June 5, 2009

The Hard Work ... of Prayer

Think with me about the book of Colossians for a moment or two. It was written by Paul to a group of Christians he’d never met. Paul hadn’t planted the church at Collosae. A man named Epaphras had. And one sentence Paul writes about Epaphras is extremely important to notice. You can find it in 4.12: “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, (and here’s the part I love …) always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers.”

Most of the time I think of labor (or work) and prayer as two separate things. As I spend time in my office, it usually seems like I am either working … or I am taking a break from my work in order to pray. But I don’t usually think of my prayers as work. But I should. That’s the way Paul and Epaphras both thought. The way to get the most spiritual work done, it seems, is to make prayer a significant part of your work!

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who saw the Spirit come in revival in his church in Wales, and whose preaching was blessed perhaps more than any man in the last century once said: “When God acts, he can do more in a minute than man with his organizing can do in a lifetime.” Good reason to work harder at prayer than at anything else…asking God to do the work that we cannot do!

In the previous century, George Mueller raised a thousand orphans, sent thousands of Bibles and tracts all around the world, and all the while pastored a thriving, growing church. And He did it all without receiving a personal salary and without ever doing any fundraising! How did he accomplish it? How did he feed all those mouths without ever asking for money? Well, instead of working at raising money…he worked in prayer, asking God for the money! And God provided every time!

Hudson Taylor, following Mueller’s example, organized one of the most successful missionary societies of modern times—China Inland Mission. And he, like Mueller, did so without ever asking anyone for money to support the missionaries, and without making any great pleas for more workers to join the mission. So, how did CIM ever succeed in sending and supporting so many missionaries? Well, Taylor explains it by saying that he “moved men, through God—by prayer.”

Now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t do the work of evangelism, or fund-raising, or office managing, or ditch-digging. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9.10). But it is to say that we should no longer view our prayers as a distraction from labor, or as different from our labor, or even as a support for our labor. Rather we should view prayer precisely as labor for the LORD…maybe the most important of all the work we do every day!

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