Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Prayers - Do We Really Need Them


Through interaction with people and reading the books and articles of Christian authors, we are quite sure that one of the most undisputed subjects in the Christian context is prayer. Gather the congregations of the various denominations together and see who opposes the importance of prayer in the Christian walk. Chances are you’d probably have no one in that category. Indeed, most of us Christians generally regard prayer with high importance, and assert it to be one of the foremost spiritual disciplines. But coming to reality, how many of us really labour in prayer as much as we believe and preach about it? Unfortunately, not many of us do that. No doubt that most of us sincerely believe in the apparent good of prayers, but that’s about it. Few go the extra mile to actually pray. In fact, for many of us prayers are often exercised only when the mind can no longer find a favourable or satisfactory solution to its immediate problems, so it looks back to consult the only force superior to it – Creator God who resides in every believing Christian. But we certainly do not support that practice of ‘fair-weather prayers’. We believe that a devoted practice of prayer has its positive effect by stabilising the mind of a believer and rendering it more capable of making wise decisions and godly endeavours. Let us consider the significance prayers play in our lives.

Prayers Precedes the Plan and Purposes of God

As explained in the book of Revelation, the seven seals and seven trumpets are associated with the judgment of God on this earth during the last days. Notice that before God loosed His judgment over the world, He considered the prayers of the saints: “Now When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and the golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints….Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne”(Rev.5:8; 8:3) This should implies to us that the prayers play a part in contributing to God’s plan and purposes for the world.

We can try to view the relationship between prayer and the purpose of God as similar to that of a train and its railway-track. Try to visualise the train as a carriage packed with God’s plans and purposes for our lives, and the railway-track our prayer which the carriage runs on. Before the train carriage can gather speed towards its destination, there must first be a smooth and uninterrupted railway-track to facilitate the train’s motion (how else would the train move otherwise?). Likewise, for God’s plans and purposes for our lives to come to pass, for us to reach our destiny in Christ, we must be diligent to lay the “railway-track” of prayer for the “train carriage” to travel on. God is in full control, but astoundingly, He has apparently chosen not to act unless with our co-operation. Therefore, as indispensable the railway-track to a train is prayer to the plans and purposes of God.

On one of our trips to Australia, the Lord showed me a vision of an angel towering over the Australia, holding two bowls in his hands. I perceived in my spirit that one of the two bowls symbolised the prayers of the people while the other carried the sins of the land. Australia’s destiny in the spiritual realm thus depends largely on which of these two bowls would fill up first. If there are people who would seek the Lord and intercede for the nation through prayer and petitions thus filling up the bowl of prayers, then revival would be dispensed to the people of Australia. However, in the absence of unceasing intercession and where transgressions continue to increase, thus filling up the bowl of sin, then judgment would be the first bowl to be poured over the land. So sobering was the message put forth that in respond to God’s call, our family actually took a prayer journey to cover the entire coastline of Australia in 1999.

We are convinced that what was spoken to Australia as a nation can be a warning to individuals as well. Our lives, families and communities lie in the balance between blessing and curses. If we uphold a lifestyle of prayer, we are contributing directly to the blessings in our personal lives, families and nations. However, if we live a life of indifference and leave God out of the equation, we naturally lean towards worldliness and compromise, thus filling up the measure of our sins awaiting the wrath of God (1Thess.2:16). Therefore, prayers precede the plan and purpose of God upon our lives , communities and nations.

