Prayer as the Instrument of World Evangelism

Westminster Theological Seminary | Philadelphia

God intends for his supremacy in world evangelization to be known by ordaining that it be accomplished only through prayer. I have a text I want to use to make that plain in a fresh way for me because I didn’t see it until about five weeks ago. But before I read you the text, which is from Revelation, I want to take a few texts just to make that point that I just said — namely, that the supremacy of God is intended to be highlighted through prayer. Here are just a few texts to make that plain lest you take that as my word rather than the word of Scripture.

So if you want to look at these with me, I’m just going to run through about four or five texts with you very quickly to show you why I think that’s the case.

God’s Supremacy and Prayer

The first one is in John 14:13. Jesus says:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

There it is. Jesus says that he has ordained that we ask the Father for things in his name. Why? In order that the Father might be glorified, and that he be glorified in the Son because we asked him for things in his name. But it’s in asking him for things that he gets glory. The giver gets the glory. One of the important texts in my philosophy of ministry is 1 Peter 4:11, where it says:

Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

The giver gets the glory. Prayer makes plain who the giver is and who the glory should go to. So there’s text number one.

Second, Psalm 50:12–14 says:

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
   for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
   or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
   and perform your vows to the Most High …

And then here’s the key verse in Psalm 50:15:

And call upon me in the day of trouble;
   I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

In other words, if I were hungry, I wouldn’t come to you to get. You’re desperate, you come to me to get. Calling upon the Lord in the day of trouble makes plain where the resources of deliverance are. And when the resources come and we are delivered, he gets the glory because we called upon him and the deliverance flowed from him and the giver gets the glory. So God is saying, “Call upon me. Exploit my resources. Use prayer because I get glory in answer to prayer.” That’s text number two.

Increased like a Flock

The third text is Ezekiel 36:33. This is a new covenant promise. I won’t read all of this paragraph but I need to read part of it so that you hear how amazing Ezekiel 36:37 is in its context. Ezekiel 36:33 is a promise:

Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.

It’s a promise. God is saying, “I’m going to bring men and women to inhabit the waste cities and rebuild them.” Where does prayer fit in? Ezekiel 36:37–38 says:

Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people.

In other words, “I’ve just made the promise in Ezekiel 36:33. The cities will be filled. They will be inhabited. I will do it. And therefore, I will be prayed to for that end.” Why? At the end of Ezekiel 36:38 it says:

Then they will know that I am the Lord.

There is something about prayer ordained in God’s sovereignty to bring about his purpose. There’s something about prayer that keeps us aware that he is the Lord. If God were to do all of his purposes without involving us in asking him to do them, something would go awry in our worship, in our reliance, in our trust, and in our awareness that he’s the Lord. Your people don’t need to understand that in order to be fired up for prayer, but they do need to know that God has ordained that only through prayer will he accomplish his sovereign purposes.

Hallowed Be Your Name

Here are one or two more, and you know them by heart. You don’t even need to look them up:

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” (Matthew 6:9)

Now, you know the grammatical construction there, don’t you? I lived two-thirds of my life thinking that was acclamation and praise. It’s not. It’s a request — let your name be hallowed. You are asking God. Every sentence of the Lord’s prayer is a request. Let your name be hallowed. Cause your name to be hallowed, sanctified, and set apart as infinitely worthy and precious. Let your name run and be known.

Now, think of this: God has sworn that that’s going to happen. This earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And yet, he says to you, “Pray that it will happen.” He will not do it without prayer. He will see to it. He is saying, “I will let myself be prayed for this promise that I have made. I will see to it that the church prays, ‘Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.’”

Do you think the kingdom is coming? The kingdom is coming. A lot of people reason, “Well, if the kingdom is coming, you don’t need to ask for it to come.” That’s bad logic. It’s not biblical. It may be human. It isn’t biblical. It isn’t godly.

Let the Bible teach you how to pray. What we pray for are things that are most assuredly promised. The kingdom is coming. Therefore, pray that it would come. Thy will be done on earth, the way the angels do it in heaven. Is that going to happen? You bet it’s going to happen. There will be a new heaven and a new earth someday, and only the will of God will be done in the energy of angelic beings.

Pray that it would happen. God has ordained that these absolutely sure events be brought to pass through your agency. And they won’t happen without your agency. If you choose not to be a part of the agency of their cause, of their coming to pass, you will just be left behind and he will gather another people to himself who will pray the kingdom into reality. He will do it through prayer.

