Here in North America the desperate need of our churches is hidden from view with our beautiful large buildings. Beneath the surface lie the seeds of spiritual death. Dr. Howard Hendricks speaking to Dallas Seminaryís National Leadership Conference declared, "There are two things 'the church' has never been able to survive---prosperity and popularity---and we have both."
Prayer meetings in the average church are either non-existent or very small. The prayers are focused on surface needs like jobs and health. Rarely will you hear people pouring out their hearts to God for the salvation of lost relatives, friends and business associates. The reality that hell is real and multitudes are going there seems to escape serious attention in prayer.
The Bible records many extraordinary exercises of prayer. Jesus prayed all night before He chose the 12 apostles (Luke 6:12-13). On another occasion Jesus went into a mountain to pray early in the evening and stayed there until 3:00 a.m. (Mark 6:46-48). It was His habit to arise long before daylight and go out to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).
Prayer was the outstanding feature of Jesusí life and ministry. He did absolutely nothing apart from prayer partnership with His Father (John 5:19,30). His disciples saw the secret of His work was prayer. So they asked Him to teach them to pray. They never asked Him to teach them to preach or teach though He was the master of both. They wanted to pray like Jesus.
The church began with an extraordinary prayer meeting that lasted 10 days (Acts 1:14-15). After they all prayed in one accord, they were of one heart and one soul and were all filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31-32). The apostles witnessed of the resurrection with great power and great grace was upon them all (vs. 33).
Prosperous popular Christianity in our land is powerless. The warning signs of moral and spiritual decay are obvious all around us. Our needs are desperate, but the Christian community (with some notable exceptions) had not desperately cried to God.
When Jonah reached Nineveh with his warning, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed," the king ordered an absolute fast for three days. Neither men nor animals had food or water while the whole city stopped to plead with God to save them from His wrath. God heard and spared the city.
It is this kind of praying that is sorely needed in North America today. While we wish entire congregations would meet for prayer, the small group that does come should not give up in despair. In 1857 churches were sliding down hill. Thousands of Americans were disillusioned with Christianity. William Miller, a New England farmer, had captured nationwide attention with his prediction that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. When nothing happened many abandoned their faith.
Americaís moral recovery began when Jeremiah Lanphier, a concerned layman, started a noon prayer meeting for New York businessmen. Only six people came to the first prayer meeting on September 23, 1857 on the third floor of the "Consistory" of the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street. By spring daily prayer meetings sprang up in many locations and daily attendance grew to 10,000. Americaís greatest spiritual awakening was underway. It was called the Laymanís Prayer Revival because laymen led it.
Every Christian A Witness For Christ
It's Our Solemn Obligation!
Before our Lord departed to be with the Father, He made a promise to His disciples that they should receive a gift of power: "Ye shall receive power, the Holy Ghost coming upon you" (Acts 1:8). The purpose of that spiritual endowment was to enable those who knew Him to be witnesses unto Him, and that, in a word, is the business of every individual believer, and of the Church collectively!
We're not here to devise new schemes for human betterment. We're here to bear a simple personal witness to the power of Jesus Christ to make men new creatures in Him. That's the task of the Church---to be witnesses to tell what we know about Him. That's our business every day we live. An Outstanding Witness!
In all the history of the Christian Church, there's never been a more fruitful preacher than the Apostle Paul. He labored more abundantly than all his contemporaries. From the beginning of his Christian life to the end, he did nothing but bear witness to the power of divine grace. "Straightway"---after his conversion---he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God."
And he kept on preaching Christ until, as Paul the aged, he was able to say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day" (2 Tim. 4:7.8). What were the motives which lay behind this lifelong testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ? "I Am Debtor"
Paul describes himself as a "debtor": "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also" (Romans 1:14,15).
Consider how this man got into debt. Saul of Tarsus was as truly a missionary as Paul the Apostle. From what we know of the life of Saul of Tarsus, it is clear that he was dominated by one purpose, mastered by one idea, carried forward day after day by a great zeal for the accomplishment of that purpose: "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9).
This man Saul, the proud Pharisee, who boasted that he owed the law nothing at all, was consumed with a great passion. That's a striking phrase which describes the intensity of his zeal: "And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus" (Acts 9:1-2). Like the hot breath of some beast of prey determined to possess that which it was pursuing, Saul breathed out "threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord." His passion for the law, for the honor of the religion of his fathers, consumed him. It was the one thing for which he lived.
Then a voice from heaven spoke, and this proud man who believed that he was free before God and men, that he owed nothing---suddenly discovered that he was hopelessly insolvent, utterly bankrupt, in debt---hopelessly in debt to the law of God. And when he expected the doors of the eternal prison to swing open to receive him, and the hand of the divine jailer to make him a prisoner forever, behold, he discovered that his debt was paid, that his obligations were cancelled, that Another had stood in his stead. He learned what he later wrote, that in Him "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Eph. 1:7).
It was revealed to him that God's books were balanced and that he, who had richly deserved to be in chains, had been delivered "into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21), and was no longer in debt to the law. He discovered, however, that by that deliverance he had been placed under an overwhelming obligation to his great Redeemer, and that he was more deeply in debt than ever.
Paul discovered that Jesus had become the bridegroom of his soul. There was no possibility of his ever getting out of debt to redeeming love. But it was a blessed obligation, a happy bondage, a glorious bankruptcy, for his chief Creditor was none other than the Lover of his soul. When he began to inquire how this debt was to be liquidated, when he asked, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Jesus said, "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (Acts 9:6).
Then the Lord said to Ananias, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake" (Acts 9:15-16). Paul discovered that his whole future was mortgaged, that he had become the bondslave of Jesus Christ, that he was not his own---he was bought with a price, and that he must spend the rest of his life and all eternity in trying to make some return to Him who had redeemed him at such tremendous cost. He learned that the only way by which it could be done was to render service to those whom the Lord loved.
The Lord said to him in effect, "Saul, if you would pay Me, if you would show how much you love Me, if you would endeavor to discharge your obligation, then from this time forward be My witness. Tell other people who are in debt to the law as you are; tell other people who are bound with the chains of sin as you were, of One who is able to set them free. "We Are All Debtors!