I happen to be a Calvinist who believes in prayer. Not that I have figured out how everything works together—(God’s absolute sovereignty and petitionary prayer). The best I can say is what others have said, that prayer is God’s sovereignly designed means to achieve his sovereignly ordained ends. But I cannot help but take away from my Bible, not only that prayer is important, but that prayer affects outcomes.
Unfortunately not all Calvinists believe in prayer. For that matter, not all Evangelical Christians believe in prayer. Okay. We believe in it, we just don’t really believe in it. The chief evidence is our immense prayerlessness.
I have visited too many churches as a preacher that rush into services on Sundays without prayer, or with token quick prayers. I have sat through too many of our worship services where prayer has little place. I have endured too many church businesses meetings where prayer is not part of the business. I have been involved in too many ministry activities where we simply do not pray as a part of ministry. And I have looked at too many seminary curricula to discover that they do not have classes on prayer. All of this convinces me that prayer, but especially corporate prayer, is not big on our list of important matters. And I often wonder if this is not one reason why our ministries and churches are so powerless.
Despite this pervasive trend, I happen to believe that prayer matters. Which is why I took such delight recently in meeting with over 40 of the people who have committed to pray regularly or even daily, for me and my ministry at RTS. We met to talk about the church, the world we live in, and I got to report on my first year at RTS. Then we prayed for the seminary and our ministry there. What a blessed night!
Some time ago as a pastor, I was bothered that I was not praying enough. I was challenged by some friends who reminded me that there are two ways to increase my prayer life. One way is to set aside more time to pray. So I tried to rearrange my schedule to do just that. The other way was to get more people praying for me. That is, to recruit a prayer team. If I could get a team of people praying for me, they said, I could dramatically increase my prayer life and increase prayer for the ministries and initiatives of our church.
So who would I enlist? I knew I could start with my parents. They told me they prayed for me every day. So my prayer team started with two—good old mom and dad! Then I learned that my wife’s parents prayed for us as well. My team doubled in size in one day. Then occasionally someone would come up to me after church and tell me they prayed for me every day. I began to recognize most of these people as intercessors and recruited them as well.
As I began my work at RTS Orlando I wanted to grow my team, which is now at about 60.
Let me tell you why prayer is so important for spiritual leaders. Pastors play a key role in the life of a church. They are, I believe, strategic leaders of God’s people, and strategic targets of the evil one. If they succeed in leading a gospel centered movement, the effect will be very, very great. It will radically affect an entire area. Because of this you can also be sure the one named Diabolos, does what he has always done. He throws himself against the work of Christ. He tries to ruin Christian churches and destroy Christian leaders. By exploiting some combination of the world and our own weak flesh, he knows that if he can bring down a leader he can discredit the gospel in people’s eyes.
In Ephesians Paul tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might,” so that we may be able to “stand against the schemes of the devil.” (6.10,11). He says that our real struggle is not against people, but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness,” and “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” So Paul urges believers to take up and put on the armor of God.
We need spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles. And at the end of his long list of what is in our armory—the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with a readiness given by the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God—there is one more weapon which we usually forget about. It is the weapon of “all prayer.” We are to pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication, with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints so that the gospel may go forward.
Now tell me if you think prayer is important to Paul?
Or consider Israel in their conflict with Amalek as recorded in Exodus 17. There Joshua is fighting in the valley with those who are trying to destroy Israel. As he fights, Moses is on top of a hill lifting up his arms. He is not waving or doing calisthenics! He is praying for the armies of Israel and for Joshua. He is accompanied by Aaron and Hur who help Moses lift his hands so his hands were steady.. They join him in intercession. And we read, “whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalaek prevailed. This happened all day long until sunset until Joshua overwhelmed the Amalekites.
I take this simple passage as another Biblical example of how prayer matters and how the battle appears to turn on prayer.
Call me simplistic, but I have had too many years as a Christian to confirm that this is how God works. And I for one, do not want to attempt any great kingdom project without the blessing of the king.
That’s one reason why we are beginning our semesters at RTS Orlando with concerts of prayer. That’s also why our ministry week begins with a prayer meeting in my office. That’s why our meetings are becoming more riddled by prayer.
And it is good to know that up on the hill, are a group of people like Moses, Aaron and Hur, who have their arms raised, and are quietly lifting up prayers of intercession to the Lord, calling upon His name for blessing and power.