Laborers for the Harvest

Here is one last text before we look at the main text for this morning. This is the one I referred to last night. Matthew 9:38 says:

Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

I am just boggled in my mind when I think of that command because the Lord of the harvest knows the harvest. He knows how many workers he needs. I don’t know how many workers he needs. Why does the owner of the farm come to a little farmhand who lives out in a hut on the side, knock on his door and say, “Would you please tell me to send more workers into my harvest?”

What is going on here? You know how many workers you need. Just do what you know needs to be done. And he says, “No, no. That’s not the way I’m going to do it. I won’t hallow my name unless you pray. I won’t send my kingdom unless you pray. I won’t do my will unless you pray. And I won’t send out workers into my harvest unless you pray. You tell me to send out laborers, and I’ll send out laborers.”

Now, you may not have set up the universe that way as a sovereign God, but God did. We just have to get on board with the way God planned it, and he planned to do it by prayer. Therefore, it ought to ripple through this seminary and through all the churches constantly, calling for the kingdom to come, for the mission to be completed, for his will to be done and for his name to be hallowed, and for workers to be sent because he has said, “It’s not in vain. You tell me to do it and I’ll do it.” That’s an awesome thing to me. Prayer absolutely boggles my mind.

Incense on the Altar

Now, the text I want to take you to that is new and fresh for me is in Revelation 8, and this one I would like you to turn to and read with me, or look at with me as I read it. I’ll just give you off my front burner why I am excited to lead my people in 1994 to pray through Operation World and to pray for big prayers that God is moving in the world today, and he is moving. I believe, and I cannot prove this, that the publication of Operation World in 1986 unleashed the opening of the USSR. I think that kind of mobilized prayer around the world, calling on the church universal to focus on the nations of the earth did it.

Now, this text will shed light on that kind of praying. I’m going to read Revelation 8:1–5:

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints (mark that — all the saints) on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

The utterly astonishing thing about this text, I think, is that it portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument that God uses to bring this age to consummation and fulfill the goal of the Great Commission. The prayers are accumulating from all the saints all around the globe for I don’t know how many years, decades, or centuries. They are accumulating on the altar of God before the throne until the appointed time when an angel is called to take a massive censer of fiery prayers and incense from the altar and to throw it on the earth, and cause things to happen at the end of the age.

In other words, what I think this text is teaching is that the millions upon millions upon millions of prayers that have gone up from God’s people in Jesus’s name for the last 2,000 years, saying, “Thy kingdom come,” have never been lost and are meaningless, not one. Every one of them is accumulating on the altar of God, piling up, being mingled with the worship and the incense of heaven until the appointed time when God will summon Gabriel, Michael, or some great angel and say, “Now, gather up these prayers that have assembled before me for 2,000 years, throw them on the earth, and give them their appointed answer.”

Never in Vain

That’s what this text is saying, and think of what it does to give significance to your praying that the kingdom come, that his name be hallowed, that his will be done upon the earth, that the climax of the ages would come. The significance is just unspeakable. The flame is growing brighter and brighter evidently on that altar. The aroma going up into the nostrils of God pleases him tremendously until it gets to the point where he says, “Now. Now.” And he gathers them up and he says, “This is what you’ve prayed for.”

The old puritans believed this very strongly as they prayed for the conversion of Israel. I remember reading in Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope, which is a great book. The Puritans believed that every prayer prayed along the lines of Romans 10:1, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved,” has been gathered in a bottle until the time for the removal of the hardening that has come upon Israel has come, and God will take all those prayers and just throw them down.

When I read that, I began to pray for Temple Israel and the rabbi in my town that lives over there that I have breakfast with every couple of months or so. I would pray, “Lord, may the time come soon when the bottle is full for the removal of the veil from the eyes of the Jews in Minneapolis. And then pour the whole bottle of centuries of praying for the conversion of Israel and let them see their Messiah.” Your prayers are not in vain. Your prayers for things are not in vain.

You may think they’re not coming and they’re not being heard but they are not in vain, when they are offered in the name of Jesus, in faith. So what we have here is that the consummation of history is owing to the supplication of the saints — consummation owing to supplication. And the importance given to prayer in this text is almost beyond words. It is an astonishing tribute to the enormous historical importance of praying people and prayer.