Prayers precedes World Evangelism

Prayers play an important role in the success of world evangelism. Paul in 2 Cor. 4:4 said that the human ability to perceive the truth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been impaired by Satan who has “blinded” them so that they will not come to the light of the truth. Luke 11:21 warns us that “a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, and his goods are in peace.” (Lk. 11:21) Who is the strong man over those who have not yet come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? According to 2 Cor. 4:4, is it not the devil himself? “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19). In order for us to make them see the light of the gospel, we first have to disarm Satan’s hold over them. The only way to do this is through prayer, for our battle is not against flesh and blood, but “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12), which is why Paul went on to say that we should “pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit… (Eph. 6:18). Paul believed that prayers dispel evil powers and render a place ready to receive the Gospel. When he wrote to the Corinthians on his experience at Ephesus, he mentioned that he “fought with beasts” there (we believe Paul was referring to the struggles he had against spiritual powers opposing his ministry in Ephesus). When we refer to Act’s account of Paul’s latter ministry in Ephesus, it appeared that the spiritual opposition did not endure, because it appeared that God’s truth broke through the darkness and several people came to know the Lord through Paul’s ministry (Acts19:8-12,19-20) because it was said that “the Word of the Lord grew” – that signifies that the earlier obstacles encountered had been overcome. And because Paul was someone with a prayerful spirit, and was often seen asking for prayers from the churches, we trust that it was prayers that brought about the empowerment from God that gave his ministry the breakthrough, not just in Ephesus, but in other places as well. Paul never stopped eagerly seeking prayers for his ministry, for he knew that they would benefit his work significantly. In Col. 4:2,3 he told the Colossians that their prayers will go toward supporting his ministry and paving the way to success for him: “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ..”.

If Paul didn’t believed that prayers could influence the spiritual realm, he wouldn’t have bothered the churches with praying for his ministry. But obviously he did, because he believed correctly about the power of prayer. Paul’s attitude on this illustrates his humility and his deep insight into the spiritual forces which project the gospel. Now, if Paul was so dependent on the prayers of God’s children to give his ministry success, don’t we see how great the necessity of the prayers of God’s children are for His ministry today? Paul did not regard his urgent plea for prayer as a depreciation of his faith. He reckoned that he needed their prayers, so he sought for them in his letters to the churches. Called, commissioned, and chief of the apostles as he was, he still needed the prayers of his people, for the sake of God’s kingdom. Paul knew that the prayers of the people would do so much in progressing the kingdom of God. Prayers are to God’s ministry workers as Aaron and Hur were to Moses. They held up his hands and that decided the issue that was raging fiercely around them. Indeed, we iterate and reiterate that the diligence of prayer cannot be neglected.

When the Lord Jesus declared “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18), He was in effect making an evangelistic statement, and at the same time declaring war on Satan, because He was saying that He was going to free people from darkness and lead them into the light. He was going to unlock the gates of the devil’s jail and free the captives there. But He knew that Satan would not give up without a fight, so the Lord alerted Peter to be prepared for warfare. “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). He told Peter he has to go into war with the devil, but victory is on his side, and he shall devastate the devil’s army, according to the Word of God. Nothing shall prevail against him so long as he use the keys to “bind” and “loose” as the Lord described, which is the power of prayer. Clearly, prayer must be necessary for supporting the plans of God, for if they didn’t then in the first place the Lord needn’t have bothered to give us the power to pray, but He did. Through prayer, we can free unsaved souls from the devil’s chains and deliver them from darkness into the Lord’s saving light. One of the best things we can do for those who do not know Christ is also to pray for them.

