The Power of Prayer

[A sermon given by Mr. Dan Rogers, head of Church Administration for the U.S. ministry of the Worldwide Church of God.]

"...The community of faith acknowledges the natural order, the visible reality, the things that we take for granted as 'that's the way things are.' But the faithful community [also] acknowledges that all things are subject to the will of God, to his sovereignty, and addresses those things in its own special form of speech, which is prayer. I'd like to examine what James tells us about positive speech, especially about the positive speech of prayer, and the power that this form of speech has, because God grants that it be so--that this power of speech can affect change, it can change us, ourselves, the ones who pray. It can change the community of faith when it prays together. And it can effect change in the natural order, that is, the world as we know it, the visible reality. If we look at James chapter 5, we begin reading in verse 13 about different types of speech, and he's going to focus on prayer. In verse 13 James writes, "Are there any among you suffering? They should pray." What he's telling us here is that the different situations call for different kinds of speech. When you're in difficulty it calls for prayer, and a particular kind of prayer is implied here by the terminology, the prayer of petition, asking God for help in time of trouble.

He continues, "Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise." So there's a kind of speech for happy people, that when you're cheerful and God has blessed you and things are going well, there's a positive form of speech and that positive form of speech is to praise God in song. The Greek infinitive here is psallo [...to twitch or twang, i.e. to play on a stringed instrument (celebrate the divine worship with music and accompanying odes); make melody, sing (psalms)]. We probably recognize our word psalm in it. It originally seems to have meant 'to have plucked a harp', and that it came to mean 'the song that you sang as you pluck the harp.' So singing praises to God is a form of this speech. But things aren't always cheerful. There are times of trouble. And, as he mentions in verse 14, there are times of sickness. He says, "Are any among you sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil and in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up. And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven." So James tells us here there's a speech of the sick. And the speech of the sick is as follows: That they are to summon the leadership of the faithful confessing community. And the word here "to call" , in the Greek [Strongs # 4341: proskaleomai; to call toward oneself, i.e. summon, invite...] is in the middle voice, which is a formal term that really means, in a sense, "to summon." And I think what James is saying here is that the sick in the church have the right to summon the leadership to come and visit them. Now why is it their right to summon? Because the community of faith ought to respond to the needy, they need to respond to the speech of the poor, the oppressed, the afflicted, because the natural order is not so. In the natural order, it's the survival of the fittest, and the weak are destroyed to make room for the strong. And there is the 'natural selection' so that the strongest of the species will survive. That is what we might call or at least what I'm using when I use the term "natural order." That's the way of the world, but it's a fallen world. And here the weak, the sick, the afflicted have the right, the God given right, to have the speech of the sick in the community of faith, which is to summon not just anybody, but the leadership of the community, who represent the community--and they are to come and to care about the afflicted and the weak. Now the Jewish culture of the 1st century in that time of James' writing tell us that the elders of the Jewish community did sometimes visit the sick, and yet also in some sectors of the Jewish community of that time was this sort of Deuteronomic philosophy that [said] that if you're good you'll be blessed and if you're cursed, it's a sign you've been bad. So if you're sick you're probably a sinner, and since you're a sinner, we don't want to have anything to do with you. Besides, we might catch something from you, so we'd rather just ostracize you, put you outside the camp, and not have anything to do with you. And yet God's way within the community of faith is to honor the sick. Whereas society's way might be to put them in homes or facilities, or to isolate them. God's way is actually to take those who are sick and give them honor. The leaders of the community are to go and visit them. And then when they go and visit them, they pray over them. That means they've got to be there. And when they're there, they gather around the person and pray over the sick. And they anoint them with oil. Now oil is used for medicinal reasons, but that's not the reason you would anoint every sick person with oil. In Hebrew tradition you anoint the head of a worthy guest in your home with oil to refresh the visitor. You anoint a king to office [with oil]. It's hospitality, it's honor, it's recognition. So here you pray over the sick and you anoint them, you honor them.

