THE POWER OF PRAYER
By: REUBEN ARCHER TORREYŚ1856-1928
have not, because ye ask not (James 4:2).
I BRING YOU
A MESSAGE FROM GOD contained in seven short words. Six of the seven words
are monosyllables, and the remaining word has but two syllables and is one
of the most familiar and most easily understood words in the English
language. Yet there is so much in these seven short, simple words that
they have transformed many a life and brought many an inefficient worker
into a place of great power.
I spoke on
these seven words some years ago at a Bible conference in central New
York. Some months after the conference, I received a letter from the man
who had presided at the conference, one of the best-known ministers of the
gospel in America. He wrote me, "I have been unable to get away from
the seven words on which you spoke at Lake Keuka, and they have been with
me day and night. They have transformed my ideas, transformed my methods,
and transformed my ministry." The man who wrote those words has since
been the pastor of what is probably the most widely known of any
evangelical church in the world. I trust that the words may sink into some
of your hearts today as they did into his on that occasion and that some
of you will be able to say in future months and years, "I have been
unable to get away from those seven words, they nave seen with me day and
night. They have transformed my ideas, transformed my methods, transformed
my life, and transformed my service for God."
find these seven words in James 4:2, the seven closing words of the verse,
"Ye have not, because ye ask not. "
Secret of Christians Powerlessness
words contain the secret of the poverty and powerlessness of the average
Christian, of the average minister, and of the average church. "Why
is it," many a Christian is asking, "that I make such poor
progress in my Christian life? Why do I have so little victory over sin?
Why do I win so few souls to Christ? Why do I grow so slowly into the
likeness of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?" And God answers in the
words of the text: "Neglect of prayer. You have not, because you ask
is it," many a minister is asking, "that I see so little fruit
from my ministry? Why are there so few conversions? Why does my church
grow so slowly? Why are the members of my church so little helped by my
ministry, and built up so little in Christian knowledge and life?"
And again God replies: "Neglect of prayer. You have not, because you
is it," both ministers and churches are asking, "that the church
of Jesus Christ is making such slow progress in the world today? Why does
it make so little headway against sin, against unbelief, against error in
all its forms? Why does it have so little victory over the world, the
flesh, and the devil? Why is the average church member living on such a
low plane of Christian living? Why does the Lord Jesus Christ get so
little honor from the state of the church today?" And, again, God
replies: "Neglect of prayer. You have not, because you ask not."
Early Church's Victory
read the only inspired church history that was ever written, the history
of the church in the days of the apostles as it is recorded by Luke (under
the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) in the Acts of the Apostles, what do
we find? We find a story of constant victory, a story of perpetual
progress. We read, for example, such statements as Acts 2:47: "The
Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" and Acts 4:4:
"Many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the
men was about five thousand," and Acts 5:14: "And believers were
the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." In
addition Luke in Acts 6:7 states: "And the word of God increased: and
the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great
company of the priests were obedient to the faith."
And so we
go on, chapter after chapter, through the twenty-eight chapters of Acts,
and in every one of the twenty-seven chapters after the first, we find the
same note of victory. I once went through the Acts of the Apostles marking
the note of victory in every chapter, and without one single exception the
triumphant shout of victory rang out in every chapter. How different the
history of the church as here recorded is from the history of the church
of Jesus Christ today. Take, for example, that first statement, "The
Lord added to the church daily [that is, every day] such as should be
saved." Why, nowadays, if we have a revival once a year with an
accession of fifty or sixty members and spend all the rest of the year
slipping back to where we were before, we think we are doing pretty well.
But in those days there was a revival all the time and accessions every
day of those who not only "hit the trail" but "were
[really] being saved."
difference between the early church and the church of Jesus Christ today?
Someone will answer, "Because there is so much opposition
today." Ah, but there was opposition in those days, most bitter, most
determined, most relentless opposition in comparison with which that which
you and I meet today is but child's play. But the early church went right
on beating down all opposition, surmounting every obstacle, conquering
every foe, always victorious, right on without a setback from Jerusalem to
Rome, in the face of the most firmly entrenched and most mighty heathenism
and unbelief. I repeat the question, "Why was it?" If you will
turn to the chapters from which I have already quoted, you will get your
example, to Acts 2:42: "And they continued steadfastly in the
apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayers."
