It Takes Prayer

So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.
(Luke 5:16)

Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
(Luke 6:12)

And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him.
(Luke 9:18)

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet … These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.
(Acts 1:12, 14)

And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
(Acts 4:31)

From the day that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit in the River Jordan (Luke 3:21-22) to the time of His death on the cross, He was a Man of the Spirit and a Man of Prayer. When He was ready to birth the Church, He ordered a prayer meeting (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:12, 14; 2:1-4).

When I returned from a preaching tour of South Korea and the Philippines back in the 70s and reported the mighty movings of the Holy Spirit in those countries, my American friends wanted to know the secret. Why was God moving so powerfully in the Far East when we see so little of His power here? Of course, I said, the answer is prayer. I said that I had never been in a place of prayer like South Korea. The Koreans know how to tarry before the Lord. There they pray in the Spirit on all occasions and in every place. I noticed that they did not place nearly as much emphasis on preaching, theology, music, gifts, finances and organizations and other things, as they did on prayer. I listened to their praying in their early morning meetings, during the family prayers and at the special times of prayer among pastors. If they were not praying in English, I would ask someone to interpret their praying. I learned that for the most part, these Koreans were praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the services to capture the attention and hearts of the people of God.

The Holy Spirit knows that He is welcome because of our prayer meetings and by the way we pray. Jesus knew that once His followers began to pray, they would soon be in readiness to receive the Holy Spirit. And He also knew that once they were filled with the Holy Spirit they would be equipped to pray with power.

The same is true with His modern disciples. We are called to militant, mighty praying — the kind that frightens and defeats the forces of hell. There is a passage in Matthew 11:12 which needs to be laid hold on by Christians of this generation:

“and from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”

We must no longer ignore this passage as “bizarre and irrelevant,” as some have. Not a few scholars believe that Jesus meant here that “the kingdom of God is carried along by forceful means.” If so, then it will require men and women who understand the nature of spiritual power to advance the cause of Christ. It so happens that such men and women are people of prayer. E.M. Bounds wrote: “Paul lived on his knees, that the Ephesian Church might measure the heights, breadths, and depths of an unmeasurable saintliness, and “be filled with all the fullness of God.” Epaphras laid himself out with the exhaustive toil and strenuous conflict of fervent prayer, that the Colossian Church might “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Everywhere, everything in apostolic times was on the stretch that the people of God might each and “all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” No premium was given to dwarfs; no encouragement to an old babyhood. The babies were to grow; the old, instead of feebleness and infirmities, were to bear fruit in old age, and be fat and flourishing. The most divine thing in religion is holy men and holy women. No amount of money, genius, or culture can move things for God. Holiness energizes the soul, the whole man aflame with love, with desire for more faith, more prayer, more zeal, more consecration — this is the secret of power. These we need and must have, and men must be the incarnation of this God-inflamed devotedness. God’s advance has been stayed, His cause crippled, His name dishonored for their lack. Genius (though the loftiest and most gifted), education (though the most learned and refined), position, dignity, place, honored names, high ecclesiastics cannot move this chariot of our God. It is a fiery one, and fiery forces only can move it. The genius of a Milton fails. The imperial strength of a Leo fails. Brainerd’s spirit can move it. Brainerd’s spirit was on fire for God, on fire for souls. Nothing earthly, worldly, selfish came in to abate in the least the intensity of this all-impelling and all-consuming force and flame.” (Power Through Prayer, pp. 45-46, Zondervan, 1962).

I think of the story of a fine young pastor who had taken a church, and it appeared after several months that the church was going nowhere under his leadership. The district superintendent knew of his discouragement and decided to stop by and see him. He listened to the pastor tell how he had tried this and that, had said this and that to the church board, had preached this and that to the congregation, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, the district superintendent rose to his feet and began walking about in the younger man’s study. He stopped and said, “Son, I’m sure I don’t know all that God wants to do in this place with you and your people, but I am certain about one thing: You won’t know what God wants to do here until you give yourself to prayer!” Maybe others will join you, and maybe they won’t. But God talks to praying men, and you need to hear from Him. I’m here for you, but mainly you need to hear from the Lord. The young man did indeed give himself to prayer. He taught and preached on prayer until a few of the people caught the vision of a praying ministry. God gave revival to that little church, until today it is no longer a small church. It’s still praying and growing and reaching out to the community, to the nation and to the world.

It takes prayer for a congregation to experience visitations of the Holy Spirit. It takes much prayer for pastors and leaders to catch God’s vision for the church. It takes prayer for souls to be saved. It takes even more prayer for believers to be sanctified. It takes prayer to make disciples out of believers. It takes prayer for people to be healed physically and emotionally and spiritually and morally. It takes prayer to bring a life or a marriage out of bondage. It takes prayer for the kind of tithes and offerings needed to sustain a growing church. It takes prayer to envision the right ministries and programs for reaching a city or community. It takes prayer to advance the Kingdom of God.

The secret to divine power in our lives and ministries and churches is not experience, education, finances, theology, talent, or being in the right place at the right time. God is willing to use any and all of these to carry out His purposes. But the secret to the power of God released upon us is Spirit-anointed prayer. Without prayer we are operating a religious treadmill. Our many works will fail to register in heaven’s books unless they are soaked in prayer. There is much we can do after we have prayed, but very little we can do before we pray. Human wisdom and human effort bring about human results, but praying in the power of the Holy Spirit brings about divine results. And what most of us are missing in our ministries and in our churches is the powerful working of God. Our praying will be the proof that we realize it is:

Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
(Zech. 4:6)

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