“Pray without ceasing” is the command of the apostle. And it’s quite fascinating to note that parallel in his life with that of Jesus. After five thousand were miraculously fed by Jesus, He had to flee the multitudes seeking to make Him king. His escape from worldly temptation was in prayer as He sought refuge on a mountainside that night. Yet after a miracle-filled ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit, multitudes would clamor for crucifixion: “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). Paul also found synagogues initially open to hearing that a long-awaited Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And as was true with Jesus’ ministry, Paul’s proclaiming the gospel was followed by signs and wonders. But antagonistic forces developed, tracking the apostle from city to city. More than forty men even bound themselves by a curse to neither ear nor drink until they had killed the apostle.
We can take this to present times as well, lest anyone think Jesus telling disciples to pray to be delivered from evil as being outdated. I lost a majority of referrals to my medical practice because some patients with whom I prayed were healed of cancer without any medical treatment. Furthermore, I found myself accused by a bible teacher of national reputation who founded a Christian school associated with Moody Bible Institute and co-founded Bible Study Fellowship that my praying in “tongues” was of the devil and that the divine healings and deliverances God was doing through me were a work of Satan. Such deception within the body of Christ is persecuting saints worldwide.
Many are martyred for faith in countries predominately Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist. Stories are common in America of those dismissed from a ministry because they dared teach as did Paul that those born again can be influenced by the demonic, or that miracles and divine healings continue by the power of the Spirit in the name of Jesus. A professor at Dallas Theological Seminary dying of cancer was taken for prayer by two of his associates to John Wimber, then head of the Vineyard Fellowship. As told me personally by a student at DTS, there was complete healing. Yet when the three returned and dared to suggest teaching about the power of God to heal, they were dismissed from the faculty at DTS.
Jesus experienced direct persecution by Satan during forty days in the wilderness after baptism by John….and indirectly if not direct persecution during His entire ministry by those under the influence of the devil. Satan is living and active in the church today which is the reason why Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). These pretenders frequently have highly visible, world-wide ministries and at times pastor metachurches. It is imperative to pray as Jesus told the disciples at Gethsemene to watch and pray so as to not fall into temptation. Unceasing prayer is needed for discernment to operate as described Paul (1 Corinthians 12:10) so the Holy Spirit will quicken one’s spiritual senses to recognize demonic error which can be extremely subtle as well as attractive to the ears.
Warned by Paul (1 Timothy 4:1), “seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” have infiltrated the catechisms of most denominations. I’ve yet to find a church where all of the teachings and practices are confirmable by scripture. Dissention over doctrine began in the early church as a work of Satan to keep the body of Christ from advancing in one accord and witnessing love for one another instead of having ‘sheep bite sheep.’ The high priestly prayer of Jesus petitioned the Father “that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11), foretells dysfunction developing in His body the Church in terms of unity. There is but a single way for harmony to exist. It is when believers are kneeling together in prayer at the foot of the Cross where ground is level because we all fall short of the glory of God.
Jesus prayed earnestly for the Church in John 17, but did not ask His Father to take His disciples out of the world. He prayed we might be protected from evil in the world. But do we grasp what Jesus means by saying, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (17:14)? There is conflict with most of us when it comes to to avoiding worldliness. Influence of the world is a reality, always drawing us from the will of God. And there’s no way to overcome by depending on our own strength. Words of a prophet are just as true today as when the Jewish remnant in Judah was trying to rebuild the temple. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). The only way for us to be a suitable temptle for the indwelling of Holy Spirit is by a divine work of the Spirit, calling us to spend much time in our prayer closet.
A godly man told me years ago that character flaws would become increasingly obvious with time. It seemed at first that the opposite should be the case. But the closer I draw to the pure light of Christ, the more I find my iniquities exposed. And with that develops an awareness of need to pray to my Father in heaven to do in the name of Jesus and by the power of Holy Spirit what is impossible for me in spite of my most sincere intentions. I am beginning to realize why Paul tells it must be God within us who causes us both to desire and to do that which is according to the purposes of God.
“For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. That you may be blameless and harmless,the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Phnilippians 2:13,15
Any holiness in our life must be that of the One who gave Himself for us at Calvary. It’s Christ in us that is our “hope of glory” and nothing of our own (Colossians 1:27). It is by Christ and Christ alone that “all things are possible.” When I allow myself to stray from these simple, yet sacred truths to depend on myself and do as seems right in my own eyes, I find myself experiencing the same struggles which the apostle Paul describes is writing to the Romans. In short, I find myself doing the very things which fail to represent the ways of God and cause such deep regret.