That is a picture very brief but very suggestive of the early church. It
was a praying church. It was a church in which they prayed, not merely
occasionally, but where they all "continued steadfastly . . . in
prayers." They all prayed, not a select few, but the whole membership
of the church; and all prayed continuously with steadfast determination.
"They gave themselves to prayer," as the same Greek word is
translated in Acts 6:4.
Now turn to
Acts 6:4 and you will get the rest of your answer. "We will give
ourselves continually to prayer." That is a picture of the
apostolic ministry: it was a praying ministry, and a ministry that
"gave themselves continually to prayer," or, to translate that
Greek word as it is translated in former passage (Acts 2:42), "They
continued steadfastly in prayer." A praying church and a praying
ministry! Ah, such a church and such a ministry can achieve anything that
ought to be achieved. It will go steadily on, beating down all opposition,
surmounting every obstacle, conquering every foe, just as much today as it
did in the days of the apostles.
Departure From Prayer
nothing else in which the church and the ministry of today or, to be more
explicit, you and I have departed more notably and more lamentably from
apostolic precedent than in this matter of prayer. We do not live in a
praying age. A very considerable proportion of the membership of our
evangelical churches today do not believe even theoretically in prayer.
Many of them now believe in prayer as having a beneficial "reflex
influence," that is, as benefiting the person who prays, a sort of
lifting yourself up by your spiritual bootstraps. But as for prayer
bringing anything to pass that would not have come to pass if we had not
prayed, they do not believe in it, and many of them frankly say so, and
even some of our "modern ministers" say so. I believe it is
still the vast majority in our evangelical churches-even they do not make
the use of this mighty instrument that God has put into our hands that one
would naturally expect. As I said, we do not live in a praying age. We
live in an age of hustle and bustle, of man's efforts and man's
determination, of man's confidence in himself and in his own power to
achieve things, an age of human organization and human machinery, human
push and human scheming, and human achievement, which in the things of God
means no real achievement at all.
I think it
would be perfectly safe to say that the church of Christ was never in all
its history so fully, so skillfully and so thoroughly and so perfectly
organized as it is today. Our machinery is wonderful; it is just perfect,
but, alas, it is machinery without power; and when things do not go right,
instead of going to the real source of our failure, our neglect to depend
on God and look to God for power, we look around to see if there is not
some new organization we can get up, some new wheel that we can add to our
machinery. We have altogether too many wheels already. What we need is not
so much some new organization, some new wheel, but "the Spirit of the
living creature in the wheels" we already possess.
that the devil stands and looks at the church today and laughs in his
sleeve as he sees how its members depend on their own scheming and powers
of organization and skillfully devised machinery. "Ha, ha," he
laughs, "you may have your Boy Scouts, your costly church edifices,
your multi-thousand-dollar church organs, your brilliant university-bred
preachers, your high-priced choirs, your gifted sopranos and altos and
tenors and bases, your wonderful quartets, your immense men's Bible
classes, yes, and your Bible conferences, and your Bible institutes, and
your special evangelistic services, all you please of them; it does not in
the feast trouble me, if you will only leave out of them the power of the
Lord God Almighty sought and obtained by the earnest, persistent,
believing prayer that will not take no for an answer." But when the
devil sees a man or woman who really believes in prayer, who knows how to
pray, and who really does pray, and, above all, when he sees a whole
church on its face before God in prayer, "he trembles" as much
as he ever did, for he knows that his day in that church or community is
at an end.
as much power today, when men and women are themselves on praying ground
and meeting the conditions of prevailing prayer, as it ever has had. God
has not changed, and His ear is just as quick to hear the voice of real
prayer and His hand is just as long and strong to save as they ever were.
