|Theology / Church
I’m convinced prayer is the key to the health and vitality of our relationship with God –for the individual, church, community and nation. Prayer is our way of connecting with and trusting in the living God – it is his design and therefore God answers and honours prayer.
Jesus clearly modelled the significance and power of personal prayer as recorded in the gospels. Jesus often withdrew to quiet places to spend time praying with his Father. Notably, he did this prior to choosing the twelve disciples and prior to commencing his public ministry, when for forty days he prayed and fasted in the desert while being tempted by Satan (Mk 3:13-14; 1:12-13). Jesus would retreat in prayer to be alone with God to discern his will and replenish his strength for what lay ahead of him. We see the culmination of this in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest, when he agonised over the prospect of the cross. In a deeply moving scene, Jesus collapses at the feet of his Father and in honest desperation asks if it’s possible for the ‘cup to be taken away’ (Mt 26:37-41). However, he gained clear resolve to go to the cross in knowing God’s will, through honest and anguished prayer (if only the disciples had stayed awake to keep watch and pray, as he had asked!).
In an incident when the disciples couldn’t deliver a boy from demon possession, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith and in private told them “this kind can only come out by prayer”. With the coming of the Kingdom of God, the disciples were engaged in spiritual warfare, but they had neglected to robustly pray and exercise the faith that would make them effective in healing the boy (Mk 9:14-29). Furthermore, when the devil asked to sift Peter ‘as wheat’, Jesus responded by saying that he had ‘prayed for him’, that his faith would not fail after his denial and go on to strengthen his brothers (Lk 22:31,32). Indeed Jesus’ prayers were effective, as Peter became ‘rock like’ in his faith and a bold leader of the early church. Likewise, Jesus also prays and intercedes for us, and like Peter when we have our struggles with sin and temptation, he prays that we come through the testing – purified and stronger in our faith. Jesus also commended bold and persistent prayer. He taught the parable of the persistent widow who sought justice from a dodgy judge, and the parable of the pushy nocturnal friend who needed bread for his unexpected guests (Lk18:1-8; 11:5-10). Likewise there is a mystery and timing to prayer, and we are to trust in the goodness and purpose of God and persist in praying. Prayer is transformative. It helps us to grow closer to the Lord, it fortifies and strengthens our faith and enables us to listen to God and discern his will for our lives. Through prayer we abandon self-reliance, and bring our concerns to the Lordship of Christ and exercise our dependence on him.
Prayer is also the lynchpin to renewal and revival. In the national revival lead by one of Israel’s few good kings, King Hezekiah is an inspiring example of the power of prayer. After years of spiritual and moral decline in Israel, Hezekiah lead the nation back to God and revival followed. As soon as he was in power, Hezekiah consecrated the temple, reinstituted the law and the sacrificial system, and publically led the people in passionate prayer and worship. On one occasion whilst preparing for the Passover, many Levites had not consecrated themselves, so Hezekiah prayed that the Lord would pardon them and instead see their hearts – to which the Lord answered his prayer and blessed the nation (2 Chron 29-30). When the Assyrians invaded Judah and King Sennacherib threatened to lay siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah didn’t cower, rather he and the prophet Isaiah took to prayer. God heard their prayers and sent an angel to annihilate the Assyrian army leaving Sennacherib to withdraw in defeated disgrace (2 Chron 32:16-21). Towards the end of his life, Hezekiah was stricken with a terminal illness and in desperation turned to God in tearful prayers. As Isaiah records, the Lord heard his prayer, provided a miraculous sign (by casting the sunlight back ten steps) and in mercy added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life (Isa 38:1-8).
What do we learn about prayer in the beginnings of the early church? The early church was born on Pentecost when the Spirit descended upon the apostles during a time of devoted prayer and worship (Acts 2:1-4). Further on in Acts we read that after fasting and praying, the Lord revealed to the leaders of the Antioch church, to set apart Barnabas and Paul for their first missionary endeavour (Acts 13:2-3). Prayer preceded the formation of the church and its first missionary journey.
Dr A.T. Pierson has been noted for saying “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer”. Behind every spiritual renewal – both personal and corporate – the common denominator is prayer. Preceding the reformation Martin Luther locked himself away in a monastery room to pray and study the word. The Methodist revival in England was birthed by the likes of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield who reportedly spent hours in fervent prayer and fasting. Perhaps prayer gave them the courage to boldly preach the gospel to the masses. Historians have suggested that Methodism was so transformative on English culture (particularly among the destitute and working poor), it prevented England from following France into violent revolution during the 1790s. Similarly it was a movement of prayer that sparked the Welsh revival in 1904, spreading onto other nations. In the Welsh revival, hundreds of thousands of people were converted to Christ, alcoholism was halved and violent crime was reduced to the level where police officers were made redundant, leaving the police department to justify their existence. The Welsh revival swept Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, Australasia, the Americas and parts of Africa, forever changing history – all ignited by prayer.
At a personal level there have been perplexing and difficult times in my life where prayer has sustained me, and God in his grace has answered. Over the years I have encountered times of intense anxiety, sleep disturbance, immense work pressures, urgent resource needs, and desperation for his direction and guidance. During these troubling times I’ve always found the resolve and peace that God graciously gives through prayer. So I’d like to encourage you to continue to persevere in honest prayer to God, for he hears and answers according to his good purpose and timing.
The Interserve staff meets each morning to pray for our Partners and short termers across the globe, because we believe in the power and purpose of prayer. Interserve also has prayer groups that pray for our workers and the wider Interserve fellowship. Have you considered joining one of these prayer groups or receiving our prayer newsletter so you can pray more effectively for the work of Interserve? Let’s continue to pray for God to touch and transform not only our lives, but families, communities, churches, mission work, people groups and nations – for his good glory.
Matt Walton is Interserve’s State Director for Victoria.
J. Edwin. Orr – Article on Prayer and Revival.
David Yonggi Cho – Prayer that brings revival 1998.