Prayer Must Have Priority
By Armin Gesswein
On the whole prayer is low again in the land. This is both in our personal lives as ministers and in the corporate prayer meetings of our churches. This is a strange wonder when we consider how late and how crucial is this hour, and when we consider how earnestly God calls us to prayer from almost every page of the Bible.
We need a new power and authority to get our people to pray. We need a new prayer life ourselves. Ours must be the decision of Acts 6:4, "We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word." Revival will not have priority until prayer has priority.
Today there is much activity without accomplishment. We suffer from the barrenness of busyness, the tyranny of things, and from what one could call the abomination of desolation!
What is the result in our churches? A Laodicean Christianity: lethargy, laziness, lukewarmness, absenteeism. In evangelism there is a sense of frustration and weariness. There is a glacial leisureliness in an age of crisis! Christians act as if there were plenty of time, and as if the situation were not serious. We are in a sobering crisis, with no way out but Christ!
The only answer for an apocalyptic age is a Christianity that is apostolic.
If we are to have revival, everyone knows it must begin in our churches. Ichabod must go. And if it is to begin in our churches, we also know that it must begin in our prayer meetings. If it is to begin in our prayer meetings, it must begin with us ministers. Prayer must be number one again with us. It must have priority.
We need a fresh and adequate revelation of prayer. Bible light must scatter certain shadowy views, and even delusions, about this. From the Bible I would like to present at least seven reasons why prayer is number one.
(1) Prayer is number one with God Himself. Recently I was thinking, "Why pray? Why is a man a praying creature? Whence this prayer arrangement and method?" I had thought of it as starting in man because he is the creature and is in need. But now I see that it really has its origin in God. It is not only in the nature of man to pray, but in the very nature of God. The burden for prayer is not only in man but in God.
This is a mystery but prayer is an expression of the very life of the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. What is more, to really understand prayer, and to learn to pray, we must get God’s own view of prayer. We need an adequate Bible revelation of prayer.
(2) Prayer was and is number one with Christ. When on earth, He did everything by prayer. It was His method, for as the Son He did nothing of Himself, but was constantly dependent on His Father.
All His great steps, His mighty works, His majestic words, were in the nature of answered prayer. He began His Messianic ministry at the Jordan, praying; He finished His work on the Cross, praying. He died as He lived. His was a life of prayer.
His number one ministry was prayer. He rose early to pray. He went to mountains and quiet resorts to pray. He practiced what He taught concerning prayer. It was as He was praying that one of His disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).
We have no portrait of Christ. We come nearest to a portrait when we picture Him in prayer. To picture Him at all is to picture Him praying. He prayed everything into being and then walked into it openly in His ministry.
His major ministry was two-fold: that of Prophet and Priest. But the priestly was number one. Then as Prophet, He worked out what as Priest He prayed through. With Christ prayer was the great work. It was there that He was creative in the highest sense. Luke pictures Christ in prayer seven times, beyond the other scenes given also by the other Gospels. If these are studied, we see how every great step or new cycle in His ministry was the result of new intercession.
We might expect a holy curtain of silence to be drawn over His wonderful prayer life. But on the contrary, every effort is made by the Gospel writers to open up its great scenes. The more high and holy they are, as in Gethsemane and in John 17, the more fully the scenes are given. The Gospel writers found here Christ’s greatest secret, no doubt also learned it as their own, and then by inspiration passed it on for us so we, too, might have this secret in our ministry.
Then when we turn to the Book of Acts, chapter one, we see Christ putting this number one emphasis into the disciples, even more than in the days of His flesh. Prayer increases now, both for Him and for them. It is to be stronger than ever, even for Him as the Risen One. We stand with wonder and worship as we see Him ascend to heaven. To do what? To live forever as Intercessor and Advocate.
He seems to have shut them up in a new way to the closet of the Upper Room, and then Himself to have ascended at once so that He could forever closet Himself in the upper room of God’s great universe to do this one supreme work. Yes, He is burdened now to spend all His time at this one thing: "He ever liveth to make intercession for [us]" (Heb. 7:25).
As King, He is still Priest – more than ever before. He is now a "Priest forever, after the order of Melchisedec." (See Hebrews 7 and 8.) He runs the world by prayer. He reigns royally and forever in prayer. Oh, what a truth! Lord, teach us to pray! (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 20:6).
Prayer is Christ’s universal and eternal method. He makes it plain too, that prayer has its origin in God more than in man.
(3) Prayer is likewise number one with and in the Holy Spirit. He "maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26). God only blesses that which comes from Himself. The Holy Spirit is a praying Spirit, and as the Administrator of the Godhead, brings forth Christ’s own praying in us. Actually, only the praying that is in the Spirit is really effective and is answered. In the Spirit prayer becomes intercessory.
