God has revealed that He wants to do a particular thing, and when I pray for that thing, I can have complete confidence that it will be done. Examples of this include the following: praying for laborers for God’s harvest (Luke 10:2), praying for protection from evil men (Ro. 15:31), praying for government leaders that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (1 Timothy 2:1-4), praying for spiritual wisdom (Col. 1:9), praying to walk worthy of God’s will (Col. 1:10), praying for spiritual fruit (Col. 1:10), praying to know God (Col. 1:10), praying for strength for the Christian life (Col. 1:11), praying for God’s Word to have free course and to be glorified (2 Th. 3:1).
Focusing prayer on such things is powerful because God is totally inclined to answer. We can’t be sure of a positive answer when we pray for money or health or new carpet or a new auditorium, but we can be sure when we pray for things that are revealed in Scripture as God’s will.
In a study of 576 growing churches, Thom Rainer found that focused prayer was a key factor. In this case, the focus was on evangelism.
“Focusing the church’s attention on intercession for the lost has brought the Lord’s blessings time after time. One pastor shared the thought that, ‘Praying for the lost did more to refocus our church than any single factor. We became a church with an outward focus after being an inwardly focused church for years.’ ... Most churches that are effectively reaching the lost have broken out of the ‘rut’ of prayer-as-usual and have experienced wonderful results brought about by effective emphasis on praying for the lost. ...” (Effective Evangelistic Churches, pp. 69, 74).
The Practicality of Prayer
There are many ways that we need to double down on prayer.
A private prayer closet. We suspect that the reason why it is so difficult to get the Lord’s people to attend real prayer meetings is that so few have an effectual private prayer life. Christ mentioned a prayer closet in Matthew 6:6. This refers to a quiet, private place where the individual meets with God. Effectual congregational prayer begins with effectual private prayer. God’s people must be prayer warriors in their private lives. They must engage in intercessory prayer for their families, their church leaders, their friends in Christ, their nation, the unsaved. The churches must teach and exhort the people to have private prayer closets. Mothers with young children can find it difficult to have a private time with the Lord, but it can be done when the children are sleeping, either before they wake in the morning or during a nap time. And the mother must discipline the children to be quiet at times. This is for their good and for her mental well-being (and that of their visitors).
Prayer partners. It is a powerful and effectual thing to agree together in prayer before the Lord for particular requests. Paul earnestly sought prayer partners. In nearly every epistle, he pleaded with the brethren to pray for him and with him, and he shared exactly what he wanted them to pray for.
Prayer by husbands and wives. The husband’s first prayer partner should be his own wife. We see husbands and wives praying together in 1 Corinthians 7:5 and 1 Peter 3:7. In the latter verse, the husband is warned that mistreatment of the wife can result in his prayers being hindered.
Prayer at family devotions. The family’s prayer should not be routine and ritual. The parents need to lead the children in how to pray and what to pray for. Praying for specific things and seeing God answer is a powerful witness to the children.
Serious prayer meetings. In our church, we emphasize the importance of all of our people attending the prayer services. For the mid-week prayer service, we have multiple prayer meetings at various places in the city to facilitate attendance. We have a half hour of testimonies, a half hour of preaching, and we then divide into groups of two or three or four and pray for at least a half hour. When a group finishes praying, they remain in their places in silence or talking very quietly until everyone is finished and the pastor closes the meeting in a final prayer. This way the prayer service isn’t disrupted or disturbed by people going in and out and talking in the halls. The church women meet once a month for a special prayer meeting that lasts three or four hours. That’s three or four hours of prayer, not three hours of talking and a few minutes of prayer. Most of the women attend this very serious prayer meeting. The Berean Bible Baptist Church in metro Manila has a prayer and fasting Sunday once a month. That day the people are encouraged to fast until after the evening service. The Sunday Schools and training times are devoted exclusively to prayer. The pastor told me that they see special answers to prayer after each one of those days.
