The great task of the church and consequently of the ministry is to reconcile men to God. Jesus, the second letter to the Corinthians states has given us the ministry of reconciliation and is, as it were exhorting men through us “Be reconciled to God.” Reconciliation, by its very nature, speaks not of a momentary encounter but of a lifelong relationship. They who were once estranged are now brought together in love and harmony, for good. Yet the church in its long history has often seen momentary, fleeting encounters with God and then subsequent disenchantment and withdrawal.
Dwight L Moody is considered one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the church as is Charles Grandison Finney. However it is estimated that a mere 50% of Moody’s converts continued in the faith, the other half fell away while more than 80% of Finney’s converts went on in their walk with God. Finney, it would seem had an extra weapon in his arsenal, prayer. Bear in mind that conversion is a supernatural occurrence in the heart of man and the degree of divine power manifested in a person’s life has a lot to do with the strength of their faith.
Finney himself was a man of prayer. But his prayer alone could not account for the results he had, he had his Father Nash. Father Nash was a former preacher who decided to devote his life to prayer and in particular to praying for Finney’s meetings. He would arrive in a town where a meeting was to be held a couple of weeks before Finney and shut himself in with others and sometimes alone to pray. He usually did not even attend the meetings, he was praying while they were in progress. The preacher and the intercessor must work hand in hand for the conversion of souls. Too often in our days all the work is left to the preacher while the congregation comes to attend, enjoy and judge the quality of the ‘show’. Some tools in the toolkit are going unused.
Finney tells this story “When I got to town to start a revival a lady contacted me who ran a boarding house. She said, “Brother Finney, do you know a Father Nash? He and two other men have been at my boarding house for the last three days, but they haven’t eaten a bite of food. I opened the door and peeped in at them because I could hear them groaning, and I saw them down on their faces. They have been this way for three days, lying prostrate on the floor and groaning. I thought something awful must have happened to them. I was afraid to go in and I didn’t know what to do. Would you please come see about them?” “No it isn’t necessary,” I replied. “They just have a spirit of travail in prayer.”
That is the spirit that overcomes the powers of darkness that hold on to and imprison men’s souls. Behind the fine sounding philosophical arguments, behind the moral objections, behind the humanistic suppositions, there is real spiritual warfare to be won if men are to be pierced in their hearts with the truth of the gospel; and go on to live holy lives that honour the name of Jesus. It takes deep, strong intercessory prayer to break down walls of hardness that encircle the hearts of men and bring down reasoning that opposes the work of God. It takes a work of the Spirit for men to see themselves as sinners who deserve judgment and to whom a merciful God has extended love and forgiveness and to accept it joyfully, and with gratitude and humility employ themselves at leading lives worthy of the Master.
I believe the Lord will hold us individually responsible for many of the people we look askance at because they have not accepted the gospel. There are people in our homes, work place and community that are still in disobedience to God partly because we have been too busy with our own lives to labour in prayer for them. To whom much is given, much is required. We cannot wait until we have been wholly perfected to pray for people who if they die today will end up in an eternity separated from God; there is urgency in claiming the souls of men for the kingdom of God, there is urgency in crying out that the darkness be broken and the light of the gospel shine through.
Oh God, may the church turn its attention outward again and shun its inward looking, outward again to all those who would believe if they heard, those who would believe if someone cared enough to pray, to make himself available to pray. Where the church dies it is because believers have ceased to pray Spirit led prayers for the salvation of men and pastors have ceased to be prayer leaders and have become cheerleaders; Jesus spoke of leaving the ninety nine in the sheep pen to go after the one outside, we focus on the one sheep in the sheep pen and leave the ninety nine outside. Prayer meetings are the least attended meetings in the Western church, oh God break our hearts with longing to see the souls of men claimed for the kingdom of God.