The Power Of Prayer
"Ye have not, because ye ask not" (James 4:2)
I BRING YOU A MESSAGE FROM GOD contained in seven short words. Six
of the seven words are monosyllables, and the remaining word has but
two syllables and is one of the most familiar and most easily
understood words in the English language. Yet there is so much in these
seven short, simple words that they have transformed many a life and
brought many an inefficient worker into a place of great power.
I spoke on these seven words some years ago at a Bible conference in
central New York. Some months after the conference, I received a letter
from the man who had presided at the conference, one of the best-known
ministers of the gospel in America. He wrote me, "I have been unable to
get away from the seven words on which you spoke at Lake Keuka, they
have been with me day and night. They have transformed my ideas,
transformed my methods, transformed my ministry." The man who wrote
those words has since been the pastor of what is probably the most
widely known of any evangelical church in the world. I trust that the
words may sink into some of your hearts today as they did into his on
that occasion and that some of you will be able to say in future months
and years, "I have been unable to get away from those seven words, they
nave seen with me day and night. They have transformed my ideas,
transformed my methods, transformed my life, and transformed my service
You will find these seven words in James 4:2, the seven closing words
of the verse, "Ye have not, because ye ask not. "
The Secret of Christians Powerlessness
These seven words contain the secret of the poverty and powerlessness
of the average Christian, of the average minister, and of the average
church. "Why is it," many a Christian is asking, "that I make such poor
progress in my Christian life? Why do I have so little victory over
sin? Why do I win so few souls to Christ? Why do I grow so slowly into
the likeness of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?" And God answers in
the words of the text: "Neglect of prayer. You have not, because you
"Why is it," many a minister is asking, "that I see so little fruit
from my ministry? Why are there so few conversions? Why does my church
grow so slowly? Why are the members of my church so little helped by my
ministry, and built up so little in Christian knowledge and life?" And
again God replies: "Neglect of prayer. You have not, because you ask
"Why is it," both ministers and churches are asking, "that the church
of Jesus Christ is making such slow progress in the world today? Why
does it make so little headway against sin, against unbelief, against
error in all its forms? Why does it have so little victory over the
world, the flesh, and the devil? Why is the average church member
living on such a low plane of Christian living? Why does the Lord Jesus
Christ get so little honor from the state of the church today?" And,
again, God replies: "Neglect of prayer. You have not, because you ask
The Early Church's Victory
When we read the only inspired church history that was ever written,
the history of the church in the days of the apostles as it is recorded
by Luke (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) in the Acts of the
Apostles, what do we find? We find a story of constant victory, a story
of perpetual progress. We read, for example, such statements as Acts
2:47: "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" and
Acts 4:4: "Many of them which heard the word believed; and the number
of the men was about five thousand," and Acts 5:14: "And believers were
the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." In
addition Luke in Acts 6:7 states: "And the word of God increased: and
the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a
great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."
And so we go on, chapter after chapter, through the twenty-eight
chapters of Acts, and in every one of the twenty-seven chapters after
the first, we find the same note of victory. I once went through the
Acts of the Apostles marking the note of victory in every chapter, and
without one single exception the triumphant shout of victory rang out
in every chapter. How different the history of the church as here
recorded is from the history of the church of Jesus Christ today. Take,
for example, that first statement, "The Lord added to the church daily
[that is, every day] such as should be saved." Why, nowadays, if we
have a revival once a year with an accession of fifty or sixty members
and spend all the rest of the year slipping back to where we were
before, we think we are doing pretty well. But in those days there was
a revival all the time and accessions every day of those who not only
"hit the trail" but "were [really] being saved."
Why this difference between the early church and the church of Jesus
Christ today? Someone will answer, "Because there is so much opposition
today." Ah, but there was opposition in those days, most bitter, most
determined, most relentless opposition in comparison with which that
which you and I meet today is but child's play. But the early church
went right on beating down all opposition, surmounting every obstacle,
conquering every foe, always victorious, right on without a setback
from Jerusalem to Rome, in the face of the most firmly entrenched and
most mighty heathenism and unbelief. I repeat the question, "Why was
it?" If you will turn to the chapters from which I have already quoted,
you will get your answer.
