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R. A. Torrey :: The Place of Prayer in Evangelism

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THE PLACE OF PRAYER IN EVANGELISM


By Rev. R. A. Torrey, D. D.,
Dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles,
Los Angeles, California

The most important human factor in effective evangelism is PRAYER, Every great awakening in the history of the Church from the time of the Apostles until today has been the result of prayer. There have been great awakenings without much preaching, and there have been great awakenings with absolutely no organization, but there has never been a true awakening without much prayer.

The first great ingathering in human history had its origin, on the human side, in a ten days' prayer meeting. We read of the small company of early disciples: "These all with one accord continued stedfastly in prayer" (Acts 1:14). The result of that ten days' prayer meeting is recorded in the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4), and "there were added unto them in that day about 3,000 souls" (Acts 2:41). That awakening proved real and permanent; those who were gathered in on that greatest day in all Christian history, "continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

Every great awakening from that day to this has had its earthly origin in prayer. "The Great Awakening" in the 18th century, in which Jonathan Edwards was one of the central figures, began with his famous "Call to Prayer." The work of David Brainerd among the North American Indians, one of the most marvelous works in all history, had its origin in the days and nights that Brainerd spent before God in prayer for an enduement of power from on high for this work. In 1830 there was a revival in Rochester, New York, in which Charles G. Finney was the outstanding human agent. This revival spread throughout that region of the state and 100,000 persons were reported as having connected themselves with the churches as the result of this work. Mr. Finney himself attributed his success to the spirit of prayer which prevailed. He says in his autobiography:

"When I was on my way to Rochester, as we passed through a village some thirty miles east of Rochester, a brother minister whom I knew, seeing me on the canal boat, jumped aboard to have a little conversation with me, intending to ride but a little way and return. He, however, became interested in conversation, and upon finding where I was going, he made up his mind to keep on and go with me to Rochester. We had been there but a few days when this minister became so convicted that he could not help weeping aloud at one time as he passed along the street. The Lord gave him a powerful spirit of prayer, and his heart was broken. As he and I prayed together, I was struck with his faith in regard to what the Lord was going to do there. I recollect he would say, 'Lord, I do not know how it is; but I seem to know that Thou art going to do a great work in this city.' The spirit of prayer was poured out powerfully, so much so, that some persons stayed away from the public services to pray, being unable to restrain their feelings under preaching.

"And here I must introduce the name of a man, whom I shall have occasion to mention frequently, Mr. Abel Clary. He was the son of a very excellent man and an elder of the church where I was converted. He was converted in the same revival in which I was. He had been licensed to preach; but his spirit of prayer was such he was so burdened with the souls of men that he was not able to preach much, his whole time and strength being given to prayer. The burden of his soul would frequently be so great that he was unable to stand, and he would writhe and groan in agony. I was well acquainted with him, and knew something of the wonderful spirit of prayer that was upon him. He was a very silent man, as almost all are who have that powerful spirit of prayer.

"The first I knew of his being in Rochester, a gentleman who lived about a mile west of the city called on me one day, and asked me if I knew a Mr. Abel Clary, a minister, and I told him that I knew him well. 'Well,' said he, 'he is at my house, and has been there for some time, and I don't know what to think of him.' I said, 'I have not seen him at any of our meetings.' 'No,' he replied, 'he cannot go to meetings, he says. He prays nearly all the time day and night, and in such an agony of mind that I do not know what to make of it. Sometimes he cannot even stand on his knees, but will lie prostrate on the floor, and groan and pray in a manner that quite astonishes me.' I said to the brother, 'I understand it; please keep still. It will come out all right; he will surely prevail.'

"I knew at the time a considerable number of men who were exercised in the same way. A Deacon P—of Camden, Oneida County; a Deacon T—of Adams, in the same county; this Mr. Clary, and many others among the men, and a large number of women partook of the same spirit, and spent a great part of their time in prayer. Father Nash, as we called him, who in several of my fields of labor came to me and aided me, was another of those men that had such a powerful spirit of prevailing prayer. This Mr. Clary continued in Rochester as long as I did, and did not leave it until after I had left. He never, that I could learn, appeared in public, but gave himself wholly to prayer."