Group prayer. There are many ways to pray in small groups. Each individual in the group can pray, one by one. Or one person can lead the group in prayer. Or someone can start and conclude the prayer time and those who want can pray in between. When someone leads in public prayer, the rest should agree in their hearts and say “Amen” at the end. “All the people should swell the loud ‘Amen!’ at the close of every prayer, for this is also the rule of Scripture and the example of Heaven. ‘Amen’ comes from the Hebrew verb to be firm or to be sure. It means ‘truly’ and ‘let it be so’” (Peter Masters, The Power of Prayer Meetings). See 1 Corinthians 14:16 which says that New Testament worshipers practiced this. They did the same in the Old Testament (1 Chr. 16:36; Neh. 8:6)
Prayer before services. Some churches have a brief prayer meeting before some or all of its services. I have always sensed special blessing in my preaching when ministering in churches that practice this.
Prayer chains. A prayer chain is a pre-arranged plan to inform church members of special prayer requests. One person contacts another who contacts another, by pre-arranged plan.
24-hour prayer. For this, members of the congregation sign up to pray at a certain time during a 24-hour period with the goal that someone will be praying at all hours.
Prayer before special meetings. These used to be called “cottage prayer meetings” and they were common in some parts of America in the first part of the 20th century. They were still common in the 1960s and 1970s. But they have gone by the wayside in most churches. Special meetings are not preceded by special prayer, and the result is a lack of spiritual power. We tend to depend more on advertising, enthusiasm, decorations, special music, and the dynamism of the speaker.
Pelham Baptist Church in South Carolina, was pastored by Harold B. Sightler from 1942 until 1952. Consider the following testimony about the power of prayer for revival and evangelism:
“In 1946 only three people were baptized at Pelham, and so in early 1947 a week of prayer meetings were held at night at the church, prayer only, for revival and salvation of souls, with no preaching or singing. People began to get saved, and the church grew. The prayer meetings continued, and by 1949 were being held on Sunday nights after church in a pasture. These often drew a hundred people and sometimes lasted until one o'clock in the morning. A rock altar was built around a tree. Each represented a person being prayed for by name” (James Sightler, “Observations on Dr. Harold B. Sightler’s Early Ministry and the Heritage of Tabernacle Baptist Church,” http://tabernacleministries.org/Church/ history.php4).
In 1898, the Chicago Avenue Church pastored by R.A. Torrey began an organized prayer meeting for each Saturday night from 9-10pm. It was attended by an average of 300. During those prayer meetings, Torrey had the idea to go on evangelistic tours, and we are told that tens of thousands came to Christ in subsequent years.
For more on a praying church we recommend the course New Testament Prayer, scheduled to be published in 2017 by Way of Life Literature.
A Praying Church
Metropolitan Tabernacle of London, England, during Charles Spurgeon’s ministry (pastored 1854-1882) is an example of a mighty prayer church. Thousands were saved with changed lives as evidence.
The preaching was splendid and the church was very aggressive in evangelism (e.g., street preaching, aggressive tract distribution, 27 Sunday Schools and Ragged Schools ministering to over 8,000 children with 612 teachers), but the converting, life-changing power was in the prayer.
“Spurgeon regarded the prayer meeting as ‘the most important meeting of the week.’ He often said that it was not surprising if churches did not prosper, when they regarded the prayer meeting as of so little value that one evening in the week was made to suffice for a feeble combination of service and prayer meeting’” (Wonders of Grace: Original testimonies of converts during Spurgeon’s early years, p. 14).
“A.T. Pierson, who ministered at Tabernacle during Spurgeon’s last illness, said, “This Metropolitan Tabernacle is a house of prayer most emphatically ... prayer is almost ceaselessly going up. When one meting is not in progress, another is. ... There are prayer meetings before preaching, and others after preaching. ... No marvel that Mr. Spurgeon’s preaching has been so blessed. He himself attributes it mainly to the prevailing prayers of his people” (Ibid.).
The previous material is excerpted from THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL JESUS COMES, 550 pages. Available in print and eBook formats from www.wayoflife.org.
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