Anyone filled with the Spirit of God will be an intercessor. The more godly, the more Christ-like, the more full of the Spirit we become, the more prayerful our lives will be on earth. The life of the Spirit is a life of prayer.
Fletcher of Madeley was a man who knew this. It was said of him that he would have been a saint in any denomination! One of his sayings was, "Do I greet you praying?" The ministry of the Holy Spirit, like that of Christ, is essentially a ministry of prayer, and only the works wrought by Him will abide the fires of judgment. How we need to learn this in a day of frustration, fears and failures; of powerlessness because of prayerlessness.
(4) Prayer is the number one purpose and use of God’s Word. The Bible has many uses, but prayer is its number one design, and its highest. The Bible is the real and great prayer book.
An old Methodist brother said to me early in my ministry, "Young man, learn to plead the promises of God."
That taught me the real secret of intercession. I have prayed differently ever since. Rather than lift my longings, desires and aspirations to God in prayer, I learned to remind God of His own promises.
This gave me faith. Is not this the very heart of being the Lord’s "remembrancers" – to remind God of His own Word? (Isa. 62:6). Prayer should take the size and shape of God’s promises. Here also, prayer has its origin in God.
We see this number one use of God’s Word also in the Book of Acts. In chapter four, they have a prayer meeting in which the pleading of God’s Word gives body and power to their praying. The ancient Scriptures they plead shape up to a point – the point of a sword – enabling them to prevail. They have now learned what could be called the prayer-method of getting things done. The rest of chapter four and five follow as a creation of that prayer meeting.
All through the Book of Acts the Christians are either on their knees or on their feet. Knee-action and foot-work, in that order. Like Jesus and with Him, they pray their next steps and chapters into being. All is by intercession. All stands in the nature of answered prayer. There is a high Upper Room level all the way through those twenty-eight chapters.
The level of prayer is the level of power. It is one and the same level. To rob their power, the devil need only break up their praying. Power and prayer always go together; but of the two, prayer is number one. Intercession is God’s own mighty method.
Right here let us beware of the delusion, "God will do it anyway, whether I pray as I should or not." Nothing is closer to reason at times; and nothing is further from Scripture.
God does everything by intercession – His own for us, and in us – in His redemptive plan. God’s mighty works and wonders are all by prayer.
God will not do apart from intercession what He has promised to do by it, and we must diligently search the Scriptures to find out what that is. Look where we will in the Bible, and the answer is the same: prayer is not everything, but with God everything is by prayer (Phil. 4:6).
(5) Prayer is number one in the life of faith. Prayer has been called the voice of faith. Faith is also the voice of prayer. Faith and prayer must be one; and of the two, prayer is number one. The promises of God are all shaped for prayer. They are there by the hundreds over the face of Scripture, like manna over the face of the ground – exceeding great and precious promises.
The promises of God, all yea and amen in Christ, give size and shape and success to our prayers. With D. L. Moody we learn, "Tarry at a promise and God will meet you there." The answer comes by way of the promise and should be its very fulfillment. The promise is already the answer to the prayer. Thus the promises of God not only inspire our prayers but assure the answers.
With David we learn to pray truly when we plead, "Do as Thou hast said" (2 Sam. 7:25). In this way we are also working with God by letting Him fill our prayers with His own words.
(6) Prayer is number one in the battle against Satan. Actually, it is the only way we can stand against the devil or any demonic power, whether in a meeting or anywhere else. It is in prayer that the Word becomes a sword of the Spirit against the spiritual forces and wickedness and opposition of Satan. This is where the real warfare takes place.
Ephesians 6:10 and following verses make three things clear:
(a) The real warfare is spiritual, against Satan and his hosts;
(b) The Word of God is pointed as a Sword not first in preaching, but in prayer;
(c) Where Satanic power or opposition is concerned, nothing will touch or overthrow it but Holy Ghost wielding of the Word in intercession.
Preaching will not do it unless praying has first done it. We can only preach through to the point where we have prayed through first. We must prevail with God in prayer and then we prevail in preaching.
Many a preacher has hit a wall in preaching and the devil has all but thrown his words back into his mouth. How can the wall be removed? Not by more preaching. Either the preacher must stop and pray or have his people pray. Either or both are often embarrassing because the average audience is not trained in the Spirit to know what is going on. Yet, if our people are not sensitized and trained in the Spirit, we do not even move against Satan and do not take ground for God.
