The Prayer-Shaped Disciple by Dan R. Crawford
Chapter 16: Beyond for Evangelism–As You Go . . . Pray
Reading of the Acts of the Apostles you will easily note the evangelistic growth of the early church. The expansion of the church was accompanied by extraordinary praying. This is the type of praying that must be returned to the people of the pews, but we must pray beyond the pews and walls to the multitudes of those who know not Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Since ultimately all evangelistic activity seeks to "make disciples of all the nations (Mt. 28:19)”, it is met with intense resistance by Satan. This resistance causes effective evangelism to be carried out in a climate of warfare. Thus the intensity of need for intercessory prayer.
Prayer and evangelism must be linked together for several reasons. The first reason is that the Bible speaks concerning this partnership when it says we should "pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Lk. 10:2 NKJV).” In setting an example for us, the Apostle Paul asked that his fellow believers "pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified (2 Thess. 3:1).” We ought not only pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest, but we ought to be laborers in the harvest, praying consistently for the unhindered spread of the gospel.
A second reason why we ought to link prayer and evangelism is seen in the current situation. Whereas in 1900, 34.4% of the world was Christian, in 1995, 33.7% of the world was Christian.[i] We are not winning the world, we are losing it. Also, evangelical Christians have recently lost much of their credibility in the world because of the moral and ethical failures of key Christian leaders of high visibility. Additionally, the population of the world is growing more rapidly than Christians are able to evangelize and growing in parts of the world where Christian witness is either weak or nonexistent.
There are several times when the need to link prayer and evangelism is more obvious than other times. First, we should pray for evangelism when our spiritual depth is shallow - when there is little desire for prayer or Bible study or worship or fellowship with other believers. Second, we should pray for evangelism when our church involvement has become apathetic - when our singing is without meaning, when our worship is dull, when there is no praise or celebration in our relationship to God. Third, we should pray for evangelism when compassion is lacking - when there is no genuine desire for renewal in our life, when brokenness is unheard of and when the lostness of individuals is ignored. Fourth, we should pray for evangelism when our witnessing activity diminishes - when there is no emphasis on witnessing, no training in witnessing, no motivation toward witnessing. Fifth, we should pray for evangelism when our priorities get out of order - when the emphasis is on something other than evangelism. Sixth, we should pray for evangelism when genuine repentance is lacking - genuine repentance and forgiveness precede every significant evangelistic endeavor.
As we look at the connection between prayer and evangelism, it becomes very obvious that prayer paves the way for personal evangelism. We should never talk with people about God until we have talked with God about the people. Let no one conclude that prayer is a discipline unrelated to evangelism for no Christian can move people toward God until they have first been moved by God toward people.
Acts 1:8 implies that we are not to pray to be a witness, because we already are a witness. When the Holy Spirit came to us in conversion we became a witness. Our proper prayer related to personal evangelism is that we would be sensitive to opportunities to bear witness rather than asking God if we ought to witness.
Further, in Acts 4:29 there is a request for "confidence" or "boldness" in witnessing. The word translated "confidence" or "boldness" may also be translated "plainness of speech." Again, we are not to ask God whether or not we should witness, but ask for boldness or plainness of speech in our witness. In these verses and others we see the truth that prayer paves the way for our involvement in personal evangelism.
Even though the instruction to pray related to witness is very clear in the scriptures, many believers do not follow these instructions. I often wonder why we spend so much time in our prayer services praying for those who have physical, emotional and material problems and so little time praying for those with spiritual problems such as lostness. One group of needs is temporal. The other is eternal. Listen to a church pray and you will know where that church's priorities lie.
Not only does the Bible instruct us to pray related to personal witness, it gives us many specific areas in which to pray: (1) Claim God's desire that none should perish but all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). (2) Pray that the Holy Spirit would draw the non-Christian to God (Jn. 6:44). (3) Pray that the non-believer would seek to know God (Acts 17:27; Deut. 4:29). (4) Pray that the non-believer would believe the scriptures to be true and accurate (1 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 10:17). (5) Pray that God would bind Satan from blinding the eyes of the non-believer to the truth (Matt. 13:19; 2 Cor. 4:4). (6) Pray that the Holy Spirit would do His convicting work in the life of the non-believer (Jn. 16:8-13). (7) Pray that God would send someone who would show the non-believer the way to faith in Christ (Mt. 9:37-38). (8) Pray that the non-believer would believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior (Jn. 1:12; 5:24). (9) Pray that the non-believer would turn away from sin (Acts 17:30-31, 3:19). (10) Pray that the non-believer would confess Jesus Christ as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10). (11) Pray that the non-believer would yield everything in order to follow Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:15; Phil. 3:7-8). (12) Pray that the non-believer would take root and grow in Christ (Col. 2:6-7). (13) Pray that the non-believer would find satisfaction in nothing apart from God (Eccl. 1:2; 2:17). (14) Pray that the non-believer would seek to draw near to God (Jas. 4:8). (15) Pray that the non-believer would not depend on his or her own works for salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). (16) Pray that the non-believer would see Jesus as the only option available for salvation (Acts 4:12).
