5 Things To Pray For Your Pastor

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5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2020

By Nicholas Batzig

As a pastor, I sometimes mistakenly think that those most in need of my prayers in the church are those who have the most noticeable spiritual or physical weaknesses. I would imagine that, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all thought or said at some time or another something along the lines of, “So-and-so is really going to need a lot of prayer.” On the one hand, it is entirely right that we acknowledge that our brothers and sisters who have more noticeable weaknesses have a great need for our prayers. On the other hand, however, those to whom God has given the most gifts and graces are also greatly in need of our prayers. Contrary to what some might suppose, ministers of the gospel desperately need the prayers of the saints.

Pastors need the saints’ prayers because they are ever the object of the flaming arrows of the evil one. In addition, the world is eager to run them over at any opportunity. As one of my seminary professors so illustratively put it, “Ministers have a bull’s eye on their backs and footprints up their chests.” Sadly, this is even a reality for pastors within the context of the local church.

With so much opposition and difficulty within and without, pastors constantly need the people of God to be praying for them. The shepherd needs the prayers of the sheep as much as they need his prayers. He also is one of Christ’s sheep and is susceptible to the same weaknesses. While there are many things one could pray for pastors, here are five straightforward scriptural categories:

1. Pray for their spiritual protection from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Whether it was Moses’ sinful anger leading to his striking of the rock (Num. 20:7-12), David’s adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11), or Simon Peter’s denial of the Lord (Matt. 26:69-75) and practical denial of justification by faith alone (Gal. 2:11-21), ministers are faced with the reality of the weakness of the flesh, the assaults of the world, and the rage of the devil. There have been a plethora of ministers who have fallen into sinful practices in the history of the church and so brought disgrace to the name of Christ. Since Satan has ministers of the gospel (and their families) locked in his sight—and since God’s honor is at stake in a heightened sense with any public ministry of the word—members of the church should pray that their pastor and their pastor’s family would not fall prey to the world, the flesh, or the devil.

2. Pray for their deliverance from the physical attacks of the world and the devil.

While under prison guard in Rome, the Apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to pray for his release when he wrote, “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19; see also 2 Cor. 1:9-11.). After Herod imprisoned Simon Peter, we learn that “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). After an exodus-like deliverance from prison, Luke tells us that Peter showed up at the home where the disciples were continuing to pray for his deliverance. This is yet another example of the minister being delivered from harm due, in part, to the prayers of the saints.

3. Pray for doors to be opened to them for the spread of the gospel.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul asked the church to be praying “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains” (Col. 4:3). The success of the spread of the gospel is dependent in part on the prayers of the people of God. In this way, the church shares in the gospel ministry with the pastor. Though he is not the only one in the body who is called to spread the word, he has a unique calling to “do the work of an evangelist.” The saints help him fulfill this work by praying that the Lord would open doors “for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.”

4. Pray that they might have boldness and power to preach the gospel.

In addition to praying for open doors for the ministry of the word, the people of God should pray that ministers would have Spirit-wrought boldness. When writing to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul asked them to pray for him “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). There is a well-known story of several college students going to visit the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London in order to hear Charles Spurgeon preach. As the story goes, Spurgeon met them at the door and offered to show them around. At one point he asked if they wanted to see the church’s heater plant (boiler room). He took them downstairs where they saw hundreds of people praying for God’s blessings on the service and on Spurgeon’s preaching. The gathering of the people of God to pray for the ministry of the word is what he called “the heating plant”! Believers can help ministers by praying that they would be given boldness and power in preaching the gospel.

5. Pray that they might have a spirit of wisdom and understanding.

One of the most pressing needs for a minister of the gospel is that he would be given the necessary wisdom to counsel, to know when to confront, to mediate, and to discern the particular pastoral needs of a congregation. This is an all-encompassing and recurring need. The minister is daily faced with particular challenges for which he desperately needs the wisdom of Christ. It is said of Jesus that “the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge, and of counsel and might” was upon Him (Is. 11:2). The servants of Christ need that same Spirit. Much harm is done to the church as a whole if the minister does not proceed with the wisdom commensurate to the challenges with which he is faced. Those who benefit from this wisdom can help the minister by calling down this divine blessing from heaven upon him.

*Article adapted from Ligonier Ministries, ligonier.org  (January 3, 2020)

Jason Meyer’s Don’t Lose Heart: Gospel Hope For the Discouraged Soul

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A Biblical Guide For Overcoming Despair, Discouragement, and Disappointment

Book Review by David P. Craig

Jason Meyer has written a very concise, and yet helpful book for Christians who battle feeling defeated, depression, discouragement, despair, and disappointment. There are two primary reasons I would recommend this book to those who wrestle with the 5 D’s above:

First, it is thoroughly biblical. Second, it is extremely practical. In Part One: How To Fight For Sight, Meyer deals with what to do when you feel overwhelmed, defeated, and worthless. In Part Two” How To Defeat Despair he tackles what to do when your past paralyzes you; your present disappoints you; and your future scares you.

Full of biblical stories, principles, and personal illustrations Meyer gives sound pastoral advice which reminds the believer of the promises of God in the Gospel. Here are just a few of the great principles in this book to help you with the 5 D’S:

“Discouragement can be defeated only when the full truth of everything that is for us confronts and conquers the half-truth of fear and despair. When the full truth vanquishes those half-truths, our hearts will be comforted and strengthened.”

“The Bible does not pretend that the problems are not there; it simply declares that there is more to see.”

“When we see that the One [Jesus] who is for us is greater than all that is against us, our chains will fall off and our hearts will be free to hope again…Seeing the bigger picture is the key to unlocking the chains of despair.”

“Encouragement does not come from wishful thinking but from seeing the totality of truth and embracing what is truly real.”

“The bottom line in the fight for sight is this: We lose heart when we lose sight of all that we have in Jesus. When we lose sight of Jesus, we see only half the picture, we believe half-truths, and we are robbed of hope. But as believers, we are called to fight back.”