The Lamb and the Seven Seals

Now, what I want to do is go back and get John’s thoughts here because I want you to see this. I’m jumping right in the middle of this most difficult of all books — the one book John Calvin did not write a commentary on because he didn’t know what it was saying and hardly anybody knows what Revelation means. I did a paper on Revelation in seminary, and I developed what I called the doctrine of least meanings.

What I said to Professor Shoonhoven out at Fuller was that I don’t know what a vast number of these symbols are referring to or what’s going on here. But the least that it means is absolutely awesome. God is going to win. That’s the point of the book of Revelation. God is going to win, and there are a lot of other things that you can be sure of. So you don’t have to understand the full meaning of a book in order to see dozens and dozens of true meanings that are enough to keep you worshiping on your face and trembling for the rest of your life. This book is a terrifying book.

So here I am dropping you in the middle of it, in chapter 8, but I shouldn’t do that. So I’m going to back up. We’re at the seven seal, right? Well, what in the world are they? What are these seven seals? To understand where we are, what’s going on here, and this seventh seal, we need to back up about three chapters.

So go back with me now to Revelation 5, and we’ll try to pick it up and see if we can agree on some basics with the doctrine of least meanings, if not maximum meanings, in this difficult and complex book.

Who Is Worthy?

In Revelation 5, John has just been caught up into heaven, either in the spirit or in body. We don’t know. In chapter 4, he’s caught up in the spirit it says, whatever that means, and he’s beholding things in heaven that are mind-boggling. Revelation 5:1–5

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne (God the Father) a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.

Now, what are we looking at here? At Fuller, I can remember Dr. Ladd showed us this and he said, “Now, you all think that the book opens in pieces, as if you open one seal and you read part of the book, you open another seal and read another part of the book, you open another seal, and so on,” and he said, “Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s rolled up like one scroll and there are seven seals along the edge — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. You take one off and you can’t read it. You take another off and you can’t read it. It’s only when they’re all off that you can open the scroll.” That’s the scene. So you have seven seals closing up this scroll here.

Now, what does that represent? What does the opening of the scroll represent? I think it represents the unfolding of history, especially the latter part of history. The reason I think that is because in Revelation 4:1 it says John was caught up in the spirit into heaven and was promised that he would see “what must take place after this.” So he gets there and there’s a scroll. So he’s promised, “You will see what must take place after this.” And there’s a scroll sealed up so he can’t see it yet. Then he starts to cry. Revelation 5:2–4 continues:

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

John begins to weep and his weeping, I think, is him saying, “Wait a minute, you told me I would be brought up here to see what is to take place here after, and now you tell me the seals can’t be opened?” And so, I think the scroll is what will take place here after — what he hoped he would see regarding God’s purposes and the great consummating acts to come, and here it remains sealed and he starts to cry. And then in Revelation 5:5 it says:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

A New Song

What does it mean that he has overcome? The lion of Judah has overcome so as to open the seven seals. I think the answer of what he’s overcome and accomplished is given in Revelation 5:9–10. It says:

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
   and to open its seals …

Now, why? Why is he worthy? It continues:

For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
   from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
   and they shall reign on the earth.

What he’s saying is that Jesus has a right to open the seals of history to unfold history because he was killed, and in being killed, he ransomed the people that will be gathered from all the nations in history.

Now, there is stuff going on here that is very, very profound. And I’m sure I won’t begin to get to the bottom of it. God is the kind of God, evidently, who undertakes to unfold the bloodiest history you will ever know. I mean, the blood that flows in this book in judgment upon the world is just unspeakable. And therefore, when the question comes, “Who is worthy to unfold the history like that?” The answer is, “One who was slain.”

The one who has the right to open up a bloodletting history of judgment is one who was judged, one who has given all he could give for the love of the world. There’s something going on here about God saying in his judgment, “I have made a way out. And I don’t send a harsh and unsympathetic high priest to release upon the world these judgments; I send the one who came first not to judge but that the world through him might be saved. That’s the kind of God I am.”

Don’t misunderstand when the blood flows as high as a horse’s bridle; it is the one who first died for the sins of his people that is unfolding this history. That’s not part of my message. That’s sort of a parenthesis because when I see it there, I am just blown away by what God wants to communicate about himself in whom he allows to open history and unlock the scroll.

Here’s another way to say it. The cross is the key that unlocks each of the seals. He doesn’t open them with a sword; he opens them with the cross. It says, “Thou art worthy to open the seals for thou wast slain” (Revelation 5:9). The blood of Jesus opens every lock of history and gives meaning to history and is the foundation of what God is doing in history.