There is a reversal of things going on here, that when God breaks into this reality, suddenly this reality is not very real anymore. It's false. And prayer invites God to break into this reality--into what we might call a reversal--and yet is really to setting things straight, and the way things ought to be. And so God is invited in, and the prayer of faith heals the sick. Now we might say 'Well, not all the sick get healed, even in the community of faith.' God is sovereign. We operate within God's will. God saves the sick. He heals them in his own way. He heals them, perhaps, in a reality that we don't even comprehend. Perhaps we're looking still to the physical. Sometimes God does seem to heal in the physical reality, and make well. And in other times, perhaps, we just don't see it, how God has healed. But do you know what? The Scripture tells us in faith, that in some way, he has. Whether that's to be resurrected in a glorified body, or whether that's emotionally, whether that's mentally, whether that's in a way that's beyond our physical understanding, we can't always know--but whatever it is, the prayer of faith heals and saves.

And the word here is even more than "heals", it's a very wonderful word because it's also the word that's often used for salvation. And the word "raised up" is the word that is used for "resurrection." So there is a wonderful ambiguity here, that implies not only the physical but perhaps a spiritual reality that we can't even comprehend. But it is the prayer of faith, and whether we see it or not the divine reversal takes place when the community of faith comes and prays over the sick and anoints them with oil. And this prayer of faith by the elders is the speech of the community. So the community speaks in response to the sick, the weak, and the needy. And then the community of faith, the powerful, the leadership, are always ready to be the servants of the needy. For God's way seems so opposite to the ways of this world. Leadership [in the world] is so different from God's perspective. We read in verse 15 that the prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up and anyone who's committed a sin, they will be forgiven. So it's obviously not only a physical healing that takes place, but there is spiritual healing that occurs in this as well. Because the physical and spiritual are closely linked. And not only the physical person is sick, but if the community of faith ignores the weak, and ignores those who society would say are the least among us, then it ceases to be the community of faith. It ceases to be the greater reality of God.

We find that the Lord responds to the speech, and that the natural order, the way of this world, is changed. Prayer changes things. Things are different when you pray. In verse 16 James continues, "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed." I would take this as both spiritual and physical. Our faults, our weaknesses, our ailments, the mistakes we've made, we are to confess to one another, and the natural order of things that ought to occur is reversed, and it doesn't. The Lord responds to our speech, and the natural order is changed.

The community speaks but how does it speak? Does the community of the Almighty One speak in power and does it issue forth great proclamations? Well the language here of the confessing community is that it talks about its' weaknesses. And in this way by sharing weakness and sharing our faults with one another we become stronger, and we become healed--it's a reversal of what seems to be going on in the world around us. In verse 16 after he says that we are to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed, James continues by saying, "that the prayer of the righteous (I'm reading here from the New Revised Standard Version), the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Now the first thought that always comes to my mind is, well, am I righteous? Are my prayers going to have any effect? Well, if you study the context here, of the use of righteousness in the book of James, you'll find that really what he seems to be talking about is the contrast of a person of God with a person of this world who is without God. That is, he contrasts the confessing community with the rich. And in context here, he has used the same term "dikos", righteous to talk about how the rich actually persecute the righteous. So who are the righteous? The righteous are those who are persecuted by the rich. The righteous are those who the world would naturally tend to look down upon as being weak and feeble and lesser in value. And the confessing community has confessed that it is those people. Therefore we are the righteous. So the prayer of the righteous, the prayer of this community that confesses its sins and has them forgiven, that confesses its faults to one another and that humbles itself, this weak yet powerful community, this sinful and yet now righteous community, when it prays, its prayers are powerful. There is a power that is unleashed. And these prayers are effective. And they're effective in ways that the powers of this world never can be. If you had enough money, it said, in our world, you could do anything you want. You can have prestige, you can have fame, you can have all that the world has. You can set everything wrong that you think is wrong right, by your money, by your power. And yet the confessing community that admits its weakness has a far greater power that is available to it, the power of prayer. It's powerful and effective in ways that the powers of this world never can be. Because the prayer, especially of the confessing community, can change the natural order.