Not only does prayer pave the way for personal evangelism, it is a prerequisite to mass evangelism. The history of Christianity shows a pattern: first concentrated prayer, often prevailing prayer, then revival.
The first Christian revival came as a result of ten days of united prayer. The one hundred twenty disciples were praying (Acts 1:14), and God added three thousand people to the church (Acts 2:41). The disciples began to pray again (Acts 2:42), and God "added daily" to the church (Acts 2:47). As the disciples continued to pray (Acts 3:1), five thousand more converts were added to the church (Acts 4:4). Continuing further in prayer (Acts 4:31-33), the scripture indicates that "multitudes" were continually being added to the church (Acts 5:14). By the year 100 A.D. it is estimated that somewhere in the vicinity of five percent of the Roman empire had become Christian. This could largely be attributed to the faithful praying of the early church, especially related to mass evangelism.
Led by the example of that first Christian revival, each succeeding revival in Christian history has been preceded by faithful prayer. Whenever revivals have occurred or spiritual awakenings have taken place, their beginnings have been found in the ministries of spirit-filled believers who were also mighty prayer warriors.
On prayer for revival evangelism, we should pray for (1) workers for the harvest (Mt. 9:38); (2) cooperation among workers (1 Cor. 3:6); (3) open doors for the gospel (Col. 4:2-3); (4) fruit that remains (Jn. 15:16); (5) rapid spread of the gospel (2 Thess. 3:1); and (6) a solid foundation of support for ongoing evangelistic work (Rom. 10:14‑15; Mk. 16:15).
Often, God has responded to the prayers of believers by sending revival that not only revived the church but awakened society. Following are some examples of prayer accompanying God-sent revival.
By the year 303 AD the number of believers in Asia Minor was equal to half the total population of the country, with the greatest period of growth between 260 AD and 303 AD. This period, characterized by severe persecution, was likewise characterized by prayer.
In the twelfth century, a revival broke out among the Waldensians in Italy and the Alps. Peter Waldo, their first leader, was known as a man devoted to prayer.
By the year 1315 there were in Bohemia alone approximately 800,000 believers. By the time of the Reformation, they had 400 local churches and the Bible translated in their language. Their leader, John Hus, was a man of prayer and organized the churches into prayer cells.
In the fourteenth century John Wyclif, having opened again the Bible in his native England, founded the Society of the Lollards who went two-by-two throughout the land singing gospel verses. Wyclif was accustomed to spending hours in prayer.
In 1489, Savanarola was converted in Florence, Italy. So powerful were his sermons on lostness and Hell that the Turkish Muslim Sultan of that time requested the sermons be translated in Turkish so he could read them. Savanarola is regarded as the greatest Italian preacher of all time, sometimes drawing audiences of 10,000 to 20,000 people. His motto was "As for me, prayer."
It is reported that Martin Luther prayed at length every day. A spy supposedly went to the inn where Luther was staying the night before he was to face his accusers in the law court in Worms on April 17, 1521. The spy noticed that Luther prayed all night long and was still on his knees at daybreak. When the spy returned to his superiors he declared, "Who can overcome such a man who prays thus."
Through prayer John Calvin made Geneva a city of God. It was his custom to study the Bible and prepare his lectures until 10:00 p.m. each evening. The following morning he would rise at 4:00 a.m. for meditation and prayer.
John Knox, the Scottish reformer who cried out "Give me Scotland or I die," spent nineteen months as a galley slave in South France. He was enslaved there for his preaching of the gospel. During the time of his enslavement he prayed, "Lord, release me that I may return to Scotland to preach the gospel to my compatriots there." After a period of time God returned him to Scotland to begin an evangelical, doctrinal, and spiritual revolution unparalleled in history. Queen Mary of Scotland testified concerning Knox saying, "I'd rather face an army of enemy soldiers than the prayers of John Knox."