Turn, for example, to Acts 2:42: "And they continued steadfastly in the
apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread and in
prayers." That is a picture very brief but very suggestive of the early
church. It was a praying church. It was a church in which they prayed,
not merely occasionally, but where they all "continued steadfastly . .
. in prayers." They all prayed, not a select few, but the whole
membership of the church; and all prayed continuously with steadfast
determination. "They gave themselves to prayer," as the same Greek word
is translated in Acts 6:4.
Now turn to Acts 6:4 and you will get the rest of your answer. "We will
give ourselves continually to prayer." That is a picture of the
apostolic ministry: it was a praying ministry, and a ministry that
"gave themselves continually to prayer," or, to translate that Greek
word as it is translated in former passage (Acts 2:42), "They continued
steadfastly in prayer." A praying church and a praying ministry! Ah,
such a church and such a ministry can achieve anything that ought to be
achieved. It will go steadily on, beating down all opposition,
surmounting every obstacle, conquering every foe, just as much today as
it did in the days of the apostles.
Present-day Departure From Prayer
There is nothing else in which the church and the ministry of today or,
to be more explicit, you and I have departed more notably and more
lamentably from apostolic precedent than in this matter of prayer. We
do not live in a praying age. A very considerable proportion of the
membership of our evangelical churches today do not believe even
theoretically in prayer. Many of them now believe in prayer as having a
beneficial "reflex influence," that is, as benefitting the person who
prays, a sort of lifting yourself up by your spiritual bootstraps. But
as for prayer bringing anything to pass that would not have come to
pass if we had not prayed, they do not believe in it, and many of them
frankly say so, and even some of our "modern ministers" say so. I
believe it is still the vast majority in our evangelical churches-even
they do not make the use of this mighty instrument that God has put
into our hands that one would naturally expect. As I said, we do not
live in a praying age. We live in an age of hustle and bustle, of man's
efforts and man's determination, of man's confidence in himself and in
his own power to achieve things, an age of human organization and human
machinery, human push and human scheming, and human achievement, which
in the things of God means no real achievement at all.
I think it would be perfectly safe to say that the church of Christ was
never in all its history so fully, so skillfully and so thoroughly and
so perfectly organized as it is today. Our machinery is wonderful; it
is just perfect, but, alas, it is machinery without power; and when
things do not go right, instead of going to the real source of our
failure, our neglect to depend on God and look to God for power, we
look around to see if there is not some new organization we can get up,
some new wheel that we can add to our machinery. We have altogether too
many wheels already. What we need is not so much some new organization,
some new wheel, but "the Spirit of the living creature in the wheels"
we already possess.
I believe that the devil stands and looks at the church today and
laughs in his sleeve as he sees how its members depend on their own
scheming and powers of organization and skillfully devised machinery.
"Ha, ha," he laughs, "you may have your Boy Scouts, your costly church
edifices, your multi-thousand-dollar church organs, your brilliant
university-bred preachers, your high-priced choirs, your gifted
sopranos and altos and tenors and bases, your wonderful quartets, your
immense men's Bible classes, yes, and your Bible conferences, and your
Bible institutes, and your special evangelistic services, all you
please of them; it does not in the feast trouble me, if you will only
leave out of them the power of the Lord God Almighty sought and
obtained by the earnest, persistent, believing prayer that will not
take no for an answer." But when the devil sees a man or woman who
really believes in prayer, who knows how to pray, and who really does
pray, and, above all, when he sees a whole church on its face before
God in prayer, "he trembles" as much as he ever did, for he knows that
his day in that church or community is at an end.
Prayer has as much power today, when men and women are themselves on
praying ground and meeting the conditions of prevailing prayer, as it
ever has had. God has not changed, and His ear is just as quick to hear
the voice of real prayer and His hand is just as long and strong to
save as they ever were. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that
it cannot save: neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But our
iniquities may "have separated between us and our God, and "our sins
have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1,2).