Prayer changes things in the natural order according to the sovereignty and the will, the plan, and the purpose of God. Now, I don't believe that prayer changes God. I think God's fine, thank you very much. I don't think that we need to change God's mind, because [as] I understand it...he's just fine, he is just perfect. Therefore, in my prayer at least, I'm not concerned about changing God. I'm concerned about changing me, and the lives of those around me and the lives of those who have need for change. My understanding of prayer is similar to what James is saying here, that we don't change the ultimate reality that is God. What we change is the reality that we see that is not reality at all, but is a fallen world and is a fallen situation. And it is God's will that this all be changed. And in our prayers, in some way, we cooperate with the will of God who wants to change things. And in response to our prayers in cooperation with us, because he's God and he's free to be God, he's free to do what he wants to do the way he wants to do it. When we cooperate with him he does change things in this reality but they don't change his reality, because he is sovereign. And his purpose and plan remain inviolate. But it is his will to break into this reality [of our fallen world] in marvelous and unexpected ways. The greatest of those [ways] of course is Jesus, where God was born of a virgin. That doesn't fit with the natural order. God became a baby. And this baby grew. And this baby was fully human and fully God. And the natural order has to wrestle with that. And then this one who is fully God and fully human was crucified and in some way, died. And in some way lived again. And that ain't natural. But it's real. There is a greater reality at work here. And prayer cooperates with that greater reality to change what our physical senses have to deal with on a daily basis. James gives us an illustration of the power of the righteous being powerful and effective. And the illustration he gives us is Elijah the prophet in verse 17. "Elijah was a human being like us." Now you have to understand, in the time of James, Elijah was at least a semi-divine figure. He was one who lived and died and was taken to heaven and was coming again. So James makes the point, he was a person just like us, which perhaps his audience would not have fully appreciated had he not pointed that out to them. "Elijah was a human being just like us." Literally in the Greek he has the same passion and feelings as we do. Yeah, he was a prophet, Yeah, he was a man of God, in a special way. But he was just a human being, he had the same passions and he had the same feelings that we do. "And he prayed fervently that it might not rain. And for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. And then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest." Now again, as I say in the colloquial to make a point, 'that ain't natural!' We all know how the rain cycle works. We know about saturation and humidity levels, and barometric pressures and condensation and climatic change, yet this speaks to none of that. This speaks to prayer, that he prayed and it stopped raining. And it didn't rain. And he prayed, and it started to rain. That's a reversal of what appears to us to be 'the natural order.' And he was a fellow just like us. And yet the cycle of the earth was changed. The harvest was one time delayed [for 3 1/2 years!] and another time hastened by the word of prayer. When we read the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17 & 18 we see all kinds of miracles performed in his ministry. We remember that the widow's flour and oil would not run out. It was an endless supply while Elijah stayed with her. The widow's son got sick and died. His breath left him. And she sought Elijah, and Elijah prayed and the widow's son came back to life.

We remember that Elijah was one against 450 prophets of Baal. And that he challenged them to see who was God. And they took a sacrifice of a bull on an altar. And the prophets of Baal prayed all day, and their speech was useless. And then Elijah had the altar [of the Lord], the wood and the sacrifice doused with water, till the water in the trough flowed around the altar. And then Elijah prayed. And fire came from God and consumed everything, doused with water or not! Again, I say, 'that ain't natural.' But that's the point of this story--that prayer changes what to us is reality, but which is to God not all that necessarily so, according to his great will and plan and purpose. Elijah stood alone against 450. And yet, the prayer of the righteous, the minority, the weak, the oppressed, the one who was all alone was heard, and the many was not. The weak, again, was made powerful by God. And yet, he was a person like us, because when Jezebel said, "I'll kill you", all of a sudden it's like he forgot all about the fire coming down from heaven and about being fed by ravens and about oil and flour and about resurrection, and he fled for his life. And we wonder, 'how could Elijah have done that?' Well, all I have to do is look at my own life, perhaps for you to look at yours, and say, 'had I not done the same thing?' and 'Do I not do it every day of my life?' I have prayed for healings of people and seen people healed, dramatically right before my eyes. That doesn't change my moments of doubt, weakness and discouragement. We're just that way as human beings. But do you know what? Because we are that way does not mean that our prayers are not heard, and are not answered, because, Elijah, you see, was like us. And yet he prayed, and things changed.

But we asked the question sometimes, "Why pray?" I ask that question. I don't know if you do. But I've wrestled with that question, philosophically, theologically, Biblically and personally. Why pray? I know prayer makes me feel better. But perhaps that's not a good theological or philosophical answer. Why pray? I ask the question, "Why should God hear my prayer?" What difference does it make whether I pray or not? And I ask the question, "That since God is all-knowing and all-wise and in some way, although I don't fully understand it, he talks about having predestined a lot of stuff--and since God is all-knowing and all-wise and has stuff predestined--why should I pray? And the Scripture says, "He knows what I have need of before I ask." So, why ask? Why pray? I see some answers here from James. It helped me. I hope it will be helpful to you.

