A few weeks ago I received an e-mail asking for prayer. David Allen, a young missionary to Malaysia, had contracted a rare (possibly unknown) disease that was killing him. He couldn’t keep anything down and his body was literally wasting away. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta said it would be two months befon: they could examine his blood samples but by then David would be gone. I read a note that this man had written from his hospital bed. He was afraid-not for himself, for he knew that death meant living in the presence of his Savior, but for his young wife and newborn child. He was living on crackers and juice and borrowed time. So, the SOS e-mail went out to the nations and God’s people began to pray.
They never did find out what the disease was nor, as far as we know, were any special measures taken to bring David back from the brink of death. But God’s people prayed and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob graciously responded. The email today reads, “David is rapidly recovering and gaining weight”—for no apparent reason. Well, the reason may not be visible to us mortals but the effects certainly are apparent.
Now, let me take you from a dying man to a dead church. Last week I heard the story of a little congregation in a small town (population 1,700) in Oregon. The pastor had been there for eight years and watched church attendance fluctuate and falter. He was discouraged and maybe even despondent. He'd written his resignation letter and was heading back to dairy farming. His last act before reading his swan song to the congregation was to attend a “prayer retreat.” He thought he would skip the stuff on prayer and get away for a few days and relax before he returned to being a farmer.
Well, he never did go back to his cows; he did go back to his church a different man. He ended up attending all the seminars and discovered that he had been doing a lot of work but without any power. He had been laboring in his own strength instead of God’s enablement and the result was frustration and failure.
He went back to his congregation, confessed his lack of prayer, and invited folks to join him for a weekend prayer retreat. Now Pastor Duke prays three hours a day and his congregation spends a lot of time on their knees. Today this small town church is larger than the town. This Easter more than 2,000 gathered for worship with 150 people making a profession of faith in Christ, and all because the pastor and people quit talking about prayer and started to pray. That really should not surprise us. Scripture says “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) accomplishes much.”
You see, when we pray, it’s God whom we are trusting to work and move and change people and circumstances. When the answers to those prayers come it’s the Lord alone who receives the honor and glory. We can do more than pray but we can’t do more until we pray. Jesus fleshed that principle out in His own life. He was continually “withdrawing to a secluded place” to seek the face of His Father. Before every important decision Jesus prayed and usually spent most of the night in prayer.
The church of Christ today is powerless to the degree that it is prayerless, and because we are basically prayerless we are without great passion for the Lord or the lost. Revival never comes without the prayers of God’s people. So, Christian friend, “pray without ceasing” so that you might cease operating in your own power and begin functioning in the strength of His Spirit.
Rev. Gary Cox is pastor ofMeadowview Presbyterian Church (PCA).