Winning Battles Through Prayer
Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment | Wheaton, Illinois
God's Power and Our Prayers
There is no doubt that God has ordained in His all-encompassing foreknowledge and His infinite wisdom to respond to the pleading of His people and perform great triumphs through prayer. God has decreed to make the prayers of His people the cause of His triumph in many battles.
For example, in the 14th year of Hezekiah, the King of Judah, Sennacharib, the great and terrible King of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. Jerusalem was left isolated against hundreds of thousands of armed Assyrian soldiers. All there was in Jerusalem was a frightened people, a prophet named Isaiah, and a praying king.
The Assyrian emissary, the Rabshakeh, stood by the conduit outside the city on the highway that leads to the Fuller's field and mocked the people. He said Egypt would be no more help than a reed to lean on. It would pierce their hand. He taunted them, saying that he would even give them 2,000 horses if they could find the men to put on them. He scoffed at the Lord God: “Has any of the gods of the nations delivered His land out of the hand of the King of Assyria?” (Is. 36:18). And he threatened to starve the city until people would eat their own dung and drink their own urine (Is. 36:12).
Eliakim, the king's steward, listened to all this and then brought the Rabshakeh's word to King Hezekiah. The king tore his clothes and went up to the house of the Lord. He sent word to Isaiah the prophet and said, “Lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left” (Is. 37:5). Isaiah responded with a promise of deliverance: the King of Assyria will hear a rumor and pull back from Lachish to fight on another front. And it happened. But the threat was renewed and the emissary of the king sent a letter to Hezekiah saying that they were coming back and they would destroy everybody and everything.
This time Hezekiah goes straight to God himself, without asking Isaiah to pray. Listen to his prayer. This is the kind of prayer that triumphs over the enemies of God and expands His kingdom in the world. Isaiah 37:14-20 says that Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread Sennacharib's letter before God and said:
O Lord of Hosts, God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You alone are the God of all the kingdoms of the earth; You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacharib, which he has sent to mock the Living God. Of a truth, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone; therefore they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone are the Lord.
When Hezekiah had prayed that prayer, Isaiah, without even being told about it, received a word from the Lord and sent it to Hezekiah:
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “Because you have prayed to me …" this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning [Sennacharib] … "Because you have raged against Me and your arrogance has come to My ears, I will put My hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back the way by which you came … The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this … For I will defend this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of My servant David” (Is. 37:21-22, 29, 32, 35).
And then with the sovereign rights of the one and only God, who reigns above the cherubim and who made heaven and earth, and owns everything in them, God killed 185,000 soldiers in the camp of the Assyrians, and the sons of Sennacharib slew their own father in the temple of Nisroch, his god.
The Effects of Prayer
Now the tremendously important point of this story is seen in the words of Isaiah in Isaiah 37:21-22, “Because you have prayed to Me concerning Sennacharib, King of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him.” Because you have prayed! Because you have prayed, 185,000 enemy soldiers lie dead on the plans of Judah. Think of it! Just think of it. Does prayer win battles? Hezekiah, because you have prayed, the strongest king in the known world is gone—off the scene of history. Hezekiah, because you have prayed, the witness of My covenant love for David and My zeal for My name has spread throughout the nations. Because one man prayed.
If this were the only story in the Bible, the point would be clear: God with infinite power and knowledge has ordained in His all-encompassing foreknowledge and infinite wisdom to respond to the pleading of His people, the cause of His own action, and perform great triumphs through prayer. He has decreed to make the prayers of His people the cause of His triumph in many battles.
But it isn't the only story. My 14-year-old son Benjamin is in Papua, New Guinea, this summer. After two weeks of boot camp with Teen Mission in Florida, he flew with his team to Sydney and on to Port Moresby, and then on to Wewak, then to Pagwi by truck and by canoe to Hauna Village. He called from Los Angeles on his way out and I got one more chance to stir up his passion to pray.