“We lose heart when we buy into the lie that our difficulties are bigger than God, and we lose the fight for sight when we fail to see God correctly. When perception and reality don’t align properly, it is easy to become discouraged.”

“To reset the scales, we must begin by repenting of our false assessment and false measures. repenting involves replacing our human-centered measurements with God-centered ones. Doing that allows us to resize the situation in light of God’s greatness. Instead of saying prayers that turn into a gripe session in which we tell God how big our problems are, we can begin to battle discouragement when we tell our hearts (and our problems) how big our God is.”

“Discouragement grows when we shrink God down to our size.”

“We can either project onto God what we think about ourselves or we can receive from God what he says about us…The opposite of projecting what we think about ourselves onto God is receiving what he says about us from God.”

“Christianity is not about bad people becoming better; it is about dead people becoming alive.”

“Remember, God did not love you and me because we were lovely. He loved us while we were still sinners—morally unlovely. Whenever you feel the talons of discouragement sinking into your heart, look to the cross and see the unchanging, unshakable, irreversible love of God as Jesus bore the burden of sin for you and suffered in your place. He was condemned so that you could be accepted. In Christ, the banner flying high over you says, ‘no condemnation’ (Rom. 8:1).”

“We won’t get to heaven because we love God with all our hearts and souls. We will make it to heaven because God loves us with all his heart and soul.”

I highly recommend this book if you need encouragement. Meyer’s exhortations are Christ-centered, theologically sound, gospel-shaped, and will help you love the Lord more for who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing in your life. You will find all of the 5 D’s mentioned above subsiding and your joy increasing – and that’s a very good thing indeed!

How To Pray Psalm 23

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*How To Pray A Psalm – by Dr. Donald S. Whitney

A practical illustration from Don Whitney’s little book, Praying the Bible, using Psalm 23:

You read the first verse—“The Lord is my shepherd”—and you pray something like this:

Lord, I thank you that you are my shepherd. You’re a good shepherd. You have shepherded me all my life. And, great Shepherd, please shepherd my family today: guard them from the ways of the world; guide them into the ways of God. Lead them not into temptation; deliver them from evil. O great Shepherd, I pray for my children; cause them to be your sheep. May they love you as their shepherd, as I do. And, Lord, please shepherd me in the decision that’s before me about my future. Do I make that move, that change, or not? I also pray for our under-shepherds at the church. Please shepherd them as they shepherd us.

And you continue praying anything else that comes to mind as you consider the words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Then when nothing else comes to mind, you go to the next line: “I shall not want.” And perhaps you pray:

Lord, I thank you that I’ve never really been in want. I haven’t missed too many meals. All that I am and all that I have has come from you. But I know it pleases you that I bring my desires to you, so would you provide the finances that we need for those bills, for school, for that car?

Maybe you know someone who is in want, and you pray for God’s provision for him or her. Or you remember some of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, and you pray for their concerns.

After you’ve finished, you look at the next verse: “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v. 2a). And, frankly, when you read the words “lie down,” maybe what comes to mind is simply, “Lord, I would be grateful if you would make it possible for me to lie down and take a nap today.”2

Possibly the term “green pastures” makes you think of the feeding of God’s flock in the green pastures of his Word, and it prompts you to pray for a Bible teaching ministry you lead, or for a teacher or pastor who feeds you with the Word of God. When was the last time you did that? Maybe you have never done that, but praying through this psalm caused you to do so.

Next you read, “He leads me beside still waters” (v. 2b). And maybe you begin to plead,

Yes, Lord, do lead me in that decision I have to make about my future. I want to do what you want, O Lord, but I don’t know what that is. Please lead me into your will in this matter. And lead me beside still waters in this. Please quiet the anxious waters in my soul about this situation. Let me experience your peace. May the turbulence in my heart be stilled by trust in you and your sovereignty over all things and over all people.

Following that, you read these words from verse 3, “He restores my soul.” 

That prompts you to pray along the lines of:

My Shepherd, I come to you so spiritually dry today. Please restore my soul; restore to me the joy of your salvation. And I pray you will restore the soul of that person from work/school/down the street with whom I’m hoping to share the gospel. Please restore his soul from darkness to light, from death to life.

You can continue praying in this way until either (1) you run out of time, or (2) you run out of psalm. And if you run out of psalm before you run out of time, you simply turn the page and go to another psalm. By so doing, you never run out of anything to say, and, best of all, you never again say the same old things about the same old things.

So basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words become the wings of your prayers.

About About Donald S. Whitney

*DON WHITNEY has been Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, since 2005. Before that, he held a similar position (the first such position in the six Southern Baptist seminaries) at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, for 10 years. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. Don is a frequent speaker in churches, retreats, and conferences in the U.S. and abroad.

Don grew up in Osceola, AR, where he came to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. After graduating from Arkansas State, Don planned to finish law school and pursue a career in sportscasting. While at the University of Arkansas School of Law, he sensed God’s call to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. He then enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1979. In 1987, Don completed a Doctor of Ministry degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. He earned a PhD in theology at the University of the Free State in Bloemfonteine, South Africa in 2013.

Prior to his ministry as a seminary professor, Don pastored Glenfield Baptist Church in Glen Ellyn, IL (a Chicago suburb), for almost 15 years. Altogether, he’s served local churches in pastoral ministry for 24 years.

He is the author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, which has a companion Study Guide. He has also written How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian?, Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Simplify Your Spiritual Life, Finding God in Solitude, Praying the Bible, and Family Worship. His hobby is restoring and using old fountain pens.

Don lives with his wife, Caffy, in their home near Louisville. She teaches classes for seminary wives and is an artist, muralist, and illustrator. The Whitneys are parents of Laurelen. 

Don’s website is http://www.BiblicalSpirituality.org. He’s on Twitter @DonWhitney and on Facebook.

