I have just read that ‘you can do great things when you have prayed, but you can’t do anything of eternal value until you’ve prayed’. This fits in with the historical record of revivals, that they have ALWAYS been preceded by constant, passionate, tear-drenched, knee-oriented prayer. Unless a seed is put in the ground and dies, it remains alone. If we have not allowed ourselves to hang on the cross with Jesus, we will not see the glorious resurrection life in our time. Or we will not – even if we see it – really recognise it.
I have been reading more about the Ulster revival in 1859. The converts from Ballymena were faithfully going round sharing what God had done for them, in other towns. When we get something good enough from God, we don’t keep it to ourselves, but it overflows and becomes living water. If your faith causes you to grow and look inwards, you need to beseech God for a faith that bursts outwards, that bursts open, that causes you to be spent. Only when you are spent will He fill you again! If we are only receiving from God, we can labour under the illusion that what we have is somehow from ourselves. How can you hunger and thirst for righteousness, if you never feel empty of it – if you never feel unworthy, dried up, emptied of your own and also God’s resources?
On the 7th June 1859 in Coleraine, there were so many gathered at Fair Hill, that half of them could not hear what was being spoken from the front, and the great congregation was split up into groups, and the ministers present spoke to the different groups. One such speaker said: “I was engaged in addressing a large group of people, composed of all ages and of all ranks of the community, from a portion of Scripture, when I became struck with the deep and peculiar attention which manifestly every mind and heart was lending to what I spoke… I never saw before, in any audience, the same searching, earnest, riveted look fixed upon my face, as strained up to me from almost every eye on that hushed and apparently awe-struck multitude. I remember, even whilst I was speaking, asking myself, how is this? why is this? As yet, however, the people stood motionless, and perfectly silent; when, about the time at which the last speaker was closing his address, a very peculiar cry arose from out a dense group at one side of the square, and in less than ten minutes a similar cry was repeated in six or eight different groups, until, in a very short time, the whole multitude was divided into awe-struck assemblages around persons prostrate on the ground, or supported in the arms of relatives or friends.”
This minister was no George Whitefield or Billy Graham. He was probably used to having to wait for quiet, and aware that members of his congregation were slumbering during his sermon. Everything changes when the Spirit of God comes down!
I never tire of reading this famous story of the Ulster revival which occurred in the large school of the Irish Society in Coleraine:
“In it, a boy was observed under deep impressions. The master, seeing that the little fellow was not fit to work, called him to him, and advised him to go home and call upon the Lord in private. With him he sent an older boy, who had found peace the day before. On their way they saw an empty house, and went in there to pray together. The two schoolfellows continued in prayer in the empty house till he who was weary and heavy laden felt his soul blessed with sacred peace…. The boy, who a little while ago had been too sorrowful to do his work, soon entered the school with a beaming face, and, going up to the master, said, in his simple way, ‘O Sir, I am so happy: I have the Lord Jesus in my heart.’…The attention of the whole school was attracted. Boy after boy silently slipped out of the room. After a while, the master stood upon something which enabled him to look over the wall of the playground. There he saw a number of his boys ranged round the wall on thir knees in earnest prayer, every one apart. The scene overcame him.
Presently he turned to the pupil who had already been a comforter to one school-fellow, and said, ‘Do you think you can go and pray for those boys?’ He went out, and, kneeling down among them, began to implore the Lord to forgive their sins, for the sake of Him who had borne them all upon the cross. Their silent grief soon broke into a bitter cry. As this reached the ears of the boys in the room, it seemed to pierce their hearts: as by one consent, they cast themselves upon their knees, and began to cry for mercy. The girls’ school was above, and the cry no sooner penetrated to their room, than, apparently well knowing what mourning it was, and hearing in it a call to themselves, they, too, fell upon their knees and wept. Strange disorder for schoolmaster and schoolmistress to have to control! The united cry reached the adjoining streets, and soon every spot on the premises was filled with sinners seeking God.”
Without fervent prayer, we will not see scenes like these in our day. David Brainerd, who was a wrestler in prayer who has inspired generations of missionaries and revivalists, said: “I have received my all from God, oh that I could return my all to God! Surely God is worthy of my highest affection, and most devout adoration; he is infinitely worthy, that I should make him my last end and live forever to him. Oh that I might never more, in any one instance, live to myself.” His journal and diary, available online, is a record of prayer in a young life that would shame believers who have lived three times as long as he did.
The only way we are going to get enough prayer into our day is to rise early. There is no real way to escape this. Family concerns, work preoccupations, the needs of others, all of these militate against us. Even now, at 7am, my little boy is tugging at my arm. (There, I’ve changed the batteries in his kettle now….)
I was convicted some months ago of the need for early prayer in a short article in the ‘Herald of His Coming’ newspaper. “I call you to early prayer,” says H.W. Hodge. “Eight years ago I commenced to pray early,” he tells us. “This early rising is no longer an experiment. It is with me a success.” Another man who makes me think that early prayer is possible is William Bramwell, a Methodist minister who saw incredible church growth wherever he went, not through preaching so much as through his prayer-life.
We can afford to let other things slip. It may be we don’t spend so much time keeping up with the news. Perhaps our house and garden is not as immaculate as the neighbours. And yes, our golf swing could use some work. But if we neglect prayer, there will be no place to hide before our beautiful and glorious Saviour on that Day, when He gave up everything for us, and we could not wait and watch with Him for even one hour.