So far we see from every angle how the prayer ministry is the chief ministry in the Spirit. Only that which is done in the Spirit will last. Much of our activity today will never even last a generation, let alone through the fires of judgment. (See First Corinthians 3:10-15.) The "works" that are wrought in the Spirit are always works that stand as miraculous answers to prayer. Like Joshua of old we are in an enemy’s territory which, though given us of God, we must nevertheless take in battle.
"The victories won by prayer,
By prayer must still be held;
The foe retreats, but only when
By prayer he is compelled."
(7) Prayer is the number one ministry of the church. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "...I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." When Jesus went about building His church, what did He build? We turn over to Acts 1:14 and find the answer. There we stand with wide-eyed wonder as the door is opened to the Upper Room, and we discover: "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren."
If you were to ask me, "What is your most important discovery from the Bible in recent years?" I would say it is this: When Jesus Christ went about building His church, He built a prayer meeting. This is to me not only a revelation, but it calls for a revolution as far as the ministry goes.
When we look at our poor, puny, sickly little prayer meetings, so weak that you can spell "weekly" prayer meeting either way ("weekly," or "weakly"), we know that this generation of little prayer has not caught Christ’s idea of the church.
At best, even where we have a fair prayer meeting, we have the idea that the church company is one thing and the prayer meeting "crowd" is another. But where do we get that in the Bible? There the praying company is the church company; they are not two, but one and the same company. The church is, indeed, the prayer meeting. Not one member was missing in the prayer meeting. Yet we are constantly perpetuating an arrangement which we have no divine sanction for!
What a revelation of the church we see in the Book of Acts! We don’t wait for chapter two and Pentecost to see the shape and form of the church. There it is already in chapter one, quite complete as to its form, in the Upper Room. In fact, I would like to say two things here:
(1) The prayer meeting is the very framework of the church. The lines of her building are the very lines of the prayer meeting. They are the lines of an organism of the Spirit, of power, of liberty, of fellowship, of increase, of advance, of revival, evangelism and missions. Sister Prayer-meeting is not different from the church; she is the church as Christ builds it.
(2) The prayer meeting is the very form that Christ gives to the church He builds. His church is already quite complete as to form in Acts 1:14. There we see for the first time what Jesus really had in mind when He said He would build His church.
Prayer is not by any means all; but it is number one. And how will we get number two, or three, until we have number one? Why don’t we have a church and churches like in the Book of Acts? We need to build, with Christ, at chapter one first, the Upper Room. Pastors, let us seek the Lord for His wisdom and power and authority in this.
Too often we think of the prayer meeting as a little flock or as something more or less separate from the main stream of the church’s life and activity. "Sure, we must pray...have a prayer meeting, etc.," but we think of it as a prefix or suffix to an otherwise planned and busy program. In the New Testament, prayer is the real ministry of the church.
If I were a pastor again, I would seek to organize and integrate the entire church around the prayer meeting. Thus, I would build and work with Christ instead of for Him. I would get the elders, deacons, leaders and officers together. I would pray with them! Then I would have them plan and promote the church prayer meetings with me. I would, with them, seek to make the prayer meeting the big, the truly great, all-out meeting of the entire church – the best meeting of the week.
I would be Scriptural in this and have the blessing of the Lord in it. The wonderful thing about it all is this: Christ Himself is all-out for the prayer meeting; it is His idea of the church and I say I love Jesus and want to serve Him...I am not here in the ministry to tell Jesus what kind of a church we want...I am here to do what He wants, and this is it!
Let everyone reading these lines pray that this year we shall see the wonder of revived prayer meetings throughout the land. Then we will be on the eve of revival in our churches. For in this burden of revival the prayer meeting is number one.
Prayer is not only number one – it is the means of making us one! Prayer is thus a method – God’s own method – of working.
I would say that our trouble today is that we do not see prayer as a ministry. In the Bible, the ministry of prayer is the secret of the ministry. There prayer is the highest of all ministries. Today we seem to evaluate differently: "He is popular...a great personality...a great preacher, etc." In Scripture, the higher a man’s ministry, the more he is a man of prayer.
Think of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, and all the prophets in the Old Testament; of aged Zechariah, Simeon, John the Baptist, Jesus, and all the men of the New Testament. The Bible is a biography of men of God who were all mighty in prayer and who changed the face of the earth because they constantly sought the face of God. Prayer to them was not a side ministry. It was not a preliminary to an otherwise busy round.
To them it was the ministry in the ministry. It was their main work and warfare. They did not just "pray about" the work. Prayer was their big work. It was their number one ministry. As we close, with all our hearts we ask, "Lord, teach us to pray!"
– Used by permission. Armin Gesswein (1908-2001) was founder and director of Revival Prayer Fellowship, Inc. and Ministers’ Prayer Fellowship.