A Topical Ordering of Jonathan Edwards Resolutions

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Resolutions Arranged Topically by Matt Perman

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

*Overall Life Mission

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.

Good Works

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

Time Management

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

50.Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51.Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

Relationships

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May 27, and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 2, and July 13.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Suffering

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13, 1723.

Character

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5, 1723.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14 and July 3, 1723.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

Spiritual Life

Assurance

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

The Scriptures

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Prayer

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear’, of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

The Lord’s Day

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

Vivification of Righteousness

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1723.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12, 1723.

44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. January 12, 1723.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12-13, 1723.

Mortification of Sin and Self Examination

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4 and 13, 1723.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23 and August 10, 1723.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

Communion with God

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26 and August 10, 1723.

*The subheadings and categorization are suggested by Matt Perman to increase the readability. (accessed from desiring god.org December 30, 2006)

*REVIVAL KEYS By Ajith Fernando

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Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Pexels.com

I was very encouraged when a small group of Christians seeking to pray for revival asked me to speak to them and give them some guidance. This is an expansion of what I shared.

Revival means many things to many people. But what I am talking about is a situation where large numbers of people are fired up to seek God fully, yearn for obedience, confess sin in their life, and experience the joy and freedom of walking with God.

History shows us that there is no exact prescription for revival. It is an act of the sovereign God and we can’t dictate to God what he should do and when he should do it. I have been praying for revival in Sri Lanka since 1975. Only once have I seen something close to revival (at a conference I was part of). But I will not give up praying. In my lifetime or after, may the Lord send his showers of blessing upon our people.

While we cannot dictate to God what he will do, history shows us that there are some things that happen before and when revival comes that are worth noting.

1. There is faithful preaching of the Word before revival comes, as we saw with the ministry of Ezra, and in all the revivals in the history of the church. The Word systematically preached can create a thirst for all that the Word teaches, and the Holy Spirit can ignite the Word with fires of revival when God’s time has come. Often pre-revival preaching is characterised by a call to total commitment to God, to repent and get right with God and an extolling of the beauty of holiness.

2. The great historian of revival J. Edwin Orr has made famous the statement, “No great spiritual awakening has begun anywhere in the world apart from united prayer—Christians persistently praying for revival.” This is what the disciples of Christ did before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). People with a burden recognise others with a similar burden and they join and pray. I can tell you story after story of great revivals that were preceded by such united, persevering prayer by people who recognised that they share a similar burden for revival.

3. Unity is often the trigger for revival and sometimes the result of revival. Once when Ugandan Bishop Festo Kivengere was preaching in South India, his interpreter Samuel Ganesh felt convicted of the need to make peace with a person in the audience. He took leave from the preacher and went to audience and made peace. This triggered a process of person after person making peace with each other. Revival had come; there was no need to complete the sermon. Bishop Festo left room for the Spirit do his work. The Bible speaks of the urgency of believers being united (John 17:31, 23; Eph. 4:1-3). One of the most important callings of leaders is to yearn and pray for unity and do all they can to facilitate it. The Holy Spirit can use a leaders’ yearning to trigger revival. Those who pray for revival should make sure that they have done all to be at peace with others.

4. Another revival key is earnestness (Jonah 3:8). The famous revival prayer, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psa. 85:6) suggests a tone of earnest desire. Revival is preceded by people seeking God with all their heart and wanting to see God’s glory among his people. My favourite example of such praying are the students at Pandita Ramabhai’s school in India who fervently prayed, and God answered by reviving them and many others through them. The young Evan Roberts, whose ministry triggered the Welsh Revival, often prayed, “Bend me, O God.” We are open to whatever it takes for God to be totally in control of our lives!

5. Every genuine revival I know of has been accompanied by the confession of sin (2 Chron. 7:14). Some so-called revivals have been characterised by exotic experiences without much emphasis on repentance. People go to such places like tourists to see what is happening. I wonder whether we could call that revival. After the revival at Asbury College and Seminary in 1971 many students came to the bookstore to return things that they have taken without paying. That is a powerful sign that they had got right with God.

Preaching against sin before the revival often contributes to revival and influences what sins are sins confessed. In the history of the church there were times when some sins were neglected in revival preaching—like sexual impurity, exploitation, race, class and caste prejudice. This has resulted in revived churches perpetuating sins that the revival should have addressed. In other revivals, like the 18th century Wesleyan revival in the UK, revival helped influence social reform and attack injustice.

6. Often revivals are accompanied by spectacular phenomena, especially during the start of the revival. The revivals associated with the Wesleys and Jonathan Edwards had people falling down with somewhat violent reactions under deep conviction of sin. We need to be open to God’s “surprising works” and be careful about stifling such. But we also need to remember that after some time these phenomena could become rituals that have lost their original meaning. Sometimes these phenomena could be taken to extremes that make them unbalanced and unbiblical.

7. Revivals start in different, sometimes surprising, places. In Wales it was a group of young people under a seminary student Evan Roberts, who came home from seminary to seek God sensing that he had lost his fire. Roberts started a prayer group which grew and grew and became a nationwide movement resulting in about 100,000 people being converted and joining the church. In the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, there were two single house-bound ladies in their eighties, Misses Smith, who prayed earnestly for revival. At the same time in another part of their island seven young men met regularly to prevail in prayer until revival broke. In Korea in the early 1900s God spoke to the leaders of the church and revived them first and that led to a national awakening. In an Indian girls school it was the prodding of a devout leader Pandita Ramabhai which fired up students to prevail in prayer and trigger revival. Five university students in the USA gathered at a haystack and prayed for missions and helped give birth to the great missionary movement of that nation.

8. While revivals usually result in the awakening of Christians, they are also accompanied by a powerful witness to those outside the church. Unbelievers see the power of God at work in the revived Christians and these Christians are emboldened to share their faith. The result is that large numbers of people are saved. So effective evangelism generally accompanies genuine revival.

