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No prayer – no power – no fruit

January 2012 | by Bill Dyer

No prayer – no power – no fruit

We see in Acts 4:23-31, after Pentecost’s initial blessing, that the church came under intense persecution and the spread of the gospel was seriously threatened.

The church’s immediate response was to call out to the sovereign Lord in urgent, passionate prayer that he would intervene and the gospel thrive again.
    The question we must face is, why aren’t we praying like that, as many of our forefathers prayed? And what lessons can we learn from the prayer life of the early church in Acts 4:23-31?
   
Concern

Others share my concern. Vaughan Roberts says, ‘We have almost stopped praying’; and Don Carson comments: ‘We have learned to organise, build institutions, publish books, insert ourselves into the media, develop evangelistic strategies, and administer discipleship programs, but we have forgotten how to pray’.
    R. A. Torrey’s challenge is still relevant: ‘We’re too busy to pray, and so we’re too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity, but we accomplish little; many services, but few conversions; much machinery, but few results’. Exactly!
    Roger Carswell has written of the poor attendance at early morning prayer meetings at the Keswick Convention, compared with the large numbers attending just a few years ago.
    The late David C. K. Watson described a church which displayed posters inviting people to healing services, then wrote across those posters, ‘Cancelled because of sickness’!
    He described this as so much humbug. But isn’t there a savour of the humbug, a lack of reality and integrity, in our churches which proclaim a living, almighty, sovereign God, who is mighty to save those who are heading towards an eternal hell, and yet don’t major on calling upon the Lord in prayer to save them.
    We say that we believe in an eternal, conscious punishment of God on unrepentant sinners, but do we really? Our lack of prayer indicates that we don’t. Have churches lost some integrity? Are we guilty of humbug?
   
Partnership

As Reformed Christians, we know salvation is the sovereign prerogative of God. We can’t do it! But as God’s co-workers, he has given us the great privilege and responsibility of partnering with him and praying to him, because he is mighty to save! And, according to the Bible, he is unlikely to save without involving us.
    Regenerating sinners is the Lord’s great and glorious work, and he has appointed our prayer as an essential part of our participation. In the words of Mathew Henry: ‘Without God, we cannot — but without us, God will not’.
    Roger Carswell says, ‘I spend my time urging people to repent and believe, assuring them that they will enter into a relationship with the living God. But, our lack of prayer meetings surely demonstrates that we don’t enjoy the vital expression of our relationship with him.
    ‘Something has gone radically wrong. I find it hard to believe we will ever see heaven pour out its blessings, until we repent and sort out the situation’.
    Jesus said, ‘There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over just one sinner who repents’. And something of that thrill and anticipation needs to invade our prayer meetings again.
    Why, therefore, are we not earnestly praying to God, as we should be? What are we lacking?

Priority

In Acts 4, we see that the early Christians were under attack. The spread of the gospel was forbidden: ‘They commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus’ (v.18).
    Their first response was to look to God: ‘When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God’ (v.24). But our first response is so often to look to men, to our methods and structures.
    Some 25 years ago, a young man was asked to take charge of a tiny, struggling youth work in the West Country. He replied: ‘Yes, but tomorrow will be a day of prayer and fasting’.
    Is that our first priority when facing a new challenge? Is our immediate reaction: ‘We must begin with God and call upon him. We must have the Lord’s presence and strength, for without him we can do nothing’.
    It should not surprise us that over the next 25 years that youth work grew to touch the lives of hundreds of young people with the gospel.
     ‘So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: Lord, you are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them…’ (Acts 4:24) shows that the confidence and trust of the early Christians lay in God himself. Like E. M. Bounds, they believed ‘prayer puts God into the work’.
    Does our lack of prayer betray that our trust actually lies somewhere else? In our traditions, methods and new initiatives? In correct reformed theology, accurate exegesis and consecutive expository preaching? Are we looking to those preachers striving to be young, radical and Reformed, and culturally relevant?
    Yes, let’s welcome the fresh biblical stimulation these men bring. Let’s be bold and daring, with new initiatives. God certainly works through ‘means’. But is our expectation for future blessing now focused on ideas, initiatives and means rather than on God’s sovereign power to work through them?

Reality

It may seem a subtle shift, but it has huge consequences. If better methods and ‘doing church differently’ can achieve all that is required, why do we need to wrestle in prayer like the early church?
    Of course, as evangelicals, we still hold prayer meetings — that’s what we do! But are we unconsciously deceiving ourselves, almost going through the motions, paying lip-service to prayer, but not really convinced that it is essential.
    Recently, Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, when speaking about pressure to change the interest rate, quoted from Beyond the fringe — ‘Let’s make a futile gesture to impress the enemy!’
    Could it be that calling upon God in prayer is seen by many in our churches as little more than a ‘futile gesture’, rather than absolutely essential and the key to our entire future? This is why so many don’t make praying together a priority.
    If Scripture is to be our guide, the conviction and priority of the early Christians is what our churches desperately need to recapture.
    Only when we are utterly dependent upon God alone and convinced that without him we can do nothing, will we wrestle and agonise in sheer desperation. Then God can take us seriously once again.
Bill Dyer

No prayer – no power – no fruit

 

We see in Acts 4:23-31, after Pentecost’s initial blessing, that the church came under intense persecution and the spread of the gospel was seriously threatened.

