The revival spread to America, where ministers in Atlantic City, NJ reported that out of 50,000 people, only 50 adults were left unconverted. In Portland, Oregon, more than 200 stores closed daily from 11 to 2 so people could attend prayer meetings. In 1896, only 2,000 students were engaged in missionary studies; by 1906, 11,000 were enrolled. All because a group prayed for the power of God to extend the Kingdom of God in their Jerusalem and around the world.
Pray to receive the power of God
But why? Why pray to an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God? He already knows our problems (Matthew 6:8). He wants to help; we cannot manipulate him with our words. So, why is prayer the key to the power of God?
My problem looks like this: does my prayer convince God to do something he would not otherwise do? If so, then am I talking God into doing the right thing? Am I better than he, and must convince him to do what is right? On the other hand, if my prayer does not change God and his work, then why pray?
I know that some say, “Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes me.” It’s true that prayer changes me, but what do we do when what needs changing is not us? A child to be healed? A lost person to be saved? A nation in need?
If I pray, do I convince God to do something good? If I don’t, why should I pray? Do you see the problem?
James said that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2). I think one of the chief reasons we don’t ask more urgently, pray more passionately, is that we’re not sure why we should. Why it matters. Why it changes things. And when we do pray, were’ not sure our praying really makes a significant difference.
We pray for rain, but do we bring our umbrellas? We pray for healing, but do we really believe it will happen?
A young man once asked Spurgeon why he was seeing so few respond to his preaching. Spurgeon asked, “Well, you don’t expect someone to come every time you preach, do you?” “No, of course not.” “That’s why they don’t,” Spurgeon concluded.
This is even more true of praying. The obvious problem of prayer is that the modern church does so little of it. The underlying problem is that we’re not sure why we should.
Here’s the answer which has helped me enormously: prayer doesn’t change God, it positions me to receive what he already wanted me to have. When we ask God to move, we give him permission to move. When we ask him to heal us, we admit that we need him to heal us and we want him to. Then he can.
Every parent here knows what it’s like to want to help your children more than they will let you. You can solve their math problem, or fix their toy, or help them decide where to go to school, but they must let you. Their request for help doesn’t change your heart, but theirs. Then you can give what you already wanted them to have.
This is why we pray: to know God. To know his heart, his mind, his Spirit. And to receive from him what he already wanted us to have. Not because our prayer earns God’s favor—it simply receives it. It receives what Almighty God, our heavenly Father, wants us to have.
If you agree that America needs God’s favor, God’s power, God’s help, then you must ask. Not to change God, but us.
I once heard Chuck Swindoll say at a Texas Baptist Evangelism Conference, “You can do great things for God after you pray. But you cannot do anything for God until you pray.” He’s right. When we pray we will receive God’s power. Power to work, to witness, to minister, to evangelize. Power to touch America. Power to touch the world.
Jonathan Edwards, the leader of one of America’s Great Awakenings, was asked the secret. He said, “Promote explicit agreement and visible union of God’s people in extraordinary prayer.” Andrew Murray explains why: “The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to the world’s evangelization in history.”
Do you agree?
What’s your prayer life like today? How close are you to Jesus right now? How committed to the life of prayer, of communion with him? Is prayer an activity or a relationship for you?
Do you pray regularly for your country? For your president and other leaders, as Scripture commands us? For the salvation of our people?
And are you willing to be part of the answer to that prayer? By beginning where you are, with the people you know and the needs you can touch today? By helping hurting friends, and showing them Jesus’ love in yours? By telling them that God loves them?