Do not lose heart, dear friends, keep yearning for a great visitation from God. The seven young people in the Hebrides Islands made Isaiah 62:6-7 their watchword as they prayed for revival: “You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.” Let us take no rest and give no rest to God until he sends revival to our people.

*Ajith Fernando is the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. He served as the ministry’s national director for 35 years. He is the author of seventeen books, including Discipling in a Multicultural World, and lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with his wife. They have two adult children and four grandchildren.

*Responding to the Argument from Evil – 3 Approaches for the Theist by Dr. David Wood

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A few weeks ago, my five-year-old son, Lucian, came up with his first argument against the existence of God. He reasoned that, since God can’t be seen, God must not exist. Put formally:

  1. If I can’t see x, x doesn’t exist.
  2. I can’t see God.
  3. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

The first premise, of course, is false, and it wasn’t difficult to show young Luke that seeing isn’t the only way to know that something exists. We can, for instance, know that something exits because of its effects. Hence, this argument was easily refuted (and I remain undefeated in debates with five-year-olds). Nevertheless, I doubt my son is going to stop formulating arguments. It’s only a matter of time before he presents me with a much stronger case, based on a crucial piece of data that is always before him.

In November of 2007, my son Reid was born. He wasn’t moving or breathing. The only sign of life was his heartbeat. He was placed on a respirator, and he was eventually given a tracheostomy. We had to wait several months for a diagnosis, but we finally learned that Reid has myotubular myopathy, a rare genetic disorder that makes his muscles extremely weak—so weak that he can’t hold his head up, breathe consistently, swallow when he needs to, or make a sound when he cries.

We teach our sons that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good. I’m quite certain that, within the next few years, Luke is going to reason as follows:

  1. God, by definition is all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good.
  2. If God is all-knowing, he would know how to prevent children from getting myotubular myopathy.
  3. If God is all-powerful, he would have the power to prevent children from getting myotubular myopathy.
  4. If God is completely good, he would want to prevent children from getting myotubular myopathy.
  5. My brother has myotubular myopathy.
  6. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

This argument isn’t nearly as easily refuted as the previous argument. How are theists (i.e., people who believe that God exists and acts in our world) to respond?

There are three main approaches we can take when we respond to the argument from evil (hereafter AE). We can point out problems with the argument, we can try to explain suffering, and we can offer additional arguments for theism that outweigh any evidence against theism. Let’s take a closer look at these responses.

Problems with the Argument from Evil (AE)

Since AE is an argument, the burden of proof is on the proponent to show that the argument is a good one. Thus, the first approach we can take is to point out problems with the argument itself, for example, inconsistencies, unproven assumptions, or ambiguous terms.

Inconsistencies

When atheists present AE, they’re usually guilty of a number of inconsistencies. Let’s consider one that’s quite common. The most popular version of AE goes something like this:

  1. If God exists, there wouldn’t be any pointless suffering.
  2. Since we can’t think of reasons for allowing certain instances of suffering, some suffering is probably pointless (e.g., an injured deer experiencing pointless pain as it slowly dies in the woods).
  3. Therefore, God probably doesn’t exist.

But notice what the atheist is claiming. Since there’s probably no point to at least some suffering (because we can’t think of one), God probably doesn’t exist. The atheist is claiming, then, that we shouldn’t believe something that seems improbable. But what happens when atheists are confronted by, say, the design argument? The theist argues, “Look, it’s extremely improbable that life formed on its own, or that the universe just happened to be finely tuned for life. So life and the world probably have a designer.” Here the atheist responds, “Yes, these things may be improbable, but I’m going to believe them anyway.” This is a clear inconsistency. When one argument is on the table, we mustn’t go against the probabilities; when a different argument is on the table, it’s suddenly perfectly acceptable to go against the probabilities.

Based on this inconsistency alone, I would say that even if a theist has no explanation for suffering, he or she is no worse than the atheist who has no explanation for the origin of the universe of for the complexity of life. If, however, it can be shown that there are other problems with the argument from evil, and if theists can offer reasons for God to allow suffering, theists are on much better ground than atheists.

Ambiguous Terms

Certain words can mean very different things to different people. For instance, if I say to an atheist, “I have faith in God,” the atheist assumes I mean that my belief in God has nothing to do with evidence. But this isn’t what I mean by faith at all. When I say that I have faith in God, I mean that I place my trust in God based on what I know about him.

Ambiguous terms can cause significant problems when they’re used in arguments. Consider a simple word: good. Theists say that God is wholly good. But what do we mean by this? As I examine AE, I find that atheists are using this term quite differently from the way I use it. If we examine atheistic arguments carefully, we find that a “good” being is one who maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain. Given this definition, we can see why AE seems so persuasive to some:

  1. If Gd existed, he would maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain.
  2. Our pleasure is not maximized, and our pain is not minimized.
  3. Thus, God doesn’t exist.

If the premises of this argument are true, the conclusion follows. But what if we challenge the first premise by rejecting the claim that God’s goodness implies giving lots of pleasure? Theists believe that some things are far more important than pleasure or lack of pain. Becoming good people, developing virtues, learning that we’re not the center of the universe, seeking God with all our hearts—these are all vastly more important than pleasure or lack of pain. Thus, when theists say that God is wholly good, we’re applying the term good within a framework of Christian values, where pleasure simply isn’t at the top of our priorities.

Unproven Assumptions

When we make an argument, we assume various things. For instance, we assume that our minds are functioning properly, that valid logic preserves truth, and so on. Such things are rarely questioned. Nevertheless, when an assumption is crucial to an argument, and there’s no good reason to believe the assumption, the argument is on very shaky ground. Consider the awareness assumption, which is absolutely critical for most versions of AE: If God has reasons for allowing evil, we will be aware of these reasons.

