In 1952 Albert Einstein was asked by a Princeton doctoral student what was left in the world for original dissertation research Einstein replied, "Find out about prayer". English preacher Sidlow Baxter, when he was eighty-five years of age, said, "I have pastored only three churches in my more than sixty years of ministry. We had revival in every one. And not one of them came as a result of my preaching. They came as a result of the membership entering into a covenant to pray until revival came. And it did come, every time (Willhite 1988:111).
Chaplain of the United States Senate, Richard HaIverson, advised that we really don"t have any alternatives to prayer. He says, You can organise until you are exhausted. You can plan, program and subsidise aIl your plans. But if you fail to pray it is a waste of time. Prayer is not optional. It is mandatory. Not to pray is to disobey God" (Bryant 1984:39).
Roy Pointer, after extensive research in Baptist churches in the United Kingdom, arrived at the conclusion that wherever there was positive growth, there was one recurring factor: they were all praying churches.
In the United States of America, at Larry Leas Church on the Rock in Rockwall, Texas, numerical growth was from 13 people in 1980 to 11,000 people by 1988. When he was asked about such amazing growth, he said "I didnt start a church - I started a prayer meeting". When David Shibley, the minister responsible for prayer in that church was asked the secret of the church, he said, "The evangelistic program of the church is the daily prayer meeting. Every morning, Monday through Friday, we meet at 5:00 a.m. to pray. If we see the harvest of conversions fall off for more than a week, we see that as a spiritual red alert and seek the Lord" (ShibIey 1985:7).
In Korea, where the church has grown from almost zero to a projected 50% of the population in this century alone, Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho attributes his churchs conversion rate of 12,000 people per month as primarily due to ceaseless prayer.
In Korea it is normal for church members to go to bed early so they can arise at 4 a.m. to participate in united prayer. lt is normal for them to pray all through Friday nights. lt is normal to go out to prayer retreats.
Cho says that any church might see this sort of phenomenal growth if they were prepared to "pray the price; to "pray and obey." Cho was once asked by a local pastor why was it that Cho s church membership was 750,000 and his was only 3,000 when he was better educated, preached better sermons and even had a foreign wife ? Cho enquired, "How much do you pray? The pastor said "Thirty minutes a day." To which Cho replied, "There is your answer. I pray three to five hours per day."
In America one survey has shown that pastors on average pray 22 minutes per day. In mainline churches, it is less than that. In Japan they pray 44 minutes a day, and China 120 minutes a day. It"s not surprising that the growth rate of churches in those countries is directly proportional to the amount of time pastors are spending in prayer.
Growth - a Supernatural Process
The church is a living organism. It is God"s creation with Jesus Christ as its head (Colossians I:18). From Him life flows (John I4:6). We have a responsibility to cooperate with God (1 Corinthians 3:6). We know that unless the Lord build our house we labour in vain (Psalm 127:1). The transfer of a soul from the kingdom of darkness to that of light is a spiritual supernatural process (Colossians I : 14). It is the Father who draws (John 6:44). It is the Holy Spirit who convicts (John 16:8-1 I ). He causes confession to be made (1 Corinthians 12:3). He completes conversion (Titus 3:5). It is the Holy Spirit who also strengthens and empowers (Ephesians 3:16). He guides into truth (John 16:16). He gives spiritual gifts which promote unity (I Corinthians I2:25), building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12), thus avoiding disunity and strife which stunt growth. This is fundamental spiritual truth accepted and believed by all Christians. However, the degree to which we are convinced that all real growth is ultimately a supernatural process and are prepared to act upon that belief, will be directly reflected in the priority that we give to corporate and personal prayer in the life of the church. It is only when we begin to see that nothing that matters will occur except in answer to prayer that prayer will become more than an optional program for the faithful few, and instead it will become the driving force of our churches.
Obviously God wants our pastors, other leaders and His people to recognise that only He can do extra-ordinary things. When we accept that simple premise, we may begin to pray. b In the Bible The battle which Joshua won, as recorded in Exodus 17:8-13 was not so dependent upon what he and his troops were doing down on the plain. It was directly dependent upon Moses prayerful intercession from on top of a near by hill with the support of Aaron and Hur. In the Old Testament, not counting the Psalms, there are 77 explicit references to prayer. The pace quickens in the New Testament. There are 94 references alone which relate directly to Jesus and prayer. The apostles picked up his theme and practice. So Paul says, "Pray continually, for this is God"s will for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16)Peter urges believers to be "clear minded and self controlled" so they can pray. (1 Peter 4:7). James declares that prayer is powerful and effective" (James 5:16) John assures us that "God hears and answers" (1 John 5: 15). In the book of Acts there are 36 references to the church growing. Fifty-eight percent [i.e. 21 of those instances) are within the context of prayer. We would all love to see growth in every church in the world like it was at Pentecost and immediately thereafter. The key to what happened is found in Acts l:14 when it says: "They were all joined together constantly in prayer. They were all joined together - one mind, one purpose, one accord. That is the prerequisite for effectiveness. Then, they were aII joined together constantly in prayer. The word used there means to be "busily engaged in, to be devoted to, to persist in adhering to a thing, to intently attend to it." And it is in the form of a present participle. It means that the practice was continued ceaselessly. The same word is used in Acts 2:42: "They devoted themselves ......to prayer." i Over in Colossians 4:2 Paul uses the same word again in the imperative form "Devote yourselves to prayer. Most significant expansion movements of the church through its history took up that imperative.