Prayers Changes History

While we want to believe in the power of prayer, some people may think, “prayer does not change God, it only changes us”. Is that a fact? Well, of course prayer will not change the person or character of God, since He is already perfect and needs no alteration, but we think prayers might influence the events of this world, even with God in full control. In other words, we believe that prayers can change what God wants to do. Let us explain. In Ex.32:9-14, God wanted to destroy the Israelites because of their disobedience: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them…”, God must have sounded quite firm while saying that, but hearing God’s intentions, Moses did not drop his shoulders in resignation and prepare to lament his nation’s fate, but he immediately pleaded with God for Israel’s pardon and let’s see God’s response: “So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people”. God would not destroy Israel after all, though He clearly meant to do that before Moses interceded for Israel. So then, did not Moses’ prayers made a difference to God’s original plan to destroy Israel? Had he not made an intercessory petition for his people, God would have struck Israel and destroyed them. Perhaps some may say that God listened to Moses because Moses had His favour right from the start when he was called to deliver Israel out of Egypt, so let’s take another example from the Bible – King Hezekiah who had just been informed by Isaiah the prophet concerning his imminent death. God had sent Isaiah to tell Hezekiah that He was about to terminate his life, but when Hezekiah immediately pleaded with God, God considered his petition and said to him, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you….. and I will add to your days fifteen years” (2 Kgs. 20:5-6). Can you imagine how awesome it must be for an almighty God to give heed to the prayers of His children and adjust His plans according to their prayers. History would have been different if not for the intercessors who prayed for it. With prayer, they took hold of situations and marked history with results of their petitions to God. History can belong to those who would pray and seek God wholeheartedly. God was lenient to Israel because of Moses’ petition (Ps. 106:19-23); Hezekiah’s life was extended because he asked God for it (2 Kgs. 20:1-6). For the sake of avoiding any possible misunderstanding at this stage, let us clarify that we are not saying that God’s plans are contingent on His people’s prayers and that He changes His will according to what they ask for in prayer. Rather, we mean that while God’s divine purposes will not be reversed by any force, His immediate will is however flexible so as to answer the prayers of His people. This is a sign of God’s ongoing connection with us, His creation, those who follow His Son, the Lord Jesus. It tells us that God has not set Himself away from us, but that He can be solicited through the prayers of His people. It puts forth God’s assurance to men that He is not detached from us and our condition - that He considers us and will honour our requests made in good faith. In fact, thank God that we can mount the wings of prayer and travel right before the throne of God to ask what we need of Him. Prayer is our greatest asset because it links us to God, to draw from His power, learn from His wisdom and be involved in His will. James reminded us that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

Thieves or Owners

Is it an offence not to pray, then? Well, when the Lord Jesus drove out all those who were carrying on trading activities in the temple, He called them “thieves” (Matt. 21:13), but those people were not stealing from the temple, so why did the Lord referred to them as thieves? Could it be that it was because instead of adding to the temple of God the people indulged in self-centredness and watched after only their own interests and ignored other else? “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” (Matt. 21:13). When we stop praying, we actually stop sowing in to the house of God, for His house is to be a house of prayer. When we stop sowing in His house, then we are in effect like thieves who do not give to the household they visit but only take from them. Yet, we mustn’t be thus, because praying for one another is our responsibility even if it isn’t our specific calling.

When the apostles started the early church, one of the foundational pillars they established was prayer. The disciples gathered regularly to pray (Act 2 :42). They behaved like owners of the great house of God, for they sowed sacrificially into building His house. Let us learn from them, for it is far better to give than to receive. Do we want to be a co-owner of the great house of God or would we rather be like ‘thieves’ who only go to the house of God to receive and gain rather than contribute?

There is synergy in corporate prayer. In Lev. 26:8 we are told, “Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousands to flight”. Mathematically, according to the ‘five shall chase a hundred” equation, then 100 will be able to ward off only two thousands, and not ten thousands. Therefore, we see that unified prayers builds strength into the spiritual power of a congregation. The union of prayers brings forth multiplied strength, such that its concentration and aggregation increase the volume of spiritual force until that becomes an overcoming and irresistible power. Therefore, never underestimate the worth or value of praying together with our fellow believers. Units of prayer combined, like drops of water, make up an ocean that defies resistance. Paul, with his sensible and thorough apprehension of spiritual dynamics, sought diligently to make his ministry as victorious and enduring as the ocean, by gathering all the scattered units of prayer and precipitating them on his ministry. Let us be committed to the fellowship of God and His people. Play our part in building the great house of God. He desires it to be a house of prayer, so let us offer our unceasing prayers to Him and work with Him through the chronicles of life, contributing to history and paving the way ahead.

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