I cannot imagine how a defender of AE could even hope to show that this assumption is true. God’s knowledge and wisdom are infinite, while even the smartest of human beings knows practically nothing by comparison. Yet without this assumption, most versions of AE cannot get off the ground.

Explaining Suffering

Given numerous problems with AE (and we’ve only looked at a few), I don’t think that theists are under any obligation to explain suffering. Yet if we can come up with plausible reasons for God to allow suffering , this would increase the overall plausibility of theism.

Theists can account for suffering in two important ways: we can account for suffering theologically by appealing to Christian doctrines, and we can account for suffering philosophically by appealing towhead philosophers call “theodicies.”

Christian Doctrine

The most important religious claim to consider when faced with AE is that humanity is in a state of rebellion against God. While an atheist will probably reject such a claim, it’s important to keep in mind that AE relies, to a large extent, on how awful humanity is and can become. When atheists offer evidence of suffering, they typically point to the Holocaust, or to the “Rape of Nanking,” or to children being horribly victimized. But such events fit quite well with the idea that humanity has turned away from God. To put it differently, the more examples of moral evil an atheist presents in support of his argument, the more evidence he’s given that human beings are extremely sinful. And it makes little sense to say, “Human beings are incredibly sinful and are at war with God, but God should give us a world of total pleasure and should rush to our aid whenever something goes wrong.”

Theodicies

A theodicy is an attempt to answer the question, What morally sufficient reason could there be for God to allow evil? Let’s look at two of the most important types of theodicy.

First, there are free will theodicies, which are based on two central ideas:

  1. A world containing free beings is better than a world without free beings, since only free beings can choose the good or genuinely love or be moral in any meaningful sense.
  2. True freedom entails that we are also free to choose the bad or not to love or to disobey the moral law.

On this view, moral evil is a misuse of moral freedom. Freedom itself, however, is a wonderful gift.

Second, there are soul-building theodicies. As we noted earlier, it’s quite common for people to think that, of God exists, his primary goal should be to maximize our pleasure. Such a view doesn’t fit well within a Christian framework, for it turns God into a “cosmic thermostat,” whose job is to keep the universe just the way we like it. Proponents of soul-building theodicies maintain that God has more important things in mind than pleasure or lack of pain. While it’s wonderful to go through times when life is comfortable, it’s a simple fact of human experience that we don’t grow much during those times. So if becoming mature human beings (or mature Christians) is important, then a world with pain is better than a world without pain. 

I don’t believe that such theodicies account for all of the evil in our world. nevertheless, as a theist, I don’t believe that our minds are capable of God’s reasons for allowing suffering. The fact that we can come up with some plausible explanations for suffering (despite our limited knowledge) is itself a serious blow to AE.

Outweighing the Argument from Evil

Since the argument from evil only claims to provide a certain amount of evidence against theism, we must note that, even if we think AE is a good argument, the evidence drawn from it can potentially be outweighed by other evidence. Theists can therefore muster a number of arguments in favor of their position. If these arguments, taken as a whole, provide a stronger case than AE, we must conclude, once again, that AE is not a serious threat to theism. While there are dozens of arguments for the existence of God, we will briefly consider three.

Design Arguments

There are two main versions of the design argument: (1) the argument from fine-tuning, and (2) the argument from biological complexity. Physicists are aware of the fact that the fundamental constants of our universe seem to be finely-tuned for life. If the gravitational force, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force, and the electromagnetic force were altered even slightly, human beings could not exist. Since there’s no naturalistic explanation for why these values should be just right for life, the fine-tuning of the cosmos provides strong evidence of a designing intelligence.

A cosmos finely tuned for life, however, doesn’t give us life. Additional steps are required to reach living cells, multicellular organisms, complete ecosystems, and especially conscious, self-reflective beings. The complexity of even the most basic living organism (let alone the complexity of more advanced life) is further evidence of a designing intelligence.

Cosmological Arguments

Many arguments for theism attempt to show that the universe must have a cause, or a certain type of cause. One such argument begins as follows:

  1. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe must have  cause.

The first premise is self-evident; the second premise can be known scientifically; thus, the conclusion follows. But we can go even further by examining the nature of the cause of the universe. Since the scientific evidence shows that matter and time began to exist, the first cause must be immaterial and timeless (both of which are attributes of God). The first cause must also be extraordinarily powerful and free to create. These attributes fit in perfectly with theism; they make no sense in atheism.

The Argument from Morality

Third, consider the following argument.

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

The first premise is certainly true. When we say that there are objective moral values, we’re saying that there are moral claims that are true whether or not human beings agree with them. Thus, the claim “rape is immoral” would still be true even if every human being on the planet decided otherwise. But if human beings cannot serve as the ground for objective morality, what can? Only a being that completely transcends humans.

What about the second premise? Interestingly enough, proponents of AE often grant this premise in the course of their argument. By declaring that suffering is evil, atheists have admitted that there is an objective moral standard by which we distinguish good and evil. Amazingly, then, even as atheists make their case against the existence of God, they actually help us prove that God exists!

Assessment 

We’ve looked at three approaches theists can take when we respond to the AE. We must be careful to use such responses at the appropriate time, however. Remember that Job had the best friends in the world, so long as they kept their mouths shut. Job’s time of intense suffering was not the appropriate occasion for a deep philosophical and theological analysis of human pain.

Similarly, when my son Luke comes up to me and says (as I know he eventually will), “Why did God allow Reid to get sick?” the appropriate response is not to charge in and say, “Well, let me explain the soul-building theodicy to you.” To give specific and confident answers is to pretend that we have certainty of God’s reasons for things when we often don’t. Human anguish is powerful, sometimes far more powerful than words.

Nevertheless, at appropriate times, we must respond to AE. Atheists claim that their arguments refute theism. Yet they-re inconsistent in the application of their principles, and they’re smuggling in unproven assumptions and a distorted hierarchy of values. When we combine these problems with the fact that theists can explain a fair amount of suffering (which is all that can be reasonably expected of limited beings) and that we have strong evidence that supports belief in God, it’s clear that the only significant argument for atheism fails on multiple levels.

