Prayer's Proper Place
The Christian who is still carnal has neither desire nor strength to follow after God. He rests satisfied with the prayer of habit or custom.— Andrew Murray, The Prayer Life
IN ORDER TO better understand the importance of prayer, we must first recognize that peaceful coexistence of the church within a society is a gift from God. The founding of our great nation was not due solely to the Revolutionary War or that great men saw fit to draft a constitution that guarantees our religious liberty. Neither are we solely dependent on present judges and law makers to preserve these freedoms for the church. Nor can the church itself guard these privileges by political action, lobbying, protesting or urging citizens to vote. All the above may outwardly appear to be the reason we have and hold our religious rights in this country but they are merely secondary causes to this end.
God is the sole sovereignty of this blessing upon the church and He bestowed this blessing to us in response to our steadfast petitions.
That is why the Apostle Paul was emphatic that Christians pray continually for the church and governing powers:
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth ... I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (I Timothy 2: 1-4, 8.)
As the Church, we can no more create a peaceful coexistence, righteous government or protected worshipping environment than we can cause spiritual growth and revival. We trivialize the importance of prayer when our habitual response to every encroaching persecution and evil is to hope in the political ideals of men, strength of political organizations or passing of new laws as the solution to societal ills. When the church begins to take for granted God’s work in a nation by relying more on human effort than repentance and prayer, it risks the very thing it is trying so hard to achieve. Great Christian endeavors will always have their heroes and works of faith, but it is the grace of God that orchestrates it.
As an original object lesson, we admire the early Pilgrims and how they faced incredible adversity to establish a free society with which to worship within. But, if not for God’s providence, it would have never happened. Despite all the heroism and determination, they should have been annihilated by the local Indians. Down to just 50 in number after the first winter, and that being mostly women and children, they were incredibly weak and without adequate protection. The Pilgrims, however, just “happened” to have chosen an area of land that had been devastated by a plague that ravaged local Indians, driving the tribe from the land before their arrival. These early pilgrims understood clearly the difficulties that faced their community and earnestly sought God for the establishment of their settlement. Those who followed and helped establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony, like many of the early pioneers, knew the success of the new nation rested on the grace of God and humbled themselves accordingly by prayer.
And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. - Ezekiel 22:30
And He saw that there was no man. And was astonished that there was no one to intercede. - Isaiah 59:16
The lack of blessing on a nation, at least from the argument of Scripture, is not to be
blamed on the wicked. There is an accountability given to the people of God for continual humbling, repentance and prayer in order to sustain the mercy of God on that nation or land where the believers dwell.
Ponder this one question: Suppose a people of God established a great nation with a strong foundational understanding that the Lord must continually be sought for blessings on that society. And suppose the founders of this budding new government, influenced by the Church, saw to it that prayer for guidance commenced all legislative and judicial gatherings and that the invoking of God’s blessing was included in their public discourse along with regular decrees for the humbling and praying of all citizens. And then suppose that same church and the leaders of that great nation, little by little, generation by generation, gradually over the passage of two centuries, sadly took for granted His blessings on that country to the point where prayer for the nation became an insignificant practice. What kind of country do you think it would become over those two hundred years?
The question is of course rhetorical; it would be just like our country is today. Has it ever puzzled you that, despite all the efforts of the church in America to thwart abortion, crime, pornography, legalized immorality, divorce, humanism, etc., we are, at best, only able to slow down what appears to be an inevitable complete disintegration of our society?
With all of our endeavors in the form of radio programs, editorials, books, politics, lobbying, protests and contributions, is it still not plainly obvious that our rights and freedom are at best very precarious? We have no rest from the overwhelming crusades against us and are always one vote away from a Supreme Court rewriting laws in favor of moral relativism and anti-Christian values.
I used to think the polls were slanted when they said the majority of the people favored a woman’s right to choose, or it was media bias that claimed a large percentage of our society favors a homosexual’s right to marry. But not anymore. I am convinced that we are losing the battle for souls in America. And I believe it is because we, as a Church, have a propensity toward trusting individual ingenuity and self-sufficiency, while at the same time being so overly occupied with entertainment and pleasure that we fail to give prayer the higher place of value.
It may very well be true that we are still living simply on the borrowed time of the humble prayers of our forefathers.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone ...
The framework of this passage is written in the context of public worship. The apostle’s use of “urge” and “first of all” denotes his passion that prayer be given the first and foremost place in our meetings. Prayer for those who govern us is to be a vital focus of the worship service with all the saints, not just for the lone missionary or intercessor at home. Sadly to say, for the American church, this type of prayer is almost nonexistent on Sunday morning.
Every time we meet and give prayer a token place squeezed in for a couple of minutes between the hymns and the offering, we are demonstrating to ourselves our lack of dependence on prayer to bring down blessings from on high.
When regulated to other nights or “before the service” (as if the act of praying together is not real church time), we are implying to our own people that prayer is merely supplementary or secondary to regular worship rather than the foundational communication with God that makes everything we do possible.
If prayer were the habit of the church, Sunday mornings would not be the same as they are today. If we knew the blessings of taking refuge as a congregation in the Lord through prayer and bringing all our needs before Him — who alone can protect us from our enemies, from a tyrannical government, from disunity, from financial duress, heal our sicknesses and protect our families — we would not be satisfied to leave our brethren until every need had been cast upon our gracious Lord.
- Matt Finneran