Three points about prayer brought out by James

1) The answers I see from the Scriptures we just read in James is that, number 1, prayer is effective and powerful. Scripture says so. It is effective, it has effect. There is effect from prayer. And it has power. So the prayer of a righteous person, in some way, is effective--and in some way, has power. And according to James, it does change things. And I suggest that we don't always even see the way that they're changed, and I suggest that, for example, we look at the sick person who we pray over and in faith ask to be healed, and yet in our concept of healing, perhaps, we don't see the healing. But yet can we grasp that in the ultimate reality and in faith, some way, some type of healing that perhaps we don't even understand, that may only be realized when we're glorified, may have taken place already. I don't know. But I do know prayer changes things, and I know the prayer of faith saves the sick.

I know that prayer makes a difference according to God's sovereignty and according to God's will. We don't pray contrary to God's will, as Jesus prayed himself and set the example, "Not my will be done." Because if I pray for my will, if I pray for my riches, if I pray for my wealth, (and I'm not saying I'm not praying for my daily bread), if I'm praying for riches and I'm praying for wealth, if I'm praying for job promotion, so that I can get promoted to satisfy some ego need of my own--am I not engaging in the speech of the world? This is not prayer. This is the kind of speech that James condemns. And if I pray for the poor and the needy, if I pray for the homeless, and I don't try to feed them, if I pray for those without clothes and don't try to find clothes for them, is my prayer not the prayer of the world and not the prayer that is effective and powerful. This is what I read in James as well. There's a hypocritical prayer, even in the community of faith--people who just talk the talk and don't walk the walk. And that's the speech of the world and not the speech of God and that has no effect and has no power. So we're talking about prayer within the will of God, and within his sovereignty, and that kind of prayer, that kind of speech changes things. So I know, then in some way, sometimes beyond my ken and understanding, in faith, that prayer changes things. It is effective and is powerful. And most of the time we can even see it happen, though perhaps not always.

2) Second answer I get from James, about "Why should I pray?" is that prayer, in prayer God invites our participation in the divine reversal, which is really making things right. But in the divine reversal of the natural order, as we see the natural order--the fallen natural order, the natural order of this world--we've been invited to participate in some way with what God is doing to set things right. He doesn't want people to go to bed hungry at night. He does not want women in Afganistan to be treated like animals. He does not want children to suffer and die. These are not things God wants. We want a reversal of these things. And God invites our participation with him in the reversal of the natural order of this world. Because the prayer that can raise the sick and that can heal the community and bring it together to aid its weakest people can also prove triumphant over the powers of evil in this world. When the community of faith comes together, by the very fact that we pray together, our prayers reject this world's definition of reality, which is an idolatrous position. Because we insist on the greater power of the reality that is not seen. We do not accept the way things are, as the way things ought to be. We do not accept the inevitability of what's going on as something we have to live with. We believe the sick can be made well. We believe the poor can be made rich in ways far beyond material goods. We believe that the weak can be made strong. We believe that the outcasts can become a part of a loving community. We believe that the sinner can be righteous. And we believe that the lost can be saved. We participate with God in the reversal of the way things are, into the way things ought to be.