*The article above is adapted from chapter 6 in the excellent book edited by  Michael A. Dembski and Michael R. Licona entitled: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 2010.

About David Wood: He is the teaching fellow in philosophy at Fordham University, where his doctoral work focused on the problem of evil. A former atheist, he became a Christian after investigating the historical evidence for Jesus’s resurrection. He is co-director of Acts 17 Apologetics Ministries, has been in more than two dozen pubic debates with Muslims and atheists, and is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers. David lives in the Bronx, New York, with his wife, Marie, and their sons, Lucian, Blaise, and Reid. You can watch a short testimony of David Wood on YouTube entitled “Why I am A Christian” (34:06); or a longer version: “Dr. David Wood shares his Testimony @ IPC Hebron, Houston” (1:04:03). Both of these videos are highly recommended and will encourage you and motivate you toward using apologetics in your sharing the gospel with those you may think are difficult to reach.

Prayer: The Prelude To Revival by Dr. Roger Nicole

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It is in keeping with Reformed thought that revival should be grounded in prayer, because in prayer we acknowledge God’s sovereignty. God alone is the One who can dispense revival. So, revival is not something that is within the reach of human beings; it is something God alone can provide.

Sometimes people have expressed the attitude they think we ought to have in a motto which goes like this: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like an Arminian.” That is, pray as if everything depended upon God and preach as if everything depended on you. I would like to suggest a change in this formula which will improve it by fifty percent: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like a Calvinist.” Do not pray as if everything depends on God. (There is no good reason to have an “as if” in that motto, because things do depend on God. He is the One who sovereignly ordains and blesses.) Then preach like a Calvinist, because there, too, the results depend on God. Do not imagine that either prayer or preaching are activities in which we suddenly take leave of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

What Does Prayer Change?

When we consider prayer, there are questions which often are disturbing to the minds of some people. The first question is: “Do you think that you can really change the mind of God? That is, can prayer make God modify His sovereign plan?” There are people who feel that unless you are prepared to say this, there is no great value in prayer. I do not know what the reader’s particular idea on this subject may be, but I would like to say that if you believe you can change the mind of God through prayer, I hope you are using some discretion. If that is the power you have, it is certainly a most dangerous thing. Surely God does not need our counsel in order to set up what is desirable. Surely God, whose knowledge penetrates all minds and hearts, does not need to have us intervene to tell Him what He ought to do. The thought that we are changing the mind of God by our prayers is a terrifying concept.

I will be frank to confess that if I really thought I could change the mind of God by praying, I would abstain. I would have to say, “How can I presume, with the limitations of my own mind and the corruptions of my own heart-how can I presume to interfere in the counsels of the Almighty?” It is almost as if you were to introduce somebody who is utterly ignorant of electronics to a weapons plant in which, by pushing certain buttons, one might precipitate an explosion. You say, “Go ahead and push buttons. Never mind what happens.” Oh, no! There is comfort for the child of God in being assured that our prayers will not change God’s mind. This is not what is involved in prayer, and we are not in danger of precipitating explosions by some rash desire on our part.

But then people say, “If you cannot change God’s mind, what is the point of praying? If prayer does not change things, prayer is worthless.”

Here you have perhaps noticed that I have changed the formula. I did not say,”change the mind of God,” but “change things.” I never said that prayer does not change things. Prayer does change things, but it does not change the mind of God. The reason prayer changes things but does not change God is that He has appointed prayer as an effectual means for accomplishing His own purpose. This effectual means is essential for this accomplishment. When we have a right understanding of the sovereignty of God, we recognize that God has established a plan in which not only the effects but also the causes are ordained. We cannot disconnect the causes from the effects or the effects from the causes.

For example, I lift a book in your sight. Because the book has risen into the air, I am in a position to say, “God has ordained that it should get to this particular place.” He must have ordained it because that is where the book is. But notice, God did not ordain for the book to rise all by itself. He ordained that it should rise at the end of my hand. He ordained that I should have strength in my arm to lift it. He ordained that I should choose this particular book in order to illustrate this particular point. There is a connection between the book’s rising and the subject I wish to develop. All these things are tied up together. If there were no lecture, there would be no point of illustrating the power of second causes. If there were no desire to illustrate the power of second causes, my hand would have remained at my side. If my hand had remained at my side, the book would not have risen. I think we can argue in this way.

God, however, ordained that there should be this lecture, that there should be a desire to show the correlation of causes and effects in His sovereign plan, that this particular illustration should come to my mind, and that I should implement it by the strength that He has given me. One cannot say, “If you hadn’t touched it, it would have risen anyway,” because God did not ordain that it should rise anyway. He ordained that it should rise through my hand.

That is exactly the case with prayer. Prayer is an effectual secondary cause that God has related to the effects involved. Just as the activity of human beings on earth is related to the effects that are produced, just as the book rising is related to the hand lifting, so are the effects of prayer related to the prayer that is offered. So although prayer does not change the mind of God, it does change things. God has appointed change through prayer, even though the way in which the cause is related to the effect is not perfectly clear to us.

The fact that the way this happens is not clear does not give us grounds for denying the relationship. We pray for healing. If God provides healing, we cannot say, “There would have been healing whether I prayed or not; I would have gotten well anyway.” God provided healing in relation to prayer.

We pray for an increase in the knowledge of God and earnestness in His service. If God is pleased to bless our lives in this way, we cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” God provides His blessing in relation to the prayer.

We pray for the salvation of someone we love, someone God placed on our hearts to intercede and plead for. That person is born again by the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” It is related to our prayers. God, who has appointed the salvation, has also appointed prayer as the means to that salvation. We cannot omit any link in that chain and say that the chain will exist whether the link is there or not.

