The Heartbeat of Revival
Leading Question: In the context of our desire for revival and reformation, what is the role of prayer?
In terms of teaching us how to pray, Scripture is remarkably thin. Luke 11:1 records the disciples’ request to Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray.” But Luke’s version which follows is incredibly brief, hardly a manual on prayer:
2 When you pray, say: “‘Father,
There’s not a squeak about revival and reformation. And if we survey the actual prayers in Scripture, i.e. the psalms, nearly half of them are complaints. But here are several New Testament passages on prayer that can instruct us:
Matt. 6:7-8. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointedly says that the Father knows what we need before we ask him. So why ask? Presumably because of what it does to us or for us.
Luke 11:5-13. Even though Jesus says that the Father knows all our needs before we ask him, he still was emphatic that we should be tenacious in our praying. The midnight visitor keeps pestering his “friend” until he gets what he wants: “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need” (vs.8, NIV).
Luke 18:1-8. In the parable of the unjust judge, the moral is the same as in the parable of the tenacious friend. In fact, in the preamble to the parable, Luke says the point of the parable is “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”
Luke 18:9-14. The parable of the Pharisee and poor man highlights the great danger of “confident” prayer. The Pharisee thanked God that he wasn’t in need like the poor man; the poor man simply prayed that God would be merciful to him a sinner. The latter prayer was the one that Jesus commended.
Acts 1:12-14. In the upper room, the disciples and a number of the women “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” The day of Pentecost followed with thousands of conversions.
Phil. 4:4-7. Paul gives us another example of exuberant prayer: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God,” (vs. 6. NRSV). The result of this kind of prayer? “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (vs. 7, NRSV).
Modern writers may help us identify the danger of the wrong kind of prayer or no prayer at all. Ellen White wrote,
On the eve of the nearly catastrophic 1901 General Conference, Ellen White urged the delegates: “Let every one of you go home, not to chat, chat, chat, but to pray. Go home and pray. Talk with God. Go home and plead with God to mold and fashion you after the divine similitude.” – GCB, April 3, 1901 par. 37
The result? Ellen White was euphoric:
Finally, two quotations on prayer from C. S. Lewis. One is “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer,” from Poems (1964), p. 129; cited in Chad Walsh, The Visionary Christian, p. 30:
The other C. S. Lewis quotation forms the conclusion of his essay, “The Efficacy of Prayer” in his collection of essays, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 3-11:
In sum, when we most certain that God is on our side, we may be most vulnerable to arrogance and thus we can actually undermine the whole purpose of prayer.