Topic Scripture: Mark 9:14-29
A group of visiting ministers from America came to tour Charles Spurgeon’s church buildings. Spurgeon graciously showed them around the facilities—the massive sanctuary, the children’s homes, the Bible college rooms, and all the rest. Toward the end of the tour, he asked his guests if they would like to see the boiler room. They respectfully declined, with the wry comment that boiler rooms must be the same everywhere and there could be little different about those at the Tabernacle.
Spurgeon begged to differ, and insisted that they see his boiler room. Finally they agreed. Spurgeon took the group down a long flight of stairs to the basement beneath the sanctuary. There they found over one hundred men and women on their faces before God in prayer. Pointing to these fervent intercessors, Spurgeon said, “This is my boiler room.”
We all need such a “boiler room” in our lives—a source of spiritual power which sustains and strengthens all we do. But such a power is tied directly to our faith. As Spurgeon demonstrated, if we would pray in power, we must pray in faith.
Andrew Murray said, “Most churches don’t know that God rules the world by the prayers of his saints.” John Wesley was even more specific: “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” And E. M. Bounds claimed, “The church upon its knees would bring heaven upon the earth.”
The best way to know Christ is in prayer. We know any person best by spending time with him or her, talking together, listening to each other, being with each other. So it is with Jesus. The more time we spend together in prayer, the more we grow to know him and be like him.
And this focus is especially urgent in our day, because the greatest way we can serve the cause of Spiritual Awakening is to pray. To pray for our nation, for her leaders, her people, her spiritual life and God’s divine blessing.
So this morning we’ll look at the life of prayer, and focus that life on our nation and her needs this day.
Pay the price to pray with power
We’ve explored Jesus’ miraculous healing of this demon-possessed boy. His disciples could not help, but Jesus did. Remember the story: “When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up” (vs. 25-27).
Now we come to the part of the story for us today: “After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer'” (vs. 28-29).
Jesus had been with the Father in prayer on the Mount of Transfiguration. Meanwhile, the three disciples with him were asleep and the nine below were arguing with the crowds. Only he had been in prayer.
Such a commitment was the pattern of his life. He began his public ministry by spending 40 days in solitude for fasting and prayer. After his first Sabbath in ministry, he got up a great while before day, went to a solitary place, and prayed (Mark 1:35). He prayed all night before selecting his disciples. He prayed before feeding the 5,000. He prayed before raising Lazarus from the dead. He prayed before dying on our cross. He prayed from the cross. He is praying for us right now at the right of the Father in glory (Romans 8:34).
- Abraham built altars for prayer wherever he went.
- Moses’ ministry began in an encounter with God in prayer. He spent days and weeks alone with God in prayer.
- David was such a man of prayer that we have the Psalms as a result.
- The church was birthed in the Upper Room, where they went to pray before Pentecost fell.
- Gentiles came into the church when Cornelius and Peter prayed.
- The gospel came to the Western world when Paul prayed and received the Macedonian vision.
- Lydia became the first European convert when she went to a place of prayer.
- The Revelation was given to John when he prayed.
Do you see a pattern?
Spiritual awakening examples:
The first great awakening began in the heart of Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Dutch Reformed pastor who prayed seven years before all his deacons became Christians, then prayed until others joined him and the Awakening fell.
The second great awakening began with Isaac Baccus, a Baptist minister who called for a massive prayer movement.
The third began when a group of laymen began meeting for prayer on Wednesday, September 23, 1857 at the Old North Dutch Church in New York City. They were led by a Presbyterian businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier. The first day, six people came to his prayer meeting. The next week there were 14; then 23; then the group began to meet daily. They outgrew the church and began filling other churches and meeting halls throughout the city. Such meetings spread across the country. In a nation of 30 million, a million came to Christ in a single year.
The Fourth Great Awakening began in Wales in 1904 in the heart of a coal miner named Evan Roberts. He was convicted of his sins by the Spirit, and turned to God in prayer and repentance. He then began preaching to the young people in his church, calling them to prayer and repentance. Prayer meetings broke out all over Wales. Social conditions were affected dramatically. Tavern owners went bankrupt; police formed gospel quartets because they had no one to arrest. Coal mines shut down for a time because the miners stopped using profanity and the mules no longer understood them.
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?