In the 1630s a revival broke out in the town of Shotts in Scotland. A young preacher named John Livingstone was asked to speak in the revival meeting the following day when the crowd was expected to gather. So terrified was this young man that he spent the evening in a wheat field on his face before the Lord in prayer. When he arrived to preach the next day the record shows that 500 souls were converted in that one day.
In the province of Ulster, in Northern Ireland, a group of pastors gathered to pray faithfully and to unite their ranks. Prior to their praying together they were not on speaking terms with each other. As their prayer meetings continued they began to spend entire nights in prayer. Never did they consider a day or night long enough for the prayer meetings, nor was any room large enough to accommodate those who came to pray.
In 1735 Jonathan Edwards, the powerful preacher from Boston, spent an entire night in prayer. The following Sunday morning he preached in his church a sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God" based on Heb. 10:31. Rather than being dynamic and forceful, Edwards read his sermons word for word with the manuscript held near his face because of his shortsightedness. Edwards himself was amazed when he happened to glance up from his notes to see people leaving the pews and clinging to the pillars of the church crying out, "Lord, have mercy on us." This meeting was a part of the beginning of a great American awakening.
In July of 1745 David Brainerd went into the wilderness to preach the gospel to the Indians. His body was already affected with the then deadly disease of tuberculosis. Brainerd spent long hours before the Lord pouring out his heart in intercessory prayer for the Indians. John Wesley declared to his followers, "Do you wish to have revival in your lives and in your ministry? Read the biography of David Brainerd." He was, according to one, a prophet of prayer for his generation.
In the seventeenth century Richard Baxter was appointed as a minister in the Kidderminister Parish Church. Upon his arrival he found his new church in a sad state with a small group of worshipers each Sunday. Baxter began to pray and continued to pray until "the walls of his study became stained with his breath as he travailed in prayer." Then, as he began a program of pastoral evangelistic visitation and encouragement of every member, people began attending his church. Within five years crowds were flocking to hear him preach in such large numbers that balcony after balcony was built in the church until there were a total of five balconies.
The founder of the Society of Friends in the seventeenth century, George Fox was a capable preacher but above all he was mighty in prayer. One observer said of Fox, "I have never seen his like in prayer. His personality radiated the holiness, and majesty and love of God." It was the custom of George Fox to spend days alone in prayer, often hiding himself in a hollow trunk of a tree. Then he would return to speak God's word to the people with such effect that the results were awesome.
During the eighteenth century, John Wesley travelled as a missionary to America without having experienced the salvation of God. During a return journey by ship to England he came in contact with some Moravian missionaries in whom he saw what was missing in his own life. As a result, Wesley came into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through salvation, after which he spent a full hour each morning and another hour in the evening in prayer. He declared to himself, "There is no reason whatsoever that should prevent me from fulfilling this blessed practice."
Preceding the first Great Awakening in America in 1734, the "people of God," whose hearts were broken over the deplorable conditions in America, began to pray earnestly to God for revival. Before and during the awakening, daily prayer meetings were initiated.
In 1742, William McCullough, pastor of a church in Canbuslang, Scotland, heard of the revival in England and America and longed to see similar revival in his own church. Following a revival meeting preached by the eloquent preacher, George Whitefield, revival continued in the Canbuslang church under Pastor McCullough until there was no room in the church auditorium for the crowds. Moving outside, McCullough then preached to open air crowds of between ten and twelve thousand people. McCullough prevailed in prayer, laboring in intercession for the souls of his listeners.
Prior to the second Great Awakening in America in 1792, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and others joined in regular prayer for another spiritual awakening. This concert of prayer again brought significant results.
The key to the success of the ministry of Charles Finney was two-fold: his filling of the Holy Spirit and his life of prayer. It has been said that 85% of those who made professions of faith in Finney's revival meetings remained faithful to Christ and the church long after their public decisions. Finney led his converts into a life of prayer by personal example as well as by scriptural principles.
In 1839, a revival took place in Kilsyth, Scotland. The pastor of the church was W.C. Burns, a noted man of prayer. On one occasion he related to his congregation a story of the great revival that had taken place in the nearby town of Shotts more than 200 years earlier. While he stood before his people praying to God for the Holy Spirit to descend, God sent revival and many of those present were saved. Visiting the nearby city of Dundee, Burns told the people what had happened in his own church and again the Lord greatly blessed and gave many more souls. It is said that Burns spent days and nights before God in prayer.