3) Third, prayer brings us into solidarity with God on the side of the needy, the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed. And it brings us squarely in opposition to the ways of this world--competition, envy, jealousy, ego, materialism. It rejects, our prayer rejects, for all to see and all to hear and for us to know--and before God--it rejects friendship with this world. Instead it opts for friendship with God. Every time we come together to pray, we that statement--that we are in solidarity with God! And that we are in solidarity with the weak, and the needy, and the afflicted, the poor and the oppressed against those, so called as James would use the term, rich who use their power and their material goods to keep the poor down and to keep themselves rich and powerful. Our prayers stand in open opposition to the ways of the world, and in solidarity with God and the people of God. Let me give you an example of how this works. Some talk in our church about the need to do evangelism. And there is a need to do evangelism. And some have even asked me for a program to get started--perhaps a three ring notebook, categorized, alphabeticalized, with chronological order and steps to do evangelism to bring people to Christ. And I've rejected such a notion, because I reject evangelism as a program. I see it as a way of life, it's part of being a Christian. It's part of the nature that we have. And we all speak to times the fear of sharing Christ with others, of our evangelizing, our giving our testimony, or telling our story or whatever. And we wonder, "How could I ever go up to someone, how could I ever knock on someone's door and ask to pray for them, or share Jesus with them or do anything like that?" Well, I'll tell you how you can. You can come into solidarity with them first. And how do you do that? Well, I just said, prayer. You've got to pray for people. If the only people we pray about is ourselves and our families, then we're using the speech of this world. If we're using the speech of God, then we care about the people who need Jesus--we care about the needy--and there's no more needy than someone who needs Jesus. And we care about the needy. And we care about the oppressed. And there's no one more oppressed than one who does not know Christ. We care about the needy, we care about the oppressed, we care about the hungry, not only those who lack the physical bread but those who lack the Bread of Life. And so we pray for them. Now if all we do is pray, and don't take action, then again it's the speech of the world. [cf. Pastor Cymbala's congregation taking food and blankets down to the homeless and prostitutes in the "salt mines" of Brooklyn and then inviting a bunch of them back to church for Sunday services. Read Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, by Jim Cymbala, available online at: http://www.amazon.com ] So we both pray AND take action ourselves, but we do pray. And it begins with prayer. And the way to do evangelism is to start praying for the lost, people who don't know Jesus yet--that they may be found. And to pray for the unchurched, that they may be churched, and be brought into the body of Christ. And you start praying for your own family, your friends, your neighbors, by name every day. Most of us in today's society don't even know our neighbors. Difficult to pray for them when you don't even know them. But when you pray for people, you come into solidarity with them, because prayer has now brought you into solidarity with God's heart, which is deep concern for these needy people, these hungry and thirsty people. In the book of Matthew, we're told by Jesus how you make it into the kingdom. And you know what he says? He doesn't even say, "Call on the Lord." (Paul might.) Interestingly enough, he says, "Did you give drink to those who are thirsty? Did you clothe those who lacked clothing? Did you feed those who were hungry? Then as you did it unto them, you did it unto me. Come and enter my kingdom." According to the words of Jesus in Matthew, these are the people of the kingdom. [Read Matthew 25:34-40 in its entirety for yourself.] These are the people of the kingdom. This is the confessing community, it is people who care about people, and people who are in solidarity with these people because they pray for them. And when they are through praying, they go and do for them, because I think the prayer has brought the power to make a difference. So the way to do evangelism is first to become in solidarity with the needy, and to pray for them. So prayer brings us into solidarity with God on the side of the needy.

All I can say is, let us as Christians, the members of the confessing community, use the power of prayer, individually, and together, regularly and often to make a difference in this world for the kingdom of God. And as we heard Eric read from the words of Isaiah, we can pray for the valleys to be exalted and the mountains to be made low. We can pray for the crooked places to be made straight, and we can pray for water and flowers in the desert. You say, well these things are very unnatural. Only to us, not to God. This is the way things ought to be. When we pray for such divine reversal, we are praying according to the will and sovereignty of God, and things happen. You know, you can pray for the wolf to lie down with the lamb. You can pray that the little child can play in the den of a poisonous snake [and not be hurt]. You can pray that the lion and the lamb and the child can walk together. That ain't natural. But that's what's possible when Messiah comes. Because God broke into the world in a very special way in Jesus. We know how God breaks into the world continually through that life-giving Spirit. And where there is death God brings life. Let us pray for and work toward the phrase that is oft repeated, but perhaps not prayed about nor enough in our present reality "Thy kingdom come"--because the coming of God's kingdom is a reversal of the natural order. And I submit to you that the things we pray for that are according to God's will--which is the reversal of this fallen natural order of things--that our prayers will be powerful, and that our prayers will be effective, and that we will make a difference in this world today for the kingdom of God.