Opening the Seals

Jesus begins to open these seals one at a time, and with the opening of each seal, we don’t have the end of the world, I don’t think. You have things that lead up toward the end. The end is what’s inside the scroll. What Jesus, in Mark 13:8, called the beginning of the birth pangs is what you have with the opening of the seals. Here comes one seal and one birth pang, then there’s another seal and another birth pang. The beginning of the birth pangs of the new world is what you have here. Here’s what Jesus said:

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

That’s what I think we see as the seals get opened. Let’s take them one at a time and just look at them briefly. Seal number one is in Revelation 6:1–2. A white horse is seen when the seal is opened and it goes forth to conquer. Some commentators say it’s the gospel doing conquering work. Others say it’s simply symbolic of military conquest.

Seal number two is in Revelation 6:4. A red horse goes forth, and it stands for war, the taking away of peace, and killing each other on the earth.

Seal number three is in Revelation 6:5–6. It’s a black horse that stands for famine. A quart of wheat costs the day’s wages.

Seal number four is in Revelation 6:8. An ashen horse appears, representing death by pestilence and wild beasts.

Seal number five is Revelation 6:9–11. You get a glimpse of the souls under the altar, the Christian martyrs crying out for vindication of their deaths and of their blood, which will come very soon.

Seal number six is in Revelation 6:12–17, which brings us to as close to the end as you get in the beginning of the birth pangs. There is an earthquake, darkened sun, moon and stars falling, heavens splitting, mountains and islands moving, and the enemies of God crying out for hiding from the wrath of God in Revelation 6:16.

Then, before the final seal is opened in chapter 8, where we’ll be in a minute, there are these visions in Revelation 7. The first one is in Revelation 7:1–8, and what you see is the people of God sealed for protection. It is God sealing them and preserving his own. And then in Revelation 7:9–17 you see the final triumph, the triumphant state of those people in heaven. So there’s security upon the earth and their final triumph in heaven.

Silence in Heaven

Then we get to Revelation 8:1 where we started, which is the seventh seal — the last one when the entire scroll will be opened. And after he opens it, there’s silence for half an hour. You can read that:

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1).

The next sound that you hear is in Revelation 8:5, when peals of thunder, sounds, flashes of lightning, and earthquakes happen as the fiery prayers are poured out upon the earth.

Now, what’s the meaning of this silence? There is silence in heaven for half an hour when the seventh seal is broken. Many commentators simply say that it’s symbolic of the dreadful awe that falls upon the heavenly hosts as they contemplate what is about to be opened in history. They are simply dumbstruck with what is coming in the unfolding of this scroll. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think just at this point, God wants to show John something about the role of Christians in the unfolding or the unrolling of the scroll.

Think of this. Up until now, in each of the six seals that have been broken, what you have is the awesome, massive, one-sided sovereignty of God sending these horses out and doing these great acts of judgment and wrath upon the earth. And so the question that rises is, “Well, who are we, where are we, and what are we doing in all of this stuff? Are we just kind of feathers blowing in the wind of providence? Are we little leaves in the sea, just going with the tide of sovereignty? Or is there some kind of significant moral, spiritual agency in the church that brings to bear upon history some power?” I think this silence is meant to awaken us to what is happening. Let me read Leon Morris’s comment at this point:

The saints appear insignificant to men at large. But in the sight of God, they matter. Even great cosmic cataclysms are held back on their account and the praises of the angels give way to silence so that the saints may be heard.

That’s Morris’ interpretation of the silence. There’s silence for half an hour, and what your attention is drawn to is the prayers of the saints piling up on the altar.

All heaven becomes silent and all the focus is on the altar, and what’s gathering on the altar is the worship, by way of incense, from heaven and the prayers, by way of impact, from the earth, gathering there and burning and rising into the presence of God. So, the silence is not just the dreadful awe of heaven of what is coming; it’s also a dramatic presentation of the importance of the prayers of the saints.

Prayer Gathering on the Altar

Before the scroll is opened, God wants to make clear to John and to his readers, even to us this morning, that the unfolding of the end of history is owing to the prayers of the saints. Look in verse Revelation 8:3:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne …

I think he has this heavenly worship added to the prayers of the saints to show that there’s a united focus and united movement in the hearts of those in heaven and saints on earth. And notice, it is all the saints. It’s not just martyrs. It’s not just people in one particular time or location. It is all the saints piling up their prayers upon the altar. If you wonder what has become of your prayers for the last decades of your life, the answer is that they are gathering on the altar — those that haven’t been answered yet. They’re gathering on the altar.