The good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do. If I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me” Romans 7:19,20
Paul describes by the inspiration of the Spirit a sinful nature within each of us that wars against the indwelling Holy Spirit, creating such conflict that we do not do as we’d desire (Galatians 5:17). Each of us have times when we find ourselves needing to “withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). Darkness may descend with a spirit of despair, creating a desire to ‘give up.’ It is then we must learn to discern from whence come these thoughts of hopelesness, and exercise our senses to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). How we battle in such times must include prayer. Paul reminds us to not fight as does the world, but to take thoughts captive and make them obedient to the teachings of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
In His high-priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus reflects a perfect calmness and peace as He prays. He had finished the work which He had been sent to do: “I have glorified You on the earth: I have finished the work which You gave me to do” (17:4). Then we move to Gethsemane and it seems as though Jesus almost becomes another person. Storm clouds ahead, we see the full humanity of the man Jesus of Nazareth. It is the single time when He prays for anything other than the will of His Father. With an indescribable weight of the world’s sin pressed upon Him, and all of Satan’s army in full attack, the agony which lay ahead begins to take a toll. Telling the disciples, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death,” He went apart and fell on His face, praying, “O My Fathier, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:38,39). Then overcoming every natural instinct of man, He adds, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but asYou will” (26:39).
Jesus’ closest disciples were to watch and pray so as to not fall into temptation, but fell asleep much as we do when we should be watchful and prayerful. Natural self is prone to lapse when we should be prayerfully alert. Often the best we can manage is submitting to the will of God. But the man Jesus of Nazareth did more than submit. He conformed His will to that of the Father. Submission can be a matter of not rebelling against what is good. But prayers that bring the greatest pleasure to the Father are those leading us to willingly conform to the fullest degree possible. We’ll never stand with God outside the closet until we learn to steadfastly kneel before Him in the closet.
God was with Elijah in a mighty way because Elijah was mighty in prayer. His was a kind of praying desperately needed in these tmes. Our lives and churches are full of prayers which go nowhere and avail little of substance. Yet we often claim, “I did pray!” But the question is how we prayed. Elijah prayed until an answer came, never as a formality coming from the mind but as a devotion coming from the heart. And Ezra was another example. Upon returning from exile in Babylon, he found the church consumed by involvement with things of the world. How did this man of God react?He began to pray and fast with a broken heart. Jesus not only tells us, “When you pray….” but “When you fast….” (Matthew 6:16) .
Are we obedient to a discipline of fasting (see Discipline of Fasting)? Or are we too spiritual for what the Son of Man found necessary? Ezra was an instrument in the hands of God to change the hearts of people through prayer and fasting. Is it a desire in your heart to conform to a pattern established by the Lord Jesus? Or do you find yourself satisfied to be counted among the “lukewarm” in the church of Laodicea? I hear repeated cries for a revival expressed today, but few will commit to Elijah’s kind of prayer or Ezra’s prayer and fasting, not to mention Jesus’ command to fast. Daniel is another example worthy of mention. He not only had an understanding of prayer, but refused to eat the king’s food. Not many today would decline the finest cusine, let alone worldly pleasures of any type. But Daniel’s discipline resulted not only in deliverance from a den of hungry lions. Even interpretation of the king’s dream came while in his prayer closet.
Do we learn from these illustrations in scripture? Or do we read them as interesting stories without application for today? It’s a sad day when prayer has so little influence that the sick do not stream into our churches for healing prayer, and when sinners on their death bed care little about prayers. Heathens in OT days would go to men of prayer in their times of distress. Indeed the Bible is a record of prayers answered by men who believed that God exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him. If our churches were alive with fire for righteousnes and a burden to deal with unrighteousness through repentance, altars would be crowded by just with sinning saints but with sinning sinners begging for prayer so they might be saved. Instead pastors manipulate the unsaved into saying a sinner’s prayer even before Holy Spirit has brought godly sorrow for sin and worked repentance unto salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).