Noel and I had been reading through Ezra and Nehemiah in the evenings. We had just read Ezra 8, so I said,
"Benjamin, when Ezra set out on his mission from Babylon to build the city of God in Jerusalem , he refused to ask King Artaxerxes for a band of Babylonian soldiers to protect the pilgrims. Instead, he said to the king, 'The hand of our God is upon all that seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all that forsake Him.' So Ezra and all the people fasted and sought the Lord. Then he says, Benjamin, 'The Lord listened to our entreaty … The hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way' (Ezra 8:23, 31). So Benjamin, you're a missionary this summer. I haven't hired any military escort to see you safely to Hauna Village, halfway around the world, but I know this, son: The hand of God is upon those who seek Him. If we pray, God will fight for you and turn all the work of the enemy back on his own head.”
And so we prayed on the phone. I expect to hear tales of triumph in Papua, New Guinea, at the end of August.
Whether the battles involve the protection and guidance of one 14-year-old boy named Benjamin on a mission for Christ and His kingdom or the destruction of 185,000 Assyrians to vindicate the name of God, the truth is certain from Scripture: God has ordained that He will respond to the pleading of His people and perform great triumphs through prayer. God has decreed to make the prayers of His people the cause of His triumph in many battles. It is a staggering truth.
Motivation for Prayer
My question, therefore, is: What would move more people to pray about the battles of world evangelization the way Hezekiah prayed? The answer I want to suggest is this: People will pray about the warfare of world evangelization the way Hezekiah prayed when they are filled with the vision of God's inevitable triumph in world evangelization.
Implicit in Hezekiah's prayer is that God cannot be defeated. Isaiah 37:16 makes this crystal-clear. God is the Lord of Hosts; He has made heaven and earth. This is the certainty behind Hezekiah's prayer: The Lord alone is God, the maker of all things and ruler of all things. He cannot be defeated. His counsels stand. He accomplishes all His purposes. If world evangelization has been purposed, the world will be evangelized.
Behind Ezra's fasting and praying was this bold assertion made to King Artaxerxes: The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all that forsake Him. If a person turns against the Living God, God's omnipotent wrath turns against him, and you cannot defeat a God like that. He will win. If world evangelism has been purposed, the world will be evangelized.
A Great Book for Prayer and Missions
Probably the most important book on prayer published in the '80s was Patrick Johnstone's Operation World. There is nothing like it for describing the progress of the kingdom in all the countries. I do not think it is a coincidence that within four years after the new edition appeared in 1986, God turned Eastern Europe upside-down and blew closed doors off hinges that no one dreamed could be blown off. Heaven alone will show the extent to which the epoch-making events of last year were the result of a tremendous movement of prayer for the USSR and the Eastern bloc. And I believe we will see in this decade unprecedented breakthroughs in Albania, Mongolia, North Korea, Kampuchean, Cuba, and even the Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa.
I said in Denver two years ago and I will say it again: Those who project a straight-line trajectory of increasing limited-access countries simply do not reckon as they should with the omnipotence and freedom of God. Have we not seen enough to say with tremendous hope: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it where He will?"
My main reason for referring to Johnstone's book was to focus your attention on its underlying certainty. This book is filled with the vision of God's inevitable triumph in world evangelization. Johnstone reminds us that Jesus opens the seals of world history in the Book of Revelation. Then he says,
All the earth-shaking, awesome forces unleashed on the world are released by the Lord Jesus Christ. He reigns today. He is in the control room of the universe. He is the only Ultimate Cause; all the sins of man and machinations of Satan ultimately have to enhance the glory of the kingdom of our Savior. This is true of our world today—in wars, famine, earthquakes, or the evil that apparently has the ascendancy.
[Stop: Neither Johnstone nor I make this statement glibly or without deep submission to the mysteries of pain and misery in the world. We know that three days ago 39 children were crushed to death in a collapse Christian school north of Manila, and that this was caused by an earthquake, and earthquakes are in the control of God. We do not say it simply or callously or without tears of sympathy for those parents. But we do say it, because God said it.]
God's actions are just and loving. [Yes, even the tragedies to be just and loving.] We have become too enemy-conscious, and can overdo the spiritual warfare aspect of intercession. We need to be more God-conscious , so that we can laugh the laugh of faith, knowing that we have power over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19). He has already lost control because of Calvary, where the Lamb was slain. What confidence and rest of heart this gives us as we face a world in turmoil and in such spiritual need. (p. 21, italics added)
Pleading With Our Triumphant God
It seems to me that wherever I look today, the awakening of a movement of prayer in the warfare of world evangelization is being born among people who are filled with a vision of the inevitable triumph of God in world evangelization. The crown rights of King Jesus is the note struck again and again today where people are praying like Hezekiah and winning battles in world evangelization.