Let's pray: "Holy God our Father through Jesus the Son we come to you as the Holy Spirit moves us and leads us, inspires us in prayer. Father we pray for your divine reversal. We pray that what we accept as normal and natural, which is not normal and not natural, for it is not of you, we pray that it will be changed. We pray Father that you will use us as agents of change, as Saint Francis said, instruments of your peace. And one of the most powerful instruments that you've given us in our arsenal is the power of prayer. Let us use prayer, help us, inspire us, Holy Spirit, that it may not be the speech of this world, that is, for our gain, or for our selfish ambition or for our own will, but inspire us that our prayer may be the will of the Father--that your will may be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We pray for our daily bread, we pray for forgiveness for those who sin against us. Father we confess our sins. I confess mine before you, and ask forgiveness. We admit and acknowledge that we are the weak, but Father we acknowledge even more that you are the strong one. And we are thankful that the Strong One has come to bind up the one who thought he was strong, so that the ways of this world can be bound and that the true reality that comes from the presence of your kingdom can be realized in all the world. Again, Lord, I pray that we may have a part in it--a part in prayer, and a part in our physical action. May we pray for the lost and love them that they may be found--may we pray for the unchurched, that they may find a church home that will disciple them, that they can then go forth and disciple others. We pray for the hungry and the needy, and God help us to do something about it. Thank you for the power of prayer. Thank you for hearing our words. We believe in faith that not only do you hear but that you respond and that things happen. And that because of what we ask a difference is made in the ways of this world. Thank you for that. Help us to pray more. Bless us that we may truly be your children, seeking your will and building your kingdom on earth at this time. We give you the praise and glory and all the honor. And may all we do be to your glory forever and ever in Jesus. Amen."

To learn more about what effective prayer is, in many of it's different forms, send for Pastor Chuck Smith's EFFECTIVE Prayer Life" Available online at: http://www.thewordfortoday.org/product_nav.html (Price I believe is $3.50. It is worth it.)

Some More About Prayer

ROMANS 10

Verse 1, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved." Paul's attitude toward those who hurt him and wronged him, those of his own race is exemplified in this first verse of chapter 10. He prays for their salvation. Instead of giving in to the desire to pound them he prays for them. And he prays for their salvation. God put a huge desire in Paul's heart for his people's salvation. The desire turned into a constant prayer.

Paul understood that his witness would not be effective unless it was backed by prayer. John Bunyon said, "You can do more after you have prayed but you can not do more than pray until you have prayed." Look at the effectiveness of Paul's ministry in the conversion of whole Churches of Gentiles across the Roman empire. Prayer changes things. What we learn here is that prayer must accompany the proclamation of the gospel, for it to touch hearts. We tend to think that we can get so much more done in the flesh than we can get done in prayer. Many times we save prayer for an act of desperation, after we have done all we can--when we've gone for the first, second and third diagnosis, and the doctor says "It's in the hands of God now."

We were created for fellowship with our heavenly Father, and we can't understand how to live effectively for him, what he wants us to do--without that fellowship with him. Prayer, simply stated, "is talking to God like you would talk to a friend." Throw away your past ideas of prayer.

Many Christians believe they can work for God without having been with God in prayer. To live without waiting on the Lord is to embrace humanism and to wrap it in Christian trappings. The humanist lives as if he was God and sadly, a lot of Christians are living that way.

God wants to hear about the daily challenges you face during the day. He cares. He's interested, and as you quiet down in prayer, you start to get direction from him.

When we pray we acknowledge that we need God, and that there is an invisible war going on. Prayer keeps you aware that there is a God and that he loves you. Ordinarily the flesh recoils from prayer, so that many Christians are prayerless Christians. But we have a God that is intimately interested in our lives. He cares and cares and cares so much about us.

We should pray, "Direct me Lord, I want my service to be directed by you." Prayer is not a bummer. Prayer changes things because prayer opens doors. Look at Colossians 4:2, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." Paul says pray with thanksgiving. Christians are people who should cultivate thanksgiving. Pray for open doors--a door for the gospel--that it will spread. Once the door opens, we should pray that the gospel spreads quickly. II Thessalonians 3:1. "Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you." Spiritual power and victory are linked to prayer. Joshua prayed for the sun to stand still because he needed more time to achieve a military victory. He knew that prayer transcends natural laws. If Einstein or Steven Hawking were to put it in their language, prayer transcends time and space, it functions outside time & space, because God is outside time and space. He dwells in eternity, he inhabits eternity. He created the space/time continuum and has total control of it whenever he chooses. God has the ability to control everything. Spiritual victory and power are linked to prayer. Acts 4:23-31. "On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. 'Sovereign Lord,' they said, 'you made heaven and earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One [Psalm 2:1-2]." Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand and heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' After they had prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." God shakes things up when you pray.

Another example of the power of prayer to enable the preaching of the gospel is found in Acts 16:16-34. "Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, 'These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.' She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, 'In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!' At that moment the spirit left her.