"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save:
neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But our iniquities may
"have separated between us and our God, and "our sins have hid
his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1,2). Prayer is
the key that unlocks all the storehouses of God's infinite grace and
power. All that God is, and all that God has, are at the disposal of
player. But we must use the key. Prayer can do anything that God can do,
and as God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent. No one can stand against
the one who knows how to pray and who meets all the conditions of
prevailing prayer and who really prays. "The Lord God
Omnipotent" works from him and works through him.
Will Promote Our Personal Holiness as
Nothing Else, Except the Study of the Word of God
specifically, will prayer do? We have been dealing in generalities; let us
come down to the definite and specific. The Word of God very plainly
answers the question.
first place, prayer will promote our personal piety, our individual
holiness, our individual growth into the likeness of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ as almost nothing else, as nothing else but the study of the
Word of God. These two things, prayer and study of the Word of God, always
go hand-in-hand, for there is no true prayer without study of the Word of
God, and there is no true study of the Word of God without prayer.
things being equal, your growth and mine into the likeness of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ will be in exact proportion to the time and to the
heart we put into prayer. Please note exactly what I say: "Your
growth and mine into the likeness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will
be in exact proportion to the time and to the heart we put into
prayer." I put it in that way because there are many who put a great
deal of time but so little heart into their praying that they do very
little praying in the long time they spend at it.
other hand, there are others who, perhaps, may not put so much time into
praying but put so much heart into praying that they accomplish vastly
more by their praying in a short time than the others accomplish by
praying in a long time. God Himself has told us in Jeremiah 29: 13:
"And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with
all your heart."
We are told
in Ephesians 1:3, that God "hash blessed us with every spiritual
blessing in the heavenly places in -Christ." That is to say, Jesus
Christ by His atoning death and by His resurrection and ascension to the
right hand of the Father has obtained for every believer in Jesus Christ
every possible spiritual blessing. There is no spiritual blessing that any
believer enjoys that may not be yours. It belongs to you now; Christ
purchased it by His atoning death and God has provided it in Him. It is
there for you; but it is your part to claim it, to put out your hand and
take it. God's appointed way for claiming blessings by putting out your
hand and appropriating to yourself the blessings that are procured for you
by the atoning death of Jesus Christ is by prayer. Prayer is the hand that
takes to ourselves the blessings that God has already provided in His Son.
your Bible and you will find it definitely stated that every conceivable
spiritual blessing is obtained by prayer. For example, it is in answer to
prayer, as we learn from Psalm 139:23, 24, that God searches us and knows
our hearts, tries us and knows our thoughts, brings to light the sin that
there is in us and delivers us from it. It is in answer to prayer, as we
learn from Psalm 19:12,13 that we are cleansed from secret faults and that
God keeps us back from presumptuous sins. It is in answer to prayer, as we
learn from the 14th verse of the same Psalm, that the words of our mouth
and the meditations of our heart are made acceptable in God's sight. It is
in answer to prayer, as we learn from Psalm 25:4,5, that God shows us His
ways, teaches us His path, and guides us in His truth. It is in answer to
prayer, as we learn from the prayer our Lord Himself taught us, that we
are kept from temptation and delivered from the power of the wicked one
(Matthew 6:13). It is in answer to prayer, as we learn from Luke 11:13,
that God gives us His Holy Spirit. And so we might go on through the whole
catalog of spiritual blessings and find that every one is obtained by
asking for it. Indeed, our Lord Himself has said in Matthew 7:11: "If
ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how
much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them
that ask him."
One of the
most instructive and suggestive passages in the entire Bible as showing
the mighty power of prayer to transform us into the likeness of our Lord
Jesus Himself, is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "But we all, with open
face beholding as in a glass [The English Revision reads better,
"reflecting as a mirror"] the glory of the Lord, are changed
into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the
Lord." The thought is that the Lord is the sun, you and I are
mirrors, and just as a mischievous boy on a bright sunshiny day will catch
the rays of the sun in a piece of broken looking-glass and reflect them
into your eyes and mine with almost blinding power, so we, as mirrors,
when we commune with God, catch the rays of His moral glory and reflect
them out on the world "from glory to glory." That is, each time
we commune with Him we catch something new of His glory and reflect it out
on the world.
you remember the story of Moses, how he went up into the mount and tarried
about forty days with God, gazing on that ineffable glory, and caught so
much of the glory in his own face that when he came down from the mount,
though he himself did not know it, his face so shone that he had to draw a
veil over it to hide the blinding glory of it from his fellow Israelites.