The example of prayer in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul’s admonition to pray should create a prompting to become warriors not only in faith but prayer. But such is not the case. One reason is that we ignore the works of Holy Spirit, without whom the gospel cannot be executed. The New Covenant is not called the “ministry of the Spirit” by the apostle without reason (2 Corinthians 3:8). But Paul’s description of the New Covenant is unfamiliar to the contemporary church for the most part. A.W. Tozer stressed how that an intellectual approach to the gospel has a deadly effect. Few things illustrate this as vividly as telling people if they’ll simply believe (intellectually) that Jesus was raised from the dead and confess Him with their lips, they’ll be saved.
“That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” Romans 10:9
To use this single verse as a prescription for salvation, ignoring the rest of scripture that includes Jesus’ demand for repentance to avoid perishing, is typical of the cheap grace in most preaching today. Neither intellect, nor learning, nor the truth in scripture can bring salvation apart from inner work of the Spirit in bringing not only godly sorrow but true repentance which leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). It causes me deep grief to hear preaching meant to impact the intellect or emotions instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to convict, bring repentance, and issue new life by grace through faith (John 1:13). Tozer lamented over not seeing both new life and labor in Christ birthed and executed by the Person of the Godhead known as Holy Spirit. It is a vanity even more prevelant today than it was decades ago during Tozer’s lifetime.
Another area where prayer is neglected concerns baptism in the Holy Spirit. No one dared preach the gospel after Jesus’ ascension until tongues had been set on fire by Holy Ghost at Pentecost. They were required to tarry in Jerusalem until power from on high had descended upon them by the Holy Spirit. When did this take place? It was as they were praying! So it also was when Jesus of Nazareth prayed after John had baptized Him by immersion in water. Holy Spirit is the Spirit of all grace, and we must seek to be filled with Him through prayer. I was misled in my early days in Pentecostalism that once baptized in the Spirit, I’d remained filled. But scripture teaches to the contrary.
“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they assembled together: and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:31
This event is recorded well after they had received baptism in the Holy Spirit. Peter and John had been admonished by religious leaders to no longer preach in the name of Jesus after healing a cripple at the temple gate. After they had returned, they told others what the chief priests and elders had said. Then they prayed to the Father that they might speak the Word boldly and asked “that signs and wonders might be done by the name of Your holy child Jesus” (see Acts 14:30). And they were filled once again with the Spirit and enabled to speak boldly without fear of consequences. Repeated filling with the Spirit is needed for the Father to accomplish His work. Just as the gift of baptism in the Spirit is secured by prayer, so re-fillings are secured by prayer.
The Spirit of God places spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. We find these gifts Paul describes (1 Corinthians 12:7-10) are still in operation. They are distributed to those baptized in the Spirit according to the Spirit’s will, not according to our own wishes (12:11). Tho stressed in many a Pentecostal church, tongues (without interpretation) is perhaps least of the gifts in the sense that other gifts edify the church. Our desire should be that of being instruments to glorify the Father and accomplish that which pleases Him, lest a motive for certain gifts be amiss. And one additional role of Holy Spirit not always receiving attention is His being our Helper in prayer, as we do not know what to pray for much of the time.
“Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Romand 8:26
To depend on guiding by the Spirit in prayer is a new concept for many, as there is a great tendency to rely on the intellect. When still a babe in Christ, a focus of prayer tends to be on personal needs. As spiritual maturity develops, time spent in prayer increasingly grows into communion with the Father and revelation is received as to His will for our lives. It is here Holy Spirit operates uniquely, for scripture tells that God reveals things “to us by His Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:10). “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him” (2:9).
The role of Holy Spirit in my prayer life was never appreciated during early years as a believer. Once we recognize that we know not what to pray for much of the time, it is our responsibility to petition the Father to open our spiritual eyes and to remove blindness regarding His will. Without Holy Spirit as our Helper in prayer, prayers can be incredibly dry and fail to address matters of deep concerns to our Father.