If human beings can invent a little microchip that can hold millions and millions of bytes of information, it’s no stress on the mind of God for him to design some memory bank in his altar that keeps a record of every groan of every saint that has ever been uttered at every moment in history since Jesus said, “Call upon the Lord.” Or even before Jesus, they’re all there. Nothing has been forgotten. Every prayer will have its hour.

When the time is right, God does something now with these prayers. He sends an angel. He sends his angel and it mingles this heavenly incense with the prayers, and in Revelation 8:4 the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints goes up before God out of the angel’s hand. And then something awesome happens: It causes great historical upheavals with these prayers. Revelation 8:5 says:

Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Now those things — thunder, sounds, lightning, and earthquakes — simply represent the action of God in his sovereign power as he moves to close the age and bring it to consummation and fulfill all the aims of the Great Commission. Then there are the trumpets and the bowls, and all of those are the outpourings of God in response to the prayers of his saints.

Help from the Past

Now, when I saw this and I was meditating on it last January and the first week of January, getting ready to preach these things to my church, I thought, “This is so awesome, and this book is so fragile in its clarity that I want to make sure that I’m on here with some other good thinkers about this. I don’t want it to be an idiosyncratic interpretation.” So, I just read through half a dozen commentaries. Let me just share with you some amazing statements.

I don’t read commentaries very often. I find them boring. I find it very un-worshipful. You almost never find the word “Oh” in a commentary unless you go back 300 years. Why is that? Well, it’s because even evangelical scholars have bought into the separation of scholarship and piety. In Germany, they’re really clear about it. We don’t pray in class and we don’t worship. Piety has nothing to do with studying. I studied three years at the University of Munich and they were upfront about it. They thought that piety ruins scholarship. So, be a scholar, and then at church on Sunday you can be pious.

The evangelicals are not quite as sure, but they still don’t say, “Oh,” in their commentaries. Even with the most absolutely, stunningly, unspeakably glorious truth, they don’t say, “Oh.” They’re just going, “Well, it is said among other scholars that…” I find them very deadening. It’s very hard for me to work in commentaries, though I do. I know that I have some things to learn from commentaries, and therefore, I force myself into them.

The Prayers of the Saints and the Fire of God

Well, in this text, I found that several commentators couldn’t resist themselves. They couldn’t contain themselves. Here is Thomas Torrance being quoted by Leon Morris. Torrance is a Scottish theologian. He says:

The fire comes from the very author on which the prayers of the saints have been offered. This surely means that the prayers of God’s people play a necessary part in ushering in the judgments of God.

Amen. Here’s the start from Torrance’s quote:

What are the real master powers behind the world? And what are the deeper secrets of our destiny? Here is the astonishing answer: The prayers of the saints and the fire of God. That means that more potent, more powerful than all the dark and mighty powers let loose in the world, more powerful than anything else, is the power of prayer set ablaze by the fire of God that would be cast upon the earth.

That’s right. That’s exactly right. More powerful than all political forces, more powerful than all the principalities and powers and these territorial spirits that everybody is talking about these days, more powerful than all of that is the prayers of the saints, set ablaze by the fire of God on his altar.

Isbon Beckwith is probably the best scholarly commentary on Revelation in spite of all the contemporary ones that have been written. I still find the most linguistic historical help from Beckwith. Here’s what he said, and he’s no evangelical as far as I know:

The events that follow this episode of incense offering, as one trumpet after another sounds, are the answers to these prayers of the suffering, expectant church.

So Beckwith is saying that the scroll opens and the bowls and the trumpets are spread out — all of the rest of Revelation — and the end of the age and the consummation of the purposes of God are in answer to the prayers of the saints.

Praying God’s Purposes

One more quote from George Ladd. He says:

This verse (Revelation 8:5) dramatically pictures the fact that it is in answer to the prayers of the saints that God’s judgments will fall upon the earth.

So I feel justified now. I got some help and confirmation from these other scholars. It’s okay. I’m not giving you an idiosyncratic interpretation of this verse. It seems to commend itself across the range of interpreters that those prayers being gathered on that altar are meant by the inspired writer of this book to teach you that every prayer you ever pray that God’s purposes would be advanced has not been prayed in vain.

