The Herald Weekly Vol XV : 4

Occupy Till He Comes – A Commitment to Prayer

When I became a Christian, and found peace and meaning in my life, I would often sing this chorus as a prayer to God. This has been my prayer ever since I committed my life to serving God, and it is still my prayer today.

Lead me to some soul today,
O teach me, Lord, just what to say.
Friends of mine are lost in sin,
And cannot find their way.
Few there are who seem to care,
And few there are who pray.
Melt my heart, and fill my life,
Give me one soul today.

What happens when Christians pray?

Many years ago, in the 1850s, a quiet and zealous business man named Jeremiah Lanphier arrived in New York to take up an appointment by the North Church of the Dutch Reformed denomination as City Missionary in the midst of a crash of secular and religious conditions. Thousands of businessmen were driven to desperation as banks failed, and railroads ended up in bankruptcy. Many became unemployed because factories shut down. Thousands sat in despair and hunger.

The church too was not spared in this economic downturn. With depleting membership because of movements of people to better quarters, Lanphier was engaged to visit the neighbourhoods diligently to boost church attendance in the city.

Jeremiah Lanphier invited others to join him in a noonday prayer meeting every Wednesday. He distributed a handbill (or flyer) which stated the following:

A day prayer meeting is held every Wednesday from 12 to 1 o’clock in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and Williams streets. This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call on God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who find it inconvenient to remain more than 5 or 10 minutes, as well as for those who can spare a whole hour. Necessary interruption will be slight, because anticipated. Those in haste often expedite their business engagements by halting to lift their voices to the throne of grace in humble, grateful prayer.

Thus, exactly at 12 noon on 23 September 1857, Lanphier took his seat in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, and waited. No one came after 5 minutes. With mixed feelings of fear and faith, he walked up and down the room. He waited for 30 minutes before he heard footsteps on the stairs. Slowly, but surely, 6 persons came for the first noonday prayer meeting. By the next Wednesday, 7 October, there were 40 prayer warriors. In the first week of October 1857, they decided to hold this prayer meeting every day! Within 6 months, 10,000 businessmen were gathering every day for prayer in New York, and within 2 years, a million people were converted and added to the churches.

This is a record of what God did in New York City because of the concerted effort of His people in prayer. The religious fervour in America experienced the waves that you would see in many business chart graphs. But when there was a need to see growth in the church, God never failed to answer His people when they called to Him. Truly, the Jeremiah Lanphier’s revival is known to be one of the greatest revivals which swept through the city of New York, and woke up the whole of the country. J Edwin Orr says (The Light of the Nations, pp. 103-105) “there was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray.”

According to the book, America’s Great Revivals, Lanphier’s commitment to prayer led to the revival of 1857. His devotion to prayer came only after he had totally surrendered himself to God. He had struggled with this burden for a long time, and until “at last I resolved to give myself to the work.” Because he dedicated himself wholly to prayer, tens of thousands of lives were changed.

Businessmen, manufacturers, sinners and hardened criminals came to pray, or to be prayed for. Many gave up their criminal acts and followed Jesus. The rich gave to the poor, and became sisters and brothers in Christ. Even customers followed the merchants because the latter said they were going to the prayer meeting. The customers were soon converted. The power of prayer influenced every aspect of business, and the Bible became their standard to be honest, truthful and conscientious in their dealings.

Someone asked Jeremiah Lanphier, “How often should we pray?” He replied: “As often as the language of prayer is in my heart; as often as I see my need of help; as often as I feel the power of temptation; as often as I am made sensible of any spiritual declension or feel the aggression of a worldly spirit. In prayer we leave the business of time for that of eternity, and intercourse (old English word for ‘interaction’) with men for intercourse with God.”

Prayer for our country, our church

There is a lot of uncertainty over whether our country’s economy is headed for a recession. In relation to China’s slowing economy, our small island-state will also feel a drag in its economic growth. The containers which used to fill up the PSA terminals near Keppel Road are not as full as before. Companies are cutting jobs. Employees may not receive their yearly bonuses, and some are facing retrenchment. The shopping malls are quiet, and customers are not making purchases. Families will be affected in many ways. Will hard times cause people to stay away from worship of God, or bring them closer to Him?

After King Solomon completed the building of the house of God, he assembled the elders, and the Levites who brought the Ark of the covenant, and other holy vessels before God (2 Chronicles 5), and prayed to God for forgiveness of the people and to heal the land. (6:21-42)

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God challenged the Israelites by saying: “If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Indeed, God heard Solomon’s prayer, and consumed the offerings he offered to God. He promised Solomon that He will forgive their sins and heal the land, and to perpetuate Solomon’s kingdom upon the condition that he persevered in his duty. Solomon was to imitate the example of his father, David’s close relationship with God. God knew that even though they had built the temple to honour Him, they were still prone to backslide into sin, and be drawn to worship other gods.

Herald B-P Church was conceived in prayer. At our first prayer meeting in a friend’s home in December 2003, 12 persons gathered for prayer. We saw the need to start a fellowship group which later became Herald Church. It has been 13 years since then. God has been faithful in providing for all of the church’s needs. The church has seen its ups and downs in the growth chart, but God continues to give me and the Session the burden to carry on with the work.

I pray that the economic down turn and global uncertainties will bring Christians back to God. I pray that businessmen, employers and employees, teachers, students, family heads, housewives, children…everyone…will turn to God in prayer.

How should we pray?

God’s Word encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5:17). What does this mean? Are we to continuously open our mouths to pray to God? Spurgeon says that it is not possible to pray with the voice without ceasing. He said that “it is clear that audible language is not essential to be prayer. We may speak a thousand words which seem to be prayer, and yet never pray; on the other hand, we may cry into God’s ear most effectually, and yet never say a word.” Spurgeon believes it is not the ready-made prayer, nor the posture or the place that is essential to prayer. It is not that God will only listen when we kneel to Him in prayer; nor does He listen only when we are always saying prayers in church or in a meeting. He believes that it is the privilege (a right, a benefit enjoyed) of the Christian to be praying without ceasing i.e. there should be no time when we may not pray. A king’s child is privileged to approach the king at all times. As God’s children, we have the privilege to come to His presence at any time. God hears us at all times; He is never weary of listening to our prayers, no matter when we pray, and how often we pray.

Spurgeon continues to say that it is the precept (a command, a rule of action) for Christians to pray all the time. He means that we should never abandon prayer. We should continue in prayer until the last moments of our lives. That is to say, just as we breathe without ceasing, we must pