Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth. God does nothing but in answer to prayer.—John Wesley The apostles knew the necessity and worth of prayer to their ministry. They knew that their high commission as apostles, instead of relieving them from the necessity of prayer, committed them to it by a more urgent need; so that they were exceedingly jealous else some other important work should exhaust their time and prevent their praying as they ought; so they appointed laymen to look after the delicate and engrossing duties of ministering to the poor, that they (the apostles) might, unhindered, “give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Prayer is put first, and their relation to prayer is put most strongly—”give themselves to it,” making a business of it, surrendering themselves to praying, putting fervor, urgency, perseverance, and time in it. How holy, apostolic men devoted themselves to this divine work of prayer! “Night and day praying exceedingly,” says Paul. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer” is the consensus of apostolic devotement. How these New Testament preachers laid themselves out in prayer for God’s people! How they put God in full force into their Churches by their praying!
These holy apostles did not vainly fancy that they had met their high and solemn duties by delivering faithfully God’s word, but their preaching was made to stick and tell by the ardor and insistence of their praying. Apostolic praying was as taxing, toilsome, and imperative as apostolic preaching. They prayed mightily day and night to bring their people to the highest regions of faith and holiness. They prayed mightier still to hold them to this high spiritual altitude.
The preacher who has never learned in the school of Christ the high and divine art of intercession for his people will never learn the art of preaching, though homiletics be poured into him by the ton, and though he be the most gifted genius in sermon-making and sermon-delivery. The prayers of apostolic, saintly leaders do much in making saints of those who are not apostles. If the Church leaders in after years had been as particular and fervent in praying for their people as the apostles were, the sad, dark times of worldliness and apostasy had not marred the history and eclipsed the glory and arrested the advance of the Church. Apostolic praying makes apostolic saints and keeps apostolic times of purity and power in the Church. What loftiness of soul, what purity and elevation of motive, what unselfishness, what self-sacrifice, what exhaustive toil, what ardor of spirit, what divine tact are requisite to be an intercessor for men! The preacher is to lay himself out in prayer for his people; not that they might be saved, simply, but that they be mightily saved.
The apostles laid themselves out in prayer that their saints might be perfect; not that they should have a little relish for the things of God, but that they “might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Paul did not rely on his apostolic preaching to secure this end, but “for this cause he bowed his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s praying carried Paul’s converts farther along the highway of sainthood than Paul’s preaching did. Epaphras did as much or more by prayer for the Colossian saints than by his preaching. He labored fervently always in prayer for them that “they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Preachers are preeminently God’s leaders. They are primarily responsible for the condition of the Church. They shape its character, give tone and direction to its life. Much every way depends on these leaders.
They shape the times and the institutions. The Church is divine, the treasure it incases is heavenly, but it bears the imprint of the human. The treasure is in earthen vessels, and it smacks of the vessel. The Church of God makes, or is made by, its leaders. Whether it makes them or is made by them, it will be what its leaders are; spiritual if they are so, secular if they are, conglomerate if its leaders are. Israel’s kings gave character to Israel’s piety. A Church rarely revolts against or rises above the religion of its leaders. Strongly spiritual leaders; men of holy might, at the lead, are tokens of God’s favor; disaster and weakness follow the wake of feeble or worldly leaders. Israel had fallen low when God gave children to be their princes and babes to rule over them. No happy state is predicted by the prophets when children oppress God’s Israel and women rule over them.
Times of spiritual leadership are times of great spiritual prosperity to the Church. Prayer is one of the eminent characteristics of strong spiritual leadership. Men of mighty prayer are men of might and mold things. Their power with God has the conquering tread. How can a man preach who does not get his message fresh from God in the closet? How can he preach without having his faith quickened, his vision cleared, and his heart warmed by his closeting with God? Alas, for the pulpit lips which are untouched by this closet flame. Dry and unctionless they will ever be, and truths divine will never come with power from such lips. As far as the real interests of religion are concerned, a pulpit without a closet will always be a barren thing. A preacher may preach in an official, entertaining, or learned way without prayer, but between this kind of preaching and sowing God’s precious seed with holy hands and prayerful, weeping hearts there is an immeasurable distance. A prayerless ministry is the undertaker for all God’s truth and for God’s Church.
He may have the most costly casket and the most beautiful flowers, but it is a funeral, notwithstanding the charmful array. A prayerless Christian will never learn God’s truth; a prayerless ministry will never be able to teach God’s truth. Ages of millennial glory have been lost by a prayerless Church. The coming of our Lord has been postponed indefinitely by a prayerless Church. Hell has enlarged herself and filled her dire caves in the presence of the dead service of a prayerless Church. The best, the greatest offering is an offering of prayer. If the preachers of the twentieth century will learn well the lesson of prayer, and use fully the power of prayer, the millennium will come to its noon ere the century closes. “Pray without ceasing” is the trumpet call to the preachers of the twentieth century. If the twentieth century will get their texts, their thoughts, their words, their sermons in their closets, the next century will find a new heaven and a new earth. The old sin-stained and sin-eclipsed heaven and earth will pass away under the power of a praying ministry.