Last night, Bill Waldrop said that vision was seeing what ought to be and what can be in the future, and that passion was the devotion and zeal to make that vision. He admitted that there can be evil visionaries, like the people who can see in their mind's eye their pornographic magazine in every grocery store in the country. He said that true vision is different from that because it is based on compelling convictions—on truth, on what “ought” to be. I say yes to all of that. But I want to take the definition of Christian vision a step further and show another way it differs from the vision of secular visionaries.
In world evangelization, Christian vision is not merely seeing what ought to be and can be, but what will be. Therefore, the decisive difference between the secular vision and Christian vision is that secular visionaries call us to imagine a possibility , but God calls us to believe a promise. Secular visionaries call us to seek the glory of creating the reality we imagine. But God calls us to serve the reality He is creating! The great biblical visionary Paul said, “Neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but only God who gives the growth—only God who creates the promised reality” (1 Cor. 3:7).
Prayer that wins battles in world evangelization is flourishing today where people are full of the uniquely Christian vision: that God will be triumphant in world evangelization. He cannot fail. His purposes will be established.
The Bible Portrays God as Ruler
I say this from what I see in biblical prayers. I say it from what I see in the prayer awakenings around the world. And I say it from my own personal experience. Let me mention the text that has been most empowering in my own life of prayer in recent months, and give a closing admonition. The text is Psalm 22:27-28:
All the ends of the world shall remember
and turn unto the Lord;
And all the families of the nations
shall worship before Thee.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and He rules over the nations.
Do you see the surety of it all and the logic of the inevitability of God's triumph? God has dominion over all the nations. Therefore they will not be able to resist forever but will remember and turn to the Lord. Therefore all the families of the nations shall worship before the Lord.
The Certainty of Victory
Now the very least that this means is that Matthew 24:14 and Revelation 5:9 are true: "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations...." "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by they blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth."
The Christian vision that feeds battle-winning prayer in world evangelization is not the imagining of a possibility but the grasping of an inevitability. We do not create this reality. It created us. You are the creation of God's triumph in world evangelization. There is something very profound here, and very personal and radically life-changing for those who experience it.
I said that the Christian vision that feeds battle-winning prayer is not the imagining of a possibility but the grasping of an inevitability, namely, the triumph of God in world evangelization. I picture it like this: when you reach out and take hold of the infallible promise of God's triumph you are reunited to the source of your life. You owe your life to the progress of God's gospel triumph in the world. And when you reach out the hand of your faith and grasp the promise of God's triumph in world evangelization as your inevitable future, there is a tremendous spiritual dynamic released.
It is as though a mighty electrical current is flowing in the world that cannot be stopped. This powerful current of kingdom power reaches you and there is an initial jolt of awakening to realities of spiritual beauty and glory you never imagined. But then something terrible happens for so many awakened people.
The point of their being jolted awake by the current of the kingdom is that they might reach out their hand and lay hold on God's glorious inevitable future, and so become a pulsating connector between God's past triumph and God's future triumph. But instead so many people, once awakened by a jolt of kingdom power, ground their wire in the things of the world.
Wake Up to Reality
So I plead with you, get your wire out of the television. Eight slick, subtle, sexy commercials every 15 minutes will drain the spiritual power out of anybody. Take your wire out of money and clothes and recreation and home-remodeling and food and the whole American mindset of play play play play—right up to your dying day on some golf course in Arizona. The current is grounded and seeks out another conductor. And we wonder in a few years or decades: whatever happened to the power I once felt? Whatever happened to the joy?
The point is this: God has ordained to respond to the pleading of his people and perform great triumphs through prayer. He has decreed to make the prayers of his people the cause of his triumph in many battles. The prayers that win these battles come from Christian vision. And Christian vision is not the imagining of a possibility, but the grasping of an inevitability. That inevitability is the triumph of God in world evangelization: "All the families of the nations shall worship before thee. For dominion belongs to the Lord." To reach out and take hold of this great reality is life—the life of a local church, and the life of the human soul and the life of prayer.