After reading J. Edwin Orr's accounts of the second Great Awakening in England during the 1860s, inSecond Evangelical Awakening in Britain, Stephen F. Olford concluded, "The two outstanding conditions for revival are unity and prayer."[ii]
In regard to the revivals of 1904-1905 there is convincing evidence that prayer played an important role. This awakening was unique. Rather than springing forth from one locale and then spreading, it was a simultaneous world-wide movement of prayer. Significant were the prayers of teenagers for Evan Roberts of Wales.
The Shantung revivals in China may well be the most important event in the history of world missions. John Abernathy tells us, "In all the churches was held daily an early morning meeting for prayer and Bible study . . . The revival came about as a result of earnest prayer by groups and individuals."[iii] Concerning the involvement of Bertha Smith, Lewis Drummond writes:
The missionaries of Shantung Province prevailed in prayer for revival in China, a country in dire need of a spiritual awakening. To Miss Bertha and her missionary partners in Shantung Province, the needs seemed particularly acute. So they devoted themselves to intercession for revival and they were not disappointed. Their prayers were heard. One glorious day God rent the heavens, and what is now called the Shantung Revival burst upon them . . . In that inaugural year of revival, 1927, China experienced a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit that transformed multitudes.[iv]
Concerning the Scottish revival in 1950, the noon prayer meetings gave way to prayer meetings and preaching services in the various evangelical churches on week nights, and in these churches there were numerous reported conversions.
The Asbury College revival in the early 1970s was one of several sparks that gave rise to a nationwide awakening among American youth. This revival began when a few concerned students began to meet to pray for spiritual awakening. Likewise, the Canadian revivals in the 1970s came as a result of groups of Canadians praying for a revival.
Concerning the recent revivals in Korea during the 1980s and 1990s, Pastor Paul Cho indicated in regard to his own church revival, "We have seen the importance of developing and keeping a prayer life. If we stop praying, the revival will wane. If we continue praying, I believe all of Korea can be saved."[v] The Korean revivals have been marked by early morning prayer, all night prayer meetings and prayer retreats. Reports are that whereas in 1900 there were no protestant churches in Korea in 1994 there were 7,000 in Seoul alone and 30% of South Korea was Christian.
A recent awareness of God's powerful presence moved across the college and theological school campuses of America in the Spring of 1995. With some involvement of local churches, the movement was primarily one among students marked by prayer, public confession of sin and calls for spiritual accountability. In the "Afterword" of the book Revival, Bill Bright says of this student movement, "One prelude to the current revival movement has been the accelerated and unprecedented movements of prayers worldwide. God is hearing the prayers of His children around the world. Revival begins with prayer and results in evangelism.[vi]
All of this causes an agreement with J.C. Ryle, who wrote:
I have read the lives of many eminent Christians who have been on the earth since the Bible days. Some of them, I see, were rich, and some poor. Some were learned, some unlearned. Some of them were Episcopalian, and some Christians of other denominations. Some were Calvinists, and some were Armenians. Some have loved to use liturgy, and some choose to use none. But one thing I see they all had in common, they all have been men of prayer.[vii]
People of prayer we must always be and at the forefront of our praying we must continue to ask God to send revival. Inspired by the revival prayer of Habakkuk, “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known...”(Hab. 3:2) the Scottish Presbyterian minister and former physician, William Mackay worded a prayer of his own. Set to music by a onetime choirboy at Westminster Abbey, John J. Husband and popularized in the revival meetings of Ira Sankey, the hymn has been identified with revivalism since its writing more than one hundred, thirty-five years ago:
Revive us again; fill each heart with thy love;
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory, Hallelujah! Amen;
Hallelujah! Thine the glory, Revive us again.
If we have another significant spiritual awakening and revival in the world, it will come as God's people pray, and it will continue as God's people continue to pray. Prayer and evangelism are inseparably linked in the Word of God, in the human experience and in Christian history. Behind all effective evangelism is regular, faithful prayer.
As the prayer-shaped disciple prays for the church and its evangelistic outreach, the natural result to move even further beyond to pray for world missions.
[i]. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Vol. 16, No. 1, January, 1992), 27.
[ii]. Stephen F. Olford, Heart Cry for Revival (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1962), 80.
[iii]. John A. Abernathy, "The Shantung Revival," The Church Proclaiming and Witnessing, ed. Edwin L. McDonald (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966), 81-83.
[iv]. Lewis Drummond, Miss Bertha: Woman of Revival (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 45-46.
[v]. Paul Y. Cho, Prayer: Key to Revival (Waco: Word Books, Inc., 1984), 20.
[vii]. J.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 14-15.