A final question is: “How can I pray if I do not see how prayer works?” That is not a wise way of handling the matter, since it is God who tells us that prayer is part of His plan for us. It is not necessary that we have an understanding of the ways in which God’s purposes are implemented. God has put this means at our disposal. He encourages us to pray. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 He says, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” To insist that we must have an understanding of how this works is a very unreasonable attitude.

Even in affairs of daily life we do not have this attitude. I am sure you have used a touch-system telephone. Do you understand how it works? Do you have that consummate knowledge of communications to know exactly what goes on when you press those little buttons? Do you know how those numbers are changed into binary code and used to track down the particular telephone you wish to call? Experts may understand this. But I must say, as far as I am concerned, when I am calling, I do not think of any of those things. I just pick up the phone and touch the buttons. I do not worry about how this happens. I am interested only in whom I am going to reach and what I will say.

It is the same with prayer. We do not have to know how it works. It is enough to know that it does work. Prayer is part of God’s sovereign plan and is an effectual means by which we can share with God in the fulfillment of that plan. When we pray, we are cooperating; we are working together with God in the work to which, in His own mercy, He has been pleased to call us.

Since prayer is part of God’s plan, we are not forcing God’s hand at any time by praying. We are not intruding our own will in a way that is disagreeable or uncomfortable to God. We do not need to fear that we are finagling with buttons about which we know nothing, which might bring disaster on ourselves and others. We are praying in line with the great purposes of God. Without prayer there are many things that would be different. It is by virtue of prayer that they are what God has planned them to be.

In Scripture, prayer is presented as a prerequisite for revival. It is a prelude. If you study the history of revivals, you will find that they are best documented not only in their effects but also in their preparatory prayer periods. This was true of the revival in New England under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. It was true in the revival in Wales under Evan Roberts. It was true of the revivals attending the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney in the United States. Revival that is worthwhile is bathed in prayer. When He wants a revival, God is pleased to lead His people· to pray that revival might be forthcoming.

(1) The prayer that leads to revival must be believing prayer. This is the point the apostle James makes in his Epistle (James 1:5-7, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord”). When we come to the Lord we must come with the expectation that He is able and will do great things. If we come vacillating, wondering whether God is able to accomplish anything, whether the situation is really so desperate that even God cannot touch it, then obviously our prayer is lacking in fervency. We are just going through the motions, as it were. We are not really praying.

God wants us to come to Him in faith. Indeed, prayer is an exercise of faith in which we are steeped in the supreme greatness and ability of God, and have our eyes fixed on the majesty of His purpose and the superlative quality of His resources. Nothing is impossible for our God. Our God is able to move mountains. He is able to transform hearts, break resistances, reach out even underneath the conscious lives of people to transform them. So we should never say, “Here is somebody beyond God’s reach. The hardness of heart is so great, the wickedness of life is so manifest, that this cannot possibly be a candidate for acceptance into the kingdom of God. We might as well give up on this person.”

In spite of the fact that the early church had seen God do many great things, it undoubtedly thought this way about Paul. The early Christians thought. “This one is lost. There is no way God will bring Paul into the kingdom. He is a persecutor, an enemy, an opponent. There is no hope for him.” When Paul tried to join the church, they gave him the cold shoulder (Acts 9:26). They said, “We can’t trust this man. He will be spying on us and then use his knowledge to annihilate the church.” It took Barnabas to reason, “God saved me; maybe He can save Paul, too.” He went close to Paul and befriended him at great danger to himself. He made sure that Paul truly was a child of God. Then he brought him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). We, too, might think, “What less likely a candidate for election than Paul?” Yet God was pleased to reach him and change him. God made him the great apostle of the Gentiles, the benefit of whose ministry is still with us to this day. We need believing prayer, prayer that does not concentrate on the obstacles. We must not say, “He is hopeless,” or “Our country has gone to the dogs,” or “Our church has gone liberal.” Prayer must recognize that God is all-powerful and can do wonders. If anyone prays and does not believe, that one is unstable (James 1:6-7). He cannot expect anything. But if we come with faith, accepting the reality of the power of God, we will experience that effective prayer which changes things in keeping with God’s purpose.

(2) The second characteristic of the prayer that brings revival is submission. It must be submissive prayer. That is, we must be prepared to submit our own ideas, aims, and ambitions to the sovereign God. We must not intrude with our outlook, pressing it on God, as it were. Rather, we must come with a desire to understand God’s outlook and subordinate our desires to what He has ordained.

Some people say, ”That kind of prayer is not really effective. If you start by saying, ‘If it be Your will … ‘you are attempting to give God an out in case He is not going to do it. You are not believing.” That is not the point at all. We do not need to give God an out. God does not need an out. What we are doing when we say, “If it is Your will … ” is articulating the principle that we are not telling God what should be done but are actually identifying with His purpose and asking to work together with Him in fulfillment of that purpose.

We have a moving example of this kind of prayer on the lips of our Lord Himself. In Gethsemane He said, “If it is possible . . . Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). This is mysterious to us, for it indicates that at that point of His human consciousness, our Lord was left in suspense as to what the will of God was. “Not as I will, but as You will.” That is the condition of effective prayer-that we should be willing to accept what God has ordained in order that His purpose might be accomplished.

Sometimes it is hard for us to pray that way, because our will is so strong, and our understanding of what God should want is so clear that we do not even feel like saying, “Your will be done.” When we pray for revival, especially, we say, “We do not need to introduce conditional clauses. The very fact that God leads us to pray is an indication that He wills that some form of revival should come.” Still, the very essence of a consecrated prayer is that it should be in keeping with the will of God.

This is what is meant by praying in the name of Jesus. To pray in the name of Christ is not simply to have a little addition to your prayer, in which you use those words almost as a magical formula to insure success. To pray in the name of Christ is to identify yourself with Christ, with His aims, His purposes, His ministry. It is to say, “I am with Jesus, I am for Him and His purposes.” The one who prays in the name of Jesus does not need to fear disappointments, because unity with the purpose of God protects him from that. There is a submission to God which acknowledges with gratitude the way in which God is pleased to answer.