Even so we,
going up into the mount of prayer, away from the world, alone with God,
catch the rays of His glory, so that when we come down to other people, it
is not so much our faces that shine (though I do believe that sometimes
even our faces shine), but our characters, with the glory that we have
been beholding. We then reflect out on the world the moral glory of God
from "glory to glory," each new time of communion with Him
catching something new of His glory to reflect out on the world. Oh, here
is the secret of becoming much like God by remaining long alone with God.
If you won't stay long with Him, you won't be much like Him.
One of the
most remarkable men in Scotland's history was John Welch, son-in-law of
John Knox, the great Scotch reformer; he is as well known as his famous
father-in-law, but in some respects a far more remarkable man than John
Knox himself. Most people have the idea that it was John Knox who prayed,
"Give me Scotland or I die." It was not; it was John Welch, his
son-in-law. John Welch put it on record before he died that he counted
that day ill-spent that he did not put seven or eight hours into secret
prayer. When John Welch came to die, an old Scotchman who had known him
from his boyhood said of him, "John Welch was a type of Christ."
Of course, that was an inaccurate use of language, but what the old
Scotchman meant was, that Jesus Christ had stamped the impress of His
character on John Welch. When had Jesus Christ done it? In those seven or
eight hours of daily communion with Himself. I do not suppose that God has
called many of us, if any of us, to put seven or eight hours a day into
prayer, but I am confident God has called most of us, if not every one of
us, to put more time into prayer than we now do. That is one of the great
secrets of holiness, indeed, the only way in which we can become really
holy and continue holy.
ago we often sang a hymn, "Take Time to Be Holy." I wish we sang
it more in these days. It takes time to be holy, one cannot be holy in a
hurry, and much of the time that it takes to be holy must go into secret
prayer. Some people express surprise that professing Christians today are
so little like their Lord, but when I stop to think how little time the
average Christian today puts into secret prayer the thing that astonished
me is, not that we are so little like the Lord, but that we are as much
like the Lord as we are, when we take so little time for secret prayer.
Will Bring the Power of God Into Our Work
only will prayer promote as almost nothing else our personal holiness, but
prayer will also bring the power of God into our work. We read in Isaiah
40:31: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they
shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and
they shall walk [plod right along day after day, which is far harder than
running or flying], and not faint."
It is the
privilege of every child of God to have the power of God in his service.
And the verse just quoted tells us how to obtain it, and that is by
"waiting upon the Lord." Sometimes you will hear people stand up
in a meeting, not so frequently perhaps in these days as in former days,
and say: "I am trying to serve God in my poor, weak way." Well,
if you are trying to serve God in your poor, weak way, quit it; your duty
is to serve God in His strong, triumphant way. But you say, "I have
no natural ability." Then get supernatural ability.
religion of Jesus Christ is a supernatural religion from start to finish,
and we should live our lives in supernatural power, the power of God
through Jesus Christ, and we should perform our service with supernatural
power, the power of God ministered by the Holy Spirit through Jesus
Christ. You say, "I have no natural gifts." Then get
supernatural gifts. The Holy Spirit is promised to every believer in order
that he may obtain the supernatural gifts, which qualify him for the
particular service to which God calls him. "He [The Holy Spirit]
divideth to each one [that is, to each and every believer] severally even
as he will" ([Corinthians 12:11). It is ours to have the power of God
if we will only seek it by prayer in any and every line of service to
which God calls us.