Prayer is the key that unlocks all the storehouses of God's infinite
grace and power. All that God is, and all that God has, are at the
disposal of player. But we must use the key. Prayer can do anything
that God can do, and as God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent. No
one can stand against the one who knows how to pray and who meets all
the conditions of prevailing prayer and who really prays. "The Lord God
Omnipotent" works from him and works through him.
Prayer Will Promote Our Personal Holiness as Nothing Else, Except the
Study of the Word of God
But what, specifically, will prayer do? We have been dealing in
generalities; let us come down to the definite and specific. The Word
of God very plainly answers the question.
In the first place, prayer will promote our personal piety, our
individual holiness, our individual growth into the likeness of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as almost nothing else, as nothing else
but the study of the Word of God. These two things, prayer and study of
the Word of God, always go hand-in-hand, for there is no true prayer
without study of the Word of God, and there is no true study of the
Word of God without prayer.
Other things being equal, your growth and mine into the likeness of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be in exact proportion to the time
and to the heart we put into prayer. Please note exactly what I say:
"Your growth and mine into the likeness of our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ will be in exact proportion to the time and to the heart we put
into prayer." I put it in that way because there are many who put a
great deal of time but so little heart into their praying that they do
very little praying in the long time they spend at it.
On the other hand, there are others who, perhaps, may not put so much
time into praying but put so much heart into praying that they
accomplish vastly more by their praying in a short time than the others
accomplish by praying in a long time. God Himself has told us in
Jeremiah 29: 13: "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall
search for me with all your heart."
We are told in Ephesians 1:3, that God "hash blessed us with every
spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in -Christ." That is to say,
Jesus Christ by His atoning death and by His resurrection and ascension
to the right hand of the Father has obtained for every believer in
Jesus Christ every possible spiritual blessing. There is no spiritual
blessing that any believer enjoys that may not be yours. It belongs to
you now; Christ purchased it by His atoning death and God has provided
it in Him. It is there for you; but it is your part to claim it, to put
out your hand and take it. God's appointed way for claiming blessings
by putting out your hand and appropriating to yourself the blessings
that are procured for you by the atoning death of Jesus Christ is by
prayer. Prayer is the hand that takes to ourselves the blessings that
God has already provided in His Son.
Go through your Bible and you will find it definitely stated that every
conceivable spiritual blessing is obtained by prayer. For example, it
is in answer to prayer, as we learn from Psalm 139:23, 24, that God
searches us and knows our hearts, tries us and knows our thoughts,
brings to light the sin that there is in us and delivers us from it. It
is in answer to prayer, as we learn from Psalm 19:12,13, that we are
cleansed from secret faults and that God keeps us back from
presumptuous sins. It is in answer to prayer, as we learn from the 14th
verse of the same Psalm, that the words of our mouth and the
meditations of our heart are made acceptable in God's sight. It is in
answer to prayer, as we learn from Psalm 25:4,5, that God shows us His
ways, teaches us His path, and guides us in His truth. It is in answer
to prayer, as we learn from the prayer our Lord Himself taught us, that
we are kept from temptation and delivered from the power of the wicked
one (Matthew 6:13). It is in answer to prayer, as we learn from Luke
11:13, that God gives us His Holy Spirit. And so we might go on through
the whole catalog of spiritual blessings and find that every one is
obtained by asking for it. Indeed, our Lord Himself has said in Matthew
7:11: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good
things to them that ask him."
One of the most instructive and suggestive passages in the entire Bible
as showing the mighty power of prayer to transform us into the likeness
of our Lord Jesus Himself, is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "But we all,
with open face beholding as in a glass [The English Revision reads
better, "reflecting as a mirror"] the glory of the Lord, are changed
into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the
Lord." The thought is that the Lord is the sun, you and I are mirrors,
and just as a mischievous boy on a bright sunshiny day will catch the
rays of the sun in a piece of broken looking-glass and reflect them
into your eyes and mine with almost blinding power, so we, as mirrors,
when we commune with God, catch the rays of His moral glory and reflect
them out on the world "from glory to glory." That is, each time we
commune with Him we catch something new of His glory and reflect it out
on the world.
I'm sure you remember the story of Moses, how he went up into the mount
and tarried about forty days with God, gazing on that ineffable glory,
and caught so much of the glory in his own face that when he came down
from the mount, though he himself did not know it, his face so shone
that he had to draw a veil over it to hide the blinding glory of it
from his fellow Israelites.
Even so we, going up into the mount of prayer, away from the world,
alone with God, catch the rays of His glory, so that when we come down
to other people, it is not so much our faces that shine (though I do
believe that sometimes even our faces shine), but our characters, with
the glory that we have been beholding. We then reflect out on the world
the moral glory of God from "glory to glory," each new time of
communion with Him catching something new of His glory to reflect out
on the world. Oh, here is the secret of becoming much like God by
remaining long alone with God. If you won't stay long with Him, you
won't be much like Him.
One of the most remarkable men in Scotland's history was John Welch,
son-in-law of John Knox, the great Scotch reformer; he is as well-known
as his famous father-in-law, but in some respects a far more remarkable
man than John Knox himself. Most people have the idea that it was John
Knox who prayed, "Give me Scotland or I die." It was not, it was John
Welch, his son-in-law. John Welch put it on record before he died that
he counted that day ill-spent that he did not put seven or eight hours
into secret prayer. When John Welch came to die, an old Scotchman who
had known him from his boyhood said of him, "John Welch was a type of
Christ." Of course, that was an inaccurate use of language, but what
the old Scotchman meant was, that Jesus Christ had stamped the impress
of His character on John Welch. When had Jesus Christ done it? In those
seven or eight hours of daily communion with Himself. I do not suppose
that God has called many of us, if any of us, to put seven or eight
hours a day into prayer, but I am confident God has called most of us,
if not every one of us, to put more time into prayer than we now do.
That is one of the great secrets of holiness, indeed, the only way in
which we can become really holy and continue holy.
Some years ago we often sang a hymn, "Take Time to Be Holy." I wish we
sang it more in these days. It takes time to be holy, one cannot be
holy in a hurry, and much of the time that it takes to be holy must go
into secret prayer. Some people express surprise that professing
Christians today are so little like their Lord, but when I stop to
think how little time the average Christian today puts into secret
prayer the thing that astonished me is, not that we are so little like
the Lord, but that we are as much like the Lord as we are, when we take
so little time for secret prayer.
Prayer Will Bring the Power of God Into Our Work
But not only will prayer promote as almost nothing else our personal
holiness, but prayer will also bring the power of God into our work. We
read in Isaiah 40:31: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their
strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and
not be weary; and they shall walk [plod right along day after day,
which is far harder than running or flying], and not faint."
It is the privilege of every child of God to have the power of God in
his service. And the verse just quoted tells us how to obtain it, and
that is by "waiting upon the Lord." Sometimes you will hear people
stand up in a meeting, not so frequently perhaps in these days as in
former days, and say: "I am trying to serve God in my poor, weak way."
Well, if you are trying to serve God in your poor, weak way, quit it;
your duty is to serve God in His strong, triumphant way. But you say,
"I have no natural ability." Then get supernatural ability.
The religion of Jesus Christ is a supernatural religion from start to
finish, and we should live our lives in supernatural power, the power
of God through Jesus Christ, and we should perform our service with
supernatural power, the power of God ministered by the Holy Spirit
through Jesus Christ. You say, "I have no natural gifts." Then get
supernatural gifts. The Holy Spirit is promised to every believer in
order that he may obtain the supernatural gifts which qualify him for
the particular service to which God calls him. "He [The Holy Spirit]
divideth to each one [that is, to each and every believer] severally
even as he will" ([Corinthians 12:11). It is ours to have the power of
God if we will only seek it by prayer in any and every line of service
to which God calls us.
Are you a mother or a father? Do you wish power from God to bring your
own children up in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord"? God
commands you to do it and especially commands the father to do it. God
says in Ephesians 6:4: "Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath:
but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Now, God never commands the impossible, and as He commands us fathers,
and the mothers also, to bring our children up in the nuture and
admonition of the Lord, it is possible for us to do it. If any one of
your children is not saved, the first blame lies at your own door. Paul
said to the jailer in Philippi: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and
thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (Acts 16:31).
Yes, it is the solemn duty of every father and mother to have every one
of their children saved. But we can never accomplish it unless we are
much in prayer to God for power to do it. In my first pastorale I had
as a member of my church a most excellent Christian woman, but she had
a little boy of six who was one of the most incorrigible youngsters I
ever knew in my life. He was the terror of the community. One Sunday,
at the close of the morning service, his mother came to me and said:
"You know-?" (calling her boy by his first name).
"Yes," I replied, "I know him." Everybody in town knew him. "Yes," I
replied, "I know he is not a very good boy." Indeed, that was a
decidedly euphemistic way of putting it; in point of fact he was the
terror of the neighborhood.
Then this heavy-hearted mother said, "What shall I do?"
I replied, "Have you ever tried prayer?"
"Why," she said, "of course I pray."
"Oh," I said, "that is not what I mean. Have you ever asked God
definitely to regenerate your boy and expected Him to do it?"
"I do not think I have ever been as definite as that."
"Well," I said, "you go right home and be just as definite as that."
She went home and was just as definite as that, and I think it was from
that very day, certainly from that week, that the boy was a transformed
boy and grew up into fine young manhood.
Oh, mothers and fathers, it is your privilege to have every one of your
children saved. But it costs something to have them saved. It costs
your spending much time alone with God, to be much in prayer, and it
costs also your making those sacrifices and straightening out those
things in your life that are wrong; it costs the fulfilling the
conditions of prevailing prayer. And if any of you have unsaved
children, when you go home today get alone with God and ask God to show
you what it is in your own life that is responsible for the present
condition of your children. Straighten it out at once and then get down
alone before God and hold to Him in earnest prayer for the definite
conversion of each one of your children. Do not rest until, by prayer
and by your putting forth every effort, you know beyond question that
every one of your children is definitely and positively converted and
Are you a Sunday school teacher? Do you wish to see every one of your
Sunday school scholars converted? That is primarily what you are a
Sunday school teacher for, not merely to teach Bible geography and
Bible history, or even Bible doctrine, but to get the people in your
class one and all saved. Do you want power from on high to enable you
to save them? Ask God for it.
Examples of God's Power Evident in Prayer
When Mr. Alexander and I were holding meetings in Sydney, Australia,
the meetings were held in the Town Hall, which seated about five
thousand people. But the crowds were so great that some days we had to
divide the crowds and have women only in the afternoon and men only at
night. One Sunday afternoon the Sydney Town Hall was packed with women.
When I gave the invitation for all who would accept Jesus Christ as
their personal Savior, surrender to Him as their Lord and Master, begin
to confess Him as such before the world, and strive to live from this
time on to please Him in every way from day to day, over on my left a
whole row of eighteen young women of, I should say, about twenty years
of age, arose to their feet. As I saw them stand side by side, I said
to myself, "That is someone's Bible class." Afterwards they came
forward with the other women who came to make a public confession of
their acceptance of Jesus Christ. When the meeting was over, a young
lady came to me, her face wreathed in smiles, and she said, "That is my
Bible class. I have been praying for their conversion, and every one of
them has accepted Jesus Christ today.
When we were holding meetings in Bristol, England, a prominent
manufacturer in Exeter had a Bible class of twenty-two men. He invited
all of them to go to Bristol with him and hear me preach. Twenty-one of
them consented to go. At that meeting twenty of them accepted Christ.
That man was praying for the conversion of the members of his class and
was willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get his prayers
answered. Revival would quickly come here in this city if every Sunday
school teacher would go to praying the way they ought for the
conversion of every scholar in his or her class!
Are you in more public work, a preacher perhaps, or speaking from the
public platform? Do you long for power in that work? Ask for it.
Oh, men and women, if we would spend more nights before God on our
faces in prayer there would be more days of power when we faced our