Perhaps the most remarkable awakening ever known in the United States was the great revival of 1857. As far as its human origin can be traced it began in the prayers of a humble city missionary in New York named Landfear. He not only prayed himself but organized a noon meeting for prayer. At first the attendance was very small; at one meeting there were only three present, at another two, and at one meeting he alone was present. But he and his associates persisted in prayer until a fire was kindled that spread throughout the whole city, until prayer meetings were being held at every hour of the day and night, not only in churches but in theaters. When this had gone on for some time, Dr. Gardner Spring, one of the most eminent Presbyterian ministers in America, said to a company of ministers, "It is evident that a revival has broken out among us, and we must preach." One of the ministers replied, "Well, if there is to be preaching, you must preach the first sermon," and Dr. Gardner Spring consented to preach. But no more people came out to hear him preach than had come out for prayer. So the dependence was put upon prayer and not preaching; the fire spread to Philadelphia, and then all over the land until it is said that there was no part of the country where prayer meetings were not going on, and the whole nation was moved and there were conversions and accessions to the Church everywhere by the hundreds and thousands. This awakening in America was followed by a similar awakening, though in some respects even more remarkable, in Ireland, Scotland and England, in 1859 and 1860. The most important human factors in the origin of the wonderful work seem to have been four young men who began to meet together in the old schoolhouse in the neighborhood of Kells in the north of Ireland. Here night after night they wrestled with God in prayer. About the spring of 1858 a work of power began to manifest itself. It spread from town to town and from county to county; congregations became too large for any building, meetings were held in the open air, oftentimes attended by many thousands of people. Hundreds of persons were frequently convicted of sin in a single meeting; men were smitten down with conviction of sin while working in the field. In some places the criminal courts and jails were closed because there were no cases to try and no criminals to be incarcerated. The fruits of that wonderful work abide to this day. Many of the leading persons even in the churches of America were converted at that time in the North of Ireland. While men like Dr. Grattan Guinness and Brownlow North were greatly used at that time, the revival spread not so much through preachers as through prayer. The wonderful work of Mr. Moody in England, Scotland and Ireland in 1873, and the years that followed, beyond a question had its origin on the manward side in prayer. His going to England at all was in answer to the importunate prayers of a bedridden saint. The first demonstration of God's power through his preaching was in a church in the north of London a year before he went to England for this work. In this meeting 500 people definitely accepted Christ in a single night. This was the direct and immediate outcome of the prayers of this same bedridden saint. While the spirit of prayer continued, Mr. Moody went on with power, but as is always the case, in the course of time less and less was made of prayer and his work fell off perceptibly in power.

The great Welsh revival in 1904 and 1905 was unquestionably the outcome of prayer. A year before the writer began his work in Cardiff, it was announced that he was going to Cardiff, and for a year prayer went up from thousands of devoted Christians that there would be not only a revival in Cardiff but throughout Wales. When we reached Cardiff we found that early morning prayer meetings had been held in Penarth, one of the suburbs of Cardiff, for months. Yet at first the work went very slowly. There were great crowds, most enthusiastic singing, but little manifestation of real convicting and regenerating power. A day of fasting and prayer was appointed. This was observed not only in Cardiff but in different parts of Wales. There came an immediate turn of the tide; the power of God fell. On that day, at a meeting held in another part of Wales by a few devoted men of God, the power of God was manifested in a most remarkable way. For a whole year after our meetings closed in Cardiff, the work went on in that city, meetings every night with a very large number of conversions. The week following the meetings in Cardiff a minister associated with the work went up into one of the valleys of Wales, and there was a mighty manifestation of the power of God with large numbers of conversions, and all over Wales the work of God continued, largely without human instruments except in the way of prayer. 100,000 conversions were reported in a year. Of course, not all of these proved steadfast, and doubtless there were extravagances in some places, but after making all allowance, it was one of the most remarkable works of God in modern times, and from Wales there went forth a fire from God to the uttermost parts of the earth and only eternity will reveal the glorious results of that work.

And not only has it been demonstrated over and over again in a large way that widespread revivals are the certain outcome of intelligent and prevailing prayer, but in smaller circles the power of prayer has been demonstrated over and over again. In a very obscure village in the state of Maine, where apparently nothing was being accomplished by the churches, a few earnest Christian men got together and organized a prayer band. They selected apparently the most hopeless case in all the village and centered their prayers upon him, importuning God for his conversion. The man was a drunkard and a wreck. In a short time the man was thoroughly converted. Then the praying band centered its prayers upon another man, the second hardest case in the village, and he was converted; and so the work went on until about 200 were converted in a single year.

In a little village in the state of Michigan, way off from the railroad, a Presbyterian and a Methodist minister united in an effort to win the unsaved to Christ. They were backed by a faithful praying band. While the Presbyterian preached and the Methodist exhorted, this praying band were in the back room crying to God for His blessing on the work. They would select individuals in the community to pray for. In some instances these men would come into the meeting the very night they were being prayed for and be converted. The work grew to be so remarkable that ministers and multitudes of the people would drive for miles to witness the wonderful work.

The history of foreign missions abounds in illustrations of the importance and power of prayer in world-wide evangelism. All will recall "the haystack" prayer meeting and its results, and the sending out of the 100 by the China Inland Mission in 1887.

Illustrations of this character could easily be multiplied. The history of the Church demonstrates beyond a question that the most important human factor in the evangelism of the world is prayer. The great need of the present hour is prayer. In our work at home and abroad we are placing more and more dependence upon men, machinery, and methods, and less and less upon God. Evangelism at home is becoming more and more mechanical, and methods are being resorted to that are more and more revolting to all spiritually minded people; while evangelism abroad is becoming more and more merely educational and sociological. What is needed above everything else today is prayer, true prayer, prayer in the power of the Holy Ghost, and prayer that meets the conditions of prevailing prayer so plainly laid down in the Word of God.

All that is said thus far is more or less general, but if anything practical is to be accomplished we must be specific, in what directions should we put forth prayer, if we would see that effective evangelism for which so many are longing?