When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, 'These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.'

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them [kind of hard not to listen. A captive audience at midnight when everyone is trying to sleep!] Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. [This became the jailer's worst nightmare. This is the jailer that beat Paul and Silas. Roman law stated that if one prisoner escaped the jailer paid with his own life. This earthquake and Paul's Christianity shook up this jailer's life. Look at what took place next.] But Paul shouted, 'Don't harm yourself! We are all here!'

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'

They replied, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household. Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole family."

As you can see, prayer can arrange things in a certain way so that people are boxed in, and brings them face to face with the issues of life. And it's all because someone is praying for them--just as Paul and Silas were praying for this jailer.

The effective fervent prayer of a righteous person does much. God moves heavenly armies into place in answer to some of our prayers. Elisha had been giving the movements of the king of Syria, his army and chariots, to the king of Israel, telling the king whatever God told him to. It was God passing military intelligence to the king of Israel through Elisha. The king of Syria didn't know how Elisha was finding out these things but set out to capture Elisha and stop him. This is an interesting story of the kind of power and spirit military force God surrounds us with at the beck and call of our prayers. Let's pick it up in verse 12 of II Kings 6. "And one of his servants said, 'None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words you speak in your bedroom.' So he said, 'Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.' And it was told him, saying, 'Surely he is in Dothan.' Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, 'Alas, my master! What shall we do?' So he answered, 'Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' And Elisha prayed, and said, 'Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. So when the Syrians came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, 'Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.' And He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. Now Elisha said to them, 'This is not the way, nor is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.' But he led them to Samaria [the capital of Israel where the king's army was based]. So it was, when they had come to Samaria, that Elisha said, 'Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.' And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and there they were, inside Samaria!" (II Kings 6:12-20.)

You know, if the Church [and I dare say, the collective Church, the body of Christ] fully understood the power of prayer, nothing would be impossible for her. Listen to what Andrew Murray says, "We must begin to believe that God in the mystery of prayer has entrusted us with a force that can move the heavenly world and bring its' power down to earth." God must wonder why we pray so little. Listen to what the former missionary to India, Dr. Wesley Duall had to say about prayer. "Prayer is a form of spiritual bombing to saturate any area before God's army of witnesses begins their advance. Prayer is the barrage to drive back the demon hosts who are determined to stop the triumph of Christ. Prayer is the invincible force to break down every opposing wall and open every iron gate, and fast closed door. Prayer penetrates every curtain of darkness, crumbles every bastion of darkness. Prayer demolishes every fortress of hell. Prayer is the all-conquering invincible weapon of the army of God."

If some of you couples with problems would start praying together you'd need less counseling together. If families would pray together they would stay together. There's power in prayer. Why is it any surprise then that Satan attacks us during our prayer time? Prayer is our weapon, not talk, not meetings, not boards, not counseling...prayer is where the power is.

Again, why is it any surprise then that Satan attacks our prayer time? And he gives men especially a repulsion to prayer--men are just scared to death to pray. Why? Because Satan knows, 'the righteous fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.' 'So keep em off their knees at all costs.' 'Make em embarrassed'--that's Satan's reasoning. Because when people pray the kingdom of darkness starts shaking. Prayer is the power behind ministry. You see great churches and ministries--they're not great. But what might be great is the prayer-force behind them.

William Carrie is known as the father of modern missions and God used him in mighty ways to bring the gospel to India. [Families, by the way, kill any of their members who try to become Christians in India.] People credit Carrie with a lot--but do you know what? It wasn't Carrie, and he knew that. What a lot of people don't know is that he had a bedridden sister who prayed for him for fifty years. She was paralyzed. All she could do was lie in bed and pray. That's all she could do. It got the job done. Without prayer the Church is nothing, just sickly and dying.

Many of us get so busy for God that we don't spend any time with God anymore. But prayer's power is not limited to time or natural law. Remember what Samuel Chadwick said, "The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray."

Remember the example of Moses, Aaron and Hur on the mountain top praying for the victory of Israel over the Amalekites. There are two levels here. 1) What is happening on the Mount of Prayer, 2) determines the outcome in the valley. Why do you fail in your Christian life? Because you have ceased to pray. Pray on. [This is a word for word transcript taken from a sermon by Pastor J. Mark Martin of Calvary Community Church, Phoenix, Arizona.]