Are you a
mother or a father? Do you wish power from God to bring your own children
up in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord"? God commands you
to do it and especially commands the father to do it. God says in
Ephesians 6:4: "Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath:
but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
never commands the impossible, and as He commands us fathers, and the
mothers also, to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of
the Lord, it is possible for us to do it. If any one of your children is
not saved, the first blame lies at your own door. Paul said to the jailer
in Philippi: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be
saved, and thy house" (Acts 16:31).
Yes, it is
the solemn duty of every father and mother to have every one of their
children saved. But we can never accomplish it unless we are much in
prayer to God for power to do it. In my first pastoral I had as a member
of my church a most excellent Christian woman, but she had a little boy of
six who was one of the most incorrigible youngsters I ever knew in my
life. He was the terror of the community. One Sunday, at the close of the
morning service, his mother came to me and said: "You know-?"
(Calling her boy by his first name).
"Yes," I replied, "I know
him." Everybody in town knew him. "Yes," I replied, "I
know he is not a very good boy." Indeed, that was a decidedly
euphemistic way of putting it; in point of fact he was the terror of the
Then this heavy-hearted mother said, "What shall I do?" I
replied, "Have you ever tried prayer?" "Why," she said, "of course I
"Oh," I said, "that is not what I mean. Have you
ever asked God definitely to regenerate your boy and expected Him to do
"I do not think I have ever been as definite as that."
"Well," I said, "you go right home and be just as definite
home and was just as definite as that, and I think it was from that very
day, certainly from that week, that the boy was a transformed boy and grew
up into fine young manhood.
and fathers, it is your privilege to have every one of your children
saved. But it costs something to have them saved. It costs your spending
much time alone with God, to be much in prayer, and it costs also your
making those sacrifices and straightening out those things in your life
that are wrong; it costs the fulfilling the conditions of prevailing
prayer. And if any of you have unsaved children, when you go home today
get alone with God and ask God to show you what it is in your own life
that is responsible for the present condition of your children. Straighten
it out at once and then get down alone before God and hold to Him in
earnest prayer for the definite conversion of each one of your children.
Do not rest until, by prayer and by your putting forth every effort, you
know beyond question that every one of your children is definitely and
positively converted and born again.
Are you a
Sunday school teacher? Do you wish to see every one of your Sunday school
scholars converted? That is primarily what you are a Sunday school teacher
for, not merely to teach Bible geography and Bible history, or even Bible
doctrine, but to get the people in your class one and all saved. Do you
want power from on high to enable you to save them? Ask God for it.
of God's Power Evident in Prayer
Alexander and I were holding meetings in Sydney, Australia, the meetings
were held in the Town Hall, which seated about five thousand people. But
the crowds were so great that some days we had to divide the crowds and
have women only in the afternoon and men only at night. One Sunday
afternoon the Sydney Town Hall was packed with women. When I gave the
invitation for all who would accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior,
surrender to Him as their Lord and Master, begin to confess Him as such
before the world, and strive to live from this time on to please Him in
every way from day to day, over on my left a whole row of eighteen young
women of, I should say, about twenty years of age, arose to their feet. As
I saw them stand side by side, I said to myself, "That is someone's
Bible class." Afterwards they came forward with the other women who
came to make a public confession of their acceptance of Jesus Christ. When
the meeting was over, a young lady came to me, her face wreathed in
smiles, and she said, "That is my Bible class. I have been praying
for their conversion, and every one of them has accepted Jesus Christ
were holding meetings in Bristol, England, a prominent manufacturer in
Exeter had a Bible class of twenty-two men. He invited all of them to go
to Bristol with him and hear me preach. Twenty-one of them consented to
go. At that meeting twenty of them accepted Christ. That man was praying
for the conversion of the members of his class and was willing to make the
sacrifices necessary to get his prayers answered. Revival would quickly
come here in this city if every Sunday school teacher would go to praying
the way they ought for the conversion of every scholar in his or her
Are you in
more public work, a preacher perhaps, or speaking from the public
platform? Do you long for power in that work? Ask for it.
Oh, men and
women, if we would spend more nights before God on our faces in prayer
there would be more days of power when we faced our congregations!