When we read the biographies of William Carey, Adoniram Judson, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, or whomever, the initiating thrust of the work of their lives began in prayer encounters. About a century ago, John R. Mott led an extraordinary movement which became known as the Student Christian Movement. It was based among college and university students. It supplied 20,000 career missionaries in the space of thirty years. John Mott said that the source of this amazing awakening lay in unified intercessory prayer. It wasnt just that these missionaries were recruited and sent out in prayer; their work was also sustained through prayer. Hudson Taylor told a story of a missionary couple who were in charge of ten stations. They wrote to their home secretary confessing their absolute lack of progress, and they urged the secretary to find intercessors for each station. After a while, in seven of those stations, opposition melted, spiritual revival broke out and the churches grew strongly. But in three there was no change. When they returned home on the next furlough, the secretary cleared up the mystery. He had succeeded in getting intercessors for only seven of the ten stations. S. D. Gordon (1983:40) concludes The greatest thing anyone can do for God and man is to pray."
Luther, Calvin, Knox, Latimer, Finney, Moody, all the "greats of God practiced prayer and fasting to enhance ministry effectiveness. John WesIey was so impressed by such precedents that he would not even ordain a person to ministry unless he agreed to fast at least until 4.00 p.m. each Wednesday and Friday. Yonggi Cho (1984:103) says, Normally I teach new believers to fast for three days. Once they have become accustomed to three-day fasts, they will be able to fast for a period of seven days. Then they will move to ten-day fasts. Some have even gone for forty days." These people seem to have latched onto something which here in Australia we hardly know anything about. We are so busy, so active. We try so hard to get something good up and running. But it doesn"t seem to grow much or permanently change many lives. Why? Is it that the ground in Australia is too hard? Compared to other times and places, this could hardly be so.
For example, back in the eighteenth century things didn"t look good. Eighteenth century France was working through its bloody revolution, as terroristic as any of the modern era. America had declared its Rights of Man in 1776. Voltaire was preaching that the church was only a system of repression for the human spirit. Karl Marx would later agree. A new morality had arisen. Amongst both sexes in all ranks of society Christianity was held in almost universal contempt. Demonic forces seem to have been unleashed to drive the church out of existence. In many places it was almost down and out. Preachers and people would be pelted with stones and coal in places in England if they dared to testify to Jesus Christ in public. But even before those satanic forces collaborated to confound and confuse it appears that the Holy Spirit had prepared His defence, like a plot out of some Peretti novel. In the 1740s, John Erskine of Edinburgh published a pamphlet encouraging people to pray for Scotland and elsewhere. Over in America, the challenge was picked up by Jonathan Edwards, who wrote a treatise called, "A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and VisibIe Union of God"s People in Extra-ordinary Prayer For The Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ"s Kingdom." For forty years, John Erskine orchestrated what became a Concert of Prayer through voluminous correspondence around the world. In the face of apparent social and moral deterioration, he persisted. And then the Lord of the universe stepped in and took over. On Christmas Day 1781, at St. Just Church In Cornwall, at 3.00 a.m., intercessors met to sing and pray. The heavens opened at last and they knew it. They prayed through until 9:00am and regathered on Christmas evening. Throughout January and February, the movement continued. By March 1782 they were praying until midnight. No significant preachers were involved - just people praying and the Holy Spirit responding. Two years later in 1784, when 83-year old John Wesley visited that area he wrote, "This country is all on fire and the flame is spreading from village to village. And spread it did. The chapel which George Whitefield had built decades previously in Tottenham Court Road had to be enlarged to seat 5,000 people - the largest in the world at that time. Baptist churches in North Hampton, Leicester, and the Midlands, set aside regular nights devoted to the drumbeat of prayer for revival. Methodists and Anglicans joined in. Matthew Henry wrote, "When God intends great mercy for His people He first sets them praying." Across the country prayer meetings were networking for revival. A passion for evangelism arose. Converts were being won - not through the regular services of the churches, but at the prayer meetings! Some were held at 5.00 a.m, some at midnight. Some pre-Christians were drawn by dreams and visions. Some came to scoff but were thrown to the ground under the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes there was noise and confusion; sometimes stillness and solemnity. But always there was that ceaseless outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whole denominations doubled, tripled and quadrupled in the next few years. It swept out from England to Wales, Scotland, United States, Canada and to some Third World countries.
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Copyright Stuart Robinson. First published by the Australian Baptist Missionary Society, 1992. Used by permission.