First of all, we should pray for individuals. Under God's guidance we should select individuals upon whom we should center our prayers. Every minister and every Christian should have a prayer list, i.e., he should write at the top of a sheet of paper the following words (or words to the same effect): "God helping me, I will pray earnestly and work persistently for the conversion of the following persons:" Then he should kneel before God and ask God definitely and in the most thoughtful earnestness and sincerity, to show him whom to put on that prayer list, and as God leads him to put different persons on that prayer list, he should write their names down. Then each day he should go to God in very definite prayer with that prayer list and cry to God in the earnestness of the Holy Spirit for the conversion of these individuals and never cease to pray for them until they are definitely converted. If there were space we could record most marvelous instances of conversion in many lands as the outcome of such prayer lists.

Second, we should pray for the individual church and community. Pray definitely for a spiritual awakening, pray that the members of the church be brought onto a higher plane of Christian living, that the church be purged from its present compromise with the world, that the members of the church be clothed upon with power from on high and filled with a passion for the salvation of the lost. We should pray that through the church and its membership, many may be converted and that there be a genuine awakening in the church and community. Any church or community that is willing to pay the price can have a true revival. That price is not building a tabernacle and calling some widely-known evangelist and putting large sums of money into advertising and following other modern methods. These things may all be right in their place, but they are not the price of a revival. The price of a revival is honest, earnest prayer in the Holy Spirit, prayer that will not take no for an answer. Let a few people in any church or community get thoroughly right with God themselves, then let them band themselves together and cry to God for a revival until the revival comes, with a determination to pray through no matter how long it takes; then let them put themselves at God's disposal for Him to use them in any way He will, in personal work or testimony or anything else, then let them go out as God leads them, dealing in love and wisdom and persistence with the unsaved, and a genuine revival of God's work in the power of the Holy Ghost is bound to result. The writer has said substantially this around the world; time and again, the advice has been followed, and the result has always been the same, a real, effective, thorough-going work of God. In the church in Chicago of which he himself was pastor, during the eight years of his active pastorate there was a constant revival, and in all those eight years there was never a week without conversions. The great majority of those converted united with other churches, but the smallest number ever received into that church in any one year was 250. In the thirteen years that have elapsed since he left the active pastorate of that church, the work has continued to go on, at first under another pastor, and now for several years with no pastor at all. Many illustrations of the same thing could be given. A most notable instance is that of the Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh under the leadership of Joseph W. Kemp.

Third, we should pray for the work in foreign lands. The history of foreign missions proves that the most important factor in effective missionary work is prayer. Men and women are needed for foreign missions, money is needed, but what is needed most of all is prayer. We should pray very definitely for God's guidance upon the secretaries and other officers of our foreign missionary boards. The problems that confront them are beyond the wisdom of any man to solve; the secretaries need wisdom from above and that wisdom is given in answer to prayer. We should pray very definitely that laborers be thrust forth into the harvest which is so plenteous and so ripe at the present time. (Matthew 9:37-38). Not only should we pray that men and women be called into the foreign field, but we should pray for definite fields and for the definite thrusting forth of laborers into those fields. We should pray very specifically for the men and women who have gone into the field. Only one who has visited the foreign field can have any realization of how much the missionaries need our prayers. One feels when he gets to the foreign field as if the very atmosphere was taken possession of by "the prince of the power of the air." The burdens that the foreign missionary has to bear and the conflicts that he has to endure would be appalling if we did not believe in a God who answers prayer. But we have no right to leave the devoted men and women who have gone out to the foreign field to fight the battle alone. Realizing that their "wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenlies" [Ephesians 6:12], we should with all prayer and supplication pray at all seasons in the Spirit, and watch thereunto in all perseverance, that God would give to these men and women victory in their personal conflict, and power in their efforts to win men from the delusions of the false religions that eternally destroy to the truth of the Gospel that eternally saves. We should pray too very definitely for the converts on the foreign fields, for their deliverance from error and delusion and sin, and that they may become intelligent, well-balanced, strong and useful members of the body of Christ. We should pray for the churches as organizations that are formed as the outcome of missionary effort in foreign lands.

Finally, we should pray for the evangelization of the world in the present generation. The awful war now in progress emphasizes the need of prayer, especially in connection with our foreign work. The past few years have been years of marvelous opportunity in foreign missionary work. God has been calling the church as never before to the evangelization of the world, but the church as a whole has slept on and not responded to the call, and it almost seems as if the door was at last being closed and that our Lord was saying to us as He said to the disciples who slept in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Sleep on now, the opportunity I gave you and that you despised is now gone." We cannot have it so. Let us pray that God will give us one more opportunity. I believe He will, as dark as the present day seems. Let us pray just as earnestly that God will lead His church to improve the one more opportunity as it is given. Let us be very earnest, very persistent in our prayers. Let us determine that we will not take no for an answer, and we shall see world-wide evangelization, and that glad day for which we are longing above all other days will speedily come when "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God" [1 Thessalonians 4:16], and when His completed body, the church, will be caught up to meet Him in the air. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20].

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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