This prayer must be God-centered. It must relate itself to God’s glory rather than to our private desires. Of course, God permits us to present our private desires as well. There is nothing wrong in asking God to give us good weather for mountain climbing if good weather is important for it. But here again, it would be wise to say, “If it be Your will,” because there are also people, such as farmers, who need rain. Since the desire of the mountaineer may conflict with the desire of the farmer, it would be good for both of them to be submitted to whatever God is pleased to send. God permits us to present our desires, but we must have a supreme desire, especially in the prayer for revival, to see the glory of God manifested.

Some of the most effective prayers in Scripture do this. They are even argumentative at this point.Think of the prayer of Abraham when he prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. He even argued with God, saying, “Is it right for You to destroy those cities if fifty … forty-five … forty: .. thirty… twenty… ten righteous people live there?” (Gen. 18:24-33). God blessed that prayer. So we can say that if Lot and his family were saved, it was because of the faithful intercession of Abraham, who did not relent, even though, in the end, the number he cited was not sufficiently small to warrant ID salvation of the wicked cities.

Think of the prayer of Moses who argued, “If You destroy Your people, what will happen to Your name? Your glory is at stake. Don’t do it” (Ex.32:11-13).God blessed that glorious intercessory prayer of Moses, who disregarded his personal ambitions in order to identify with the purposes of God.

A prayer for revival should be centered, not in the desire that we should have more money for our church (because there will be more people coming), not that there should be a new Vitality in our denomination (as compared with other denominations), nor that any other of our human desires and ambitions should be satisfied, but rather that the glory of God might be manifested. We should pray that His name might be exalted, that His kingdom might be made evident, that His glorious reign might be established even more widely in the hearts of men and women.

(3) Our prayer must be persistent. The Scripture emphasizes that we ought not easily be discouraged in prayer (Luke 18:1). If we do not receive at once the answer we are looking for, we ought not to reason, “Well, God just doesn’t want me to have that; I guess I’ll give up.” There are people who have been wonderfully persistent in prayer-for husbands or wives, children or parents-and God has blessed their persistence. Do not give up too soon. Do not conclude too rapidly that God is uninterested. So long as you have a burden on your heart, keep praying.

In the church in which I am a member there is a man who has moved me profoundly in this respect. It is a wonderful church now. We have a preacher who is a wonderful expositor of the Word of God. I never attend a service there at which my soul is not blessed. But some 40 years ago this church was exceedingly small-there were about 10 or 12 people on a Sunday morning-and it was passing through a veritable desert from the point of view of biblical ministry. I understand that at one time one of the pastors was actually a practicing Christian Scientist.

Throughout this bleak period this man, Deacon George Day, was praying. He did not say, “This church gives me nothing. There is nothing to be expected here, nothing to be hoped. I am going to find another fellowship that will be more fruitful for me.” No! This man said, “This is my church. I am not going to give up. Since I do not get any spiritual nurture from the sermons, I will get it from the Bible directly. I will attend some other meetings in other places, but I am still going to be in my own church on Sunday morning, and I am going to pray for this ministry.” Deacon Day kept praying for that church for years. Now he is an old man, more than 80. There is hardly any strength left in his body. When he can come to church he uses an earphone, because he is very deaf. But there is joy in his heart which moves one to tears. Whenever I see Deacon Day, I see the power of God to answer persistent prayer. I see a warrior who did not allow himself to be defeated, but who stayed at his post, pleading for his church and asking God’s blessing upon it.

(4) Finally, the prayer that leads to revival must be consistent prayer, in which we are prepared also to do what we can to achieve what we are asking. If we pray for the conversion of our loved ones, somehow we must give out witness, too. We must witness by life and words, when they can be effectually presented. If we pray for revival, we must be prepared to open our hearts so that God may revive them. We ought never to take prayer as a means of avoiding the actions God challenges us to.

My father had an experience which I would like to relate to illustrate this point. As a young minister he had been an assistant in a large church which had only two pastors in 50 years, one ministry of 25 years, followed by another of 25 years. After having been in that church, my father became pastor of a very small church in a little village in southern France. Prayer meeting was on Wednesday evening, and there was usually a very limited attendance. One Wednesday there was a frightful storm. The wind was blowing. Rain was falling in buckets. My father thought, “There is not going to be anybody at the prayer meeting tonight. If I go, I will only drench myself. I might as well stay home.” My father was very interested in Hebrew and was studying the song of Deborah in the book of Judges. The temptation was great to stay in his cozy home and deal with that.

As my father was wrestling with this, there came to his memory a sermon given at the time of his ordination. It was on the passage which says, “Go out and make them come in” (Luke 14:23). Most of the time we think about the expression “make them come in.” But on this occasion, the preacher had focused on the phrase, “Go out.” He had said, ” ‘Go out’ means to reach out for people; it means, do not stay in the coziness of your study. You must go out and reach out.” While the gales were blowing and the wind was hitting the windows, my father remembered that and concluded, “Well, I guess God wants me to go out. I do not expect many people. I do not expect very much of anything at this prayer meeting. But if God has told me to go out, I will go out and speak at the prayer meeting;” This was the meeting in which revival started in his church!

Prayer is the prelude to revival. Do you want revival? Then be prepared to pray. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray . . . then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”

*This article was originally an address given at the 1982 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, Philadelphia, PA. and is adapted from Dr. Roger R. Nicole, “Prayer: The Prelude to Revival” in Reformation and Revival, A Quarterly Journal for Church Leadership (Volume 1, No. 3, Summer, 1992).

About the Author: Dr. Roger R. Nicole (1915-2010) was a native Swiss Reformed Baptist theologian and taught for many years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as well as the founder of the Evangelical Theological Society.