It is gathering on the altar. It is being set on fire by his holiness. Its aroma is pleasing him now and one day when the appointed hour comes, he will have an angel scoop it up and he will throw it on the earth and we will know either in heaven or on the earth that our prayers have not been in vain. They will bring the kingdom. They will accomplish his purposes.

Practical Implications

Let me just close with a couple of practical implications that this has, for me and my church and for you and your leadership in your place of ministry.

First, Jesus said in Luke 18:1 that we ought to always pray and not lose heart. Jesus knew there would be tremendous temptation to lose heart in praying. Why would you lose heart in praying? Because you don’t see enough, so you tend to lose heart. This text is designed to help answer that problem. Keep in your mind from this day forward that God, when he hears a believing prayer in the name of Jesus, puts it on an altar and waits. And when the time is right, he gathers it up and he pours it out.

Now, I think there’s a principle here. Let me risk broadening the implication of this text. I don’t think it’s a big risk. If this is true about prayers that are large kingdom prayers, about prayers that say, “Hallowed be thy name and thy kingdom come and let your will be done. Do it Lord.” And he gathers all those up and in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, or a century from now he pours them out on the earth in great consummating power — if that’s true, then I think it’s true for a prayer for your church, prayer for your husband, and prayer for your son. That day after day as you pour out your hearts and groanings for a conversion or a healing or something, those prayers are not looked at and tossed in the garbage. They are looked at and laid on the altar.

And if you ask, “Well, what if they aren’t answered? I mean what if they don’t get well?” My answer to that is taken from Matthew 7:11, which says:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

If your son asks for bread, you won’t give him a stone. If he asks for an egg, you won’t give him a scorpion. But you might not give him bread or an egg; you might give him something better. That text is very, very helpful. God will give good gifts to those who ask him.

Good Gifts from a Good Father

One little illustration. I have a son named Benjamin. He’s 18 now. When he was about six, or maybe five, he wanted a snack. I pulled out the cookie box and he was very expectant. He had asked and he prayed and asked me, his father, for a snack. And my heart was benevolent towards my son, and I reached for it and opened it and there was mold all over his favorite cookies. I took one out and there was mold, green fuzzy mold.

He looked at it bright with no problem, like it was icing or something. And I said, “Benjamin, I don’t think you should have this. Let’s get a cracker instead.” And he said, “I want the cookie. I asked for the cookie.” I said, “Benjamin, it’s got mold all over it. It’s bad. Look at the fuzz.” He said, “I’ll eat the fuzz. I’ll eat the fuzz.” Well, I did not give him that cookie, I gave him the cracker because if you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father give what’s best for you?

If you ask for healing, God will work something good. And if the healing doesn’t come, it’s best for you. It’s a gift. It’s an answer. We just lost a man to cancer. For one year we wrestled for his healing and I think in the last week of his life God took a year’s worth of prayers and poured them all over him and he died magnificently, beautifully, and full of faith. His wife was sustained and his kids were sustained. Those prayers were not in vain, and he is well today. Yes, there was a, “No, I won’t give you the cookie with the fuzz on it. I will give you the cracker of death.” He died in faith. There are a lot more complex things about prayer, but I don’t think any prayer prayed in the name of Jesus is in vain ever. Our Father is too good to let any prayer be prayed in vain.

Praying for the Nations

The last implication, I know I’m over time, is simply joining. In 1994, praying through Operation World, pray for the world this year. And as you prayed for the world, just think of your prayers being piled up on the altar. Pray for the opening of North Korea. Pray for the opening of China. Pray for the opening of Cuba. Pray for the coming down of the walls in the Muslim world. Pray for these massive urban centers that have so few Christians, especially in the 10/40 window.

You know the 10/40 window? How many of you have ever heard of the 10/40 window? That’s good. I’ll close with this. I couldn’t believe this. I was on the plane coming out here and you know there’s a World Magazine that you get free on the plane and they have the airline routes. Isn’t it amazing that I opened the northwest map and The 10/40 window is all desert on this map? Isn’t that amazing, that yellow stripe right there?

That just filled me with awe that there’s a kind of symbol of the 10/40 window in a spiritual desolation in the airline magazine. Just open your eyes and pray this year. Pray and pray. May God fill this seminary with a spirit of prayer.