 

The church’s immediate response was to call out to the sovereign Lord in urgent, passionate prayer that he would intervene and the gospel thrive again.

      The question we must face is, why aren’t we praying like that, as many of our forefathers prayed? And what lessons can we learn from the prayer life of the early church in Acts 4:23-31?

     

Concern

 

Others share my concern. Vaughan Roberts says, ‘We have almost stopped praying’; and Don Carson comments: ‘We have learned to organise, build institutions, publish books, insert ourselves into the media, develop evangelistic strategies, and administer discipleship programs, but we have forgotten how to pray’.

      R. A. Torrey’s challenge is still relevant: ‘We’re too busy to pray, and so we’re too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity, but we accomplish little; many services, but few conversions; much machinery, but few results’. Exactly!

      Roger Carswell has written of the poor attendance at early morning prayer meetings at the Keswick Convention, compared with the large numbers attending just a few years ago.

      The late David C. K. Watson described a church which displayed posters inviting people to healing services, then wrote across those posters, ‘Cancelled because of sickness’!

      He described this as so much humbug. But isn’t there a savour of the humbug, a lack of reality and integrity, in our churches which proclaim a living, almighty, sovereign God, who is mighty to save those who are heading towards an eternal hell, and yet don’t major on calling upon the Lord in prayer to save them.

      We say that we believe in an eternal, conscious punishment of God on unrepentant sinners, but do we really? Our lack of prayer indicates that we don’t. Have churches lost some integrity? Are we guilty of humbug?

     

Partnership

 

As Reformed Christians, we know salvation is the sovereign prerogative of God. We can’t do it! But as God’s co-workers, he has given us the great privilege and responsibility of partnering with him and praying to him, because he is mighty to save! And, according to the Bible, he is unlikely to save without involving us.

      Regenerating sinners is the Lord’s great and glorious work, and he has appointed our prayer as an essential part of our participation. In the words of Mathew Henry: ‘Without God, we cannot — but without us, God will not’.

      Roger Carswell says, ‘I spend my time urging people to repent and believe, assuring them that they will enter into a relationship with the living God. But, our lack of prayer meetings surely demonstrates that we don’t enjoy the vital expression of our relationship with him.

      ‘Something has gone radically wrong. I find it hard to believe we will ever see heaven pour out its blessings, until we repent and sort out the situation’.

      Jesus said, ‘There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over just one sinner who repents’. And something of that thrill and anticipation needs to invade our prayer meetings again.

      Why, therefore, are we not earnestly praying to God, as we should be? What are we lacking?

 

Priority

 

In Acts 4, we see that the early Christians were under attack. The spread of the gospel was forbidden: ‘They commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus’ (v.18).

      Their first response was to look to God: ‘When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God’ (v.24). But our first response is so often to look to men, to our methods and structures.

      Some 25 years ago, a young man was asked to take charge of a tiny, struggling youth work in the West Country. He replied: ‘Yes, but tomorrow will be a day of prayer and fasting’.

      Is that our first priority when facing a new challenge? Is our immediate reaction: ‘We must begin with God and call upon him. We must have the Lord’s presence and strength, for without him we can do nothing’.

      It should not surprise us that over the next 25 years that youth work grew to touch the lives of hundreds of young people with the gospel.

       ‘So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: Lord, you are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them…’ (Acts 4:24) shows that the confidence and trust of the early Christians lay in God himself. Like E. M. Bounds, they believed ‘prayer puts God into the work’.

      Does our lack of prayer betray that our trust actually lies somewhere else? In our traditions, methods and new initiatives? In correct reformed theology, accurate exegesis and consecutive expository preaching? Are we looking to those preachers striving to be young, radical and Reformed, and culturally relevant?

      Yes, let’s welcome the fresh biblical stimulation these men bring. Let’s be bold and daring, with new initiatives. God certainly works through ‘means’. But is our expectation for future blessing now focused on ideas, initiatives and means rather than on God’s sovereign power to work through them?

 

Reality

 

It may seem a subtle shift, but it has huge consequences. If better methods and ‘doing church differently’ can achieve all that is required, why do we need to wrestle in prayer like the early church?

      Of course, as evangelicals, we still hold prayer meetings — that’s what we do! But are we unconsciously deceiving ourselves, almost going through the motions, paying lip-service to prayer, but not really convinced that it is essential.

      Recently, Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, when speaking about pressure to change the interest rate, quoted from Beyond the fringe — ‘Let’s make a futile gesture to impress the enemy!’

      Could it be that calling upon God in prayer is seen by many in our churches as little more than a ‘futile gesture’, rather than absolutely essential and the key to our entire future? This is why so many don’t make praying together a priority.

      If Scripture is to be our guide, the conviction and priority of the early Christians is what our churches desperately need to recapture.

      Only when we are utterly dependent upon God alone and convinced that without him we can do nothing, will we wrestle and agonise in sheer desperation. Then God can take us seriously once again.

Bill Dyer