Over the last couple weeks I've been reading some very encouraging material, and finding new victories in prayer. I've posted a number of quotes and scriptures as I've run across them, but I thought I'd take a moment to collect my thoughts and share my experiences.
I started out reading the first couple chapters of The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds. The topic was Prayer and Faith. Referring to Jesus' promise in Mark 11:24, E.M. Bounds writes, "How great — without qualification or limitation — is the power of faith! If doubt be banished from the heart, and unbelief made stranger there, what we ask of God shall surely come to pass, and a believer hath vouchsafed to him 'whatsoever he saith.'" Knowing I was going to need some strengthening in this area, I took encouragement from the passage in James 1:5: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." Most certainly this applies equally to faith. So, as I prayed, I simply asked the Lord to increase and strengthen my faith.
I saw the firstfruits of the answer to that prayer the very next day. For quite some time I've wrestled with the whole mystery of salvation — how it is that some people can hear the gospel and receive God's love and mercy and be saved, while others hear and fail to respond. But as I meditated in prayer, suddenly all the pieces fell neatly into place. Central in my thoughts was the verse in John 6:44, where Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." Somehow for me this was like the missing key, the last little spark that brings the whole picture into perfect illumination. We know from 1 Timothy chapter 2 that God wants all men to be saved. We know that He has entrusted us with the ministry and responsibility of prayer. But how should we pray? This verse holds the secret: pray that God will enable them to come to Christ. And we know that if we pray according to God's will, we will receive what we've asked for (1 John 5:14-15). God opened up my understanding. I knew, for the first time with complete confidence, that through faithful perseverance I could pray for unsaved loved ones and be entirely assured of their salvation. I can now make that intercession with unwavering faith and confidence.
I then turned my attention to a book I just received, Destined for the Throne, by Paul Billheimer. This text was tremendously encouraging and strengthening, and very useful for putting things into proper perspective. The author begins by discussing the place of the Church in the context of history and all of creation:
The human race was created in the image and likeness of God for one purpose: to provide an eternal companion for the Son. After the fall and promise of redemption through the promised Messiah, Israel was born and nurtured in order to bring in the Messiah. And the Messiah came for one intent and only one: to give birth to His Church, thus to obtain His Bride. The Church, then — the called-out body of redeemed humankind — turns out to be the central object, the goal, not only of mundane history but of all that God has been doing in all realms, from all eternity.
He then discusses how, according to Revelation 3:21 and other supporting scriptures, the Church will ultimately reign with Christ, and how our purpose in this life is prepare for our eternal destiny. "Therefore, from all eternity, all that precedes the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is preliminary and preparatory. ... Up until then, the entire universe under the Son's regulation and control is being manipulated by God for one purpose — to prepare and train the Bride."
Prayer, then, is God's program for equipping the saints for their ultimate role. God has granted us the authority to exercise His will on earth, and he desires and expects us to wield it, against those spiritual forces that oppose His purposes. This is the opposition that we need to surmount through steadfast, fervent, and persistent prayer.
"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne" (Revelation 3:21). "The crown is only for the conqueror" (Sauer). And the conqueror overcomes within the framework of God's program of prayer and faith. The prayer closet is the arena that produces the overcomer.
By delegating His authority to the Church to use prayer for administering His decisions and enforcing His will upon the earth, God placed her in apprenticeship to reign in eternity with Christ. By practicing in her prayer closet the enforcement of heaven's decisions in mundane affairs, the Church is in training to rule with Christ over His universal empire. She must learn the art of spiritual warfare, of overcoming evil forces in preparation for her assumption of the throne following the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. To enable her to learn the technique of overcoming, God devised the scheme of prayer. To give her on-the-job training, God delegated to her the authority to enforce His will right here on earth. In order to enable her to acquire the character and the knowledge she will need, He has placed upon her the responsibility and authority to enforce God's will and administer His decisions in the affairs of earth.
This then explains why God waits upon us to ask, to seek, and to knock, and it is the reasoning behind John Wesley's statement, "God will do nothing in but answer to prayer." As Billheimer explains, "This is why God never goes 'over the head' of His Church to enforce His decisions. He will not take things out of her hands. To do so would sabatoge His training program."
The author then discusses how these principles apply to prayer and intercession for the salvation of specific individuals, and how God can, in each and every case, lovingly overcome a person's rebellion and unbelief without violating their freedom of will. Yet since He voluntarily limits Himself to operate through the prayers of His saints, the defining difference in the salvation of the individual is prayer. He writes, "No soul is saved apart from intercession, and every soul who is saved, is saved because someone — who would not give him up to Satan — prayed." Truly this puts a remarkable responsibility on our shoulders. Yet, at the same time, we can have perfect confidence in the salvation of those for whom we labor in intercession.
Well, I finished Destined for the Throne (the last 2 chapters could have been omitted entirely), and returned to E.M. Bounds. The next few chapters were on desire, fervency, and importunity. Speaking for myself, I think it's easy to disconnect oneself with the deep desires of the heart, and simply pray what one considers "safe" or "acceptable" prayers. But when you realize that God wants us to bring that deep, passionate, heart-felt desire before His throne, it energizes and enlivens the prayer experience immeasurably. Not only that, but it deepens our intimacy with God, and permits Him to touch and show His concern for those things which concern us most deeply.
My experience has been that as I do this, and as I persist in pursuing God in prayer, He refines the deep desires of the heart until He brings me to a place where I can know with total faith and confidence that I am praying in accordance with His perfect will, and, ultimately, that those prayers will prevail. In the process, He deepens my understanding, and reveals to me more of Himself, His character, and His will.