Were we discipled in the matter of prayer, remarkable responses to prayer seen in the book of Acts would not be so foreign. The contention of dispensationalists that God has changed His way of acting in response to prayer is a deception by the father of lies Satan. There’s never been a change in God the Father or God the Holy Spirit in the interim. While not common in America, miracles and divine healings along with other gifts continue to operate. One must conclude either a relationship with God or something related to prayer has changed as God is without variance. It’s so tragic that many taught by dispensationists fail to realize they are sitting under the teaching of those Jesus refers to as “false apostles,” masquerading as ministers just as Satan appears as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
The Bible affirms all things are available to us in Christ. It seems a position of little debate, even among dispensationalists. If Moses’ intercession could preserve both the integrity of Israel and its safety after leaving Egypt, let us then consider what opportunity exists today by having intercessors in both Christ and the Holy Spirit. But Moses lived a life of prayer after leaving Egypt (a type of the world) and therein we find one explanation for the state of affairs in the church. A spirit of prayer does not consume us as was true with Moses. But the NT church has a powerful promise available as seen in Paul’s letter to Ephesians.
Now to Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power [of Holy Spirit] that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.” Ephesians 3:20-21
Scripture promises the power of the Spirit works in all ages to the end of the world. This power needs unleashing, availing much when righteous men enter into persevering prayer led by the Spirit. It is then prevailing, overcoming not only forces of evil but breaking all kinds of chains to set captives free. God even conditions success of the gospel on prayer, telling us simply, “Ask of me…” There cannot be a more important lesson for believers to learn than learning to pray well. I know my prayers have failed in the past by doubting in the words, “Ask of me,” there is an assurance when God’s conditions are met. At other times, I failed to ‘pray through’ as discussed earlier, or not prayed with urgency based on conviction that unless God answers, hope is lost. I suspect some reading this can identify with such failings in their own lives.
With increasing age, now seasoned with many trials, it is increasingly apparent there is no substitute for prayer in many situations. We live in times of great activity but little prayer, even though no force other than prayer will move God to move mountains. At times I find prayer the easiest and yet most difficult of things. As I consider Paul’s urging the body of Christ to work out salvation in “fear and trembling,” I’m coming to realize the conditions for righteousness and for salvation are identical to those of prayer. It’s only in these recent years that I’ve been given a burden to enter the school of prayer, a burden given by Abba as my natural inclination is always to procrastinate. It’s my responsibility to not substitute other activities for time in this school. This will challenge one who keeps himself busy with things to do. Other priorities will have to be set aside, giving prayer including seasons of fasting my highest priority. But I am confident a school of prayer will open windows to what surpasses any of my previous experiences.
The Word of God teaches that prayer can’t be performance. I must come in childlike faith, without notions as to what to expect other than God being glorified accourding to His will. The only time I experienced similar expectation was in Honduras twenty-five years ago. I’d joined a team building a bible school for the Assemblies so as to be available in the event of sickness or injury by the team and opportunity to serve local folks in the interim. The last day was set aside to visit nearby Inca ruins as a day of relaxation. But I’d been in prayer and fasting during the entire trip because of personal issues, and my ears were sensitive when the Spirit said I’d not join others in sightseeing. I was to collect medicine left on the last day when others were visiting Inca ruins and have the bus driver drop me off at a convenient place along the way.
Filled with expectation, I asked a Spanish-speaking pastor on our team to join me as translator and we exited the bus at a small Assemblies of God church located in Rio Linde not far from the ruins to be visited by the others. The pastor’s wife greeted us as we arrived and explained that her husband was nearing death, having had his stomach removed for cancer which had spread to the liver and no other treatment was being given. On entering his bedroom, this emaciated man began to speak excitedly as he pointed at me. To my amazement, the translator said the dying man was saying, “I know you. I saw you in a dream last night coming to pray for me.!” After a short medical clinic at the church, we held a prayer service for the pastor with supposedly terminal cancer. God brought healing, restoring him to full health and enabling him to again eat solid food in normal quantities such that he must have received a new stomach. This miraculous Holy Spirit directed experience led to a revival in the months that followed with such a harvest of souls that two new churches were built that year to accommodate the new believers.
I am presently filled with expectation as experienced during that mission with this call to submit to a school of prayer in this latter part of my life. Prayer is going to be a test such that the enemy will do everything in his power to interfere. But I know God will not call one to prayer without a purpose. I also realize that if a spirit of the world prevails outside of the prayer closet, a spirit of the world will prevail in the closet. We must live for God outside the closet if we expect to meet Him in the closet. In other words, God must have our hearts outside the closet if we’d have His presence in the closet. Prayer and conduct must be in harmony if prayer is to be a bridge linking earth and heaven. For revival, the instrument to play is not a guitar or piano, but persevering prayer in a spirit of humility and repentance.
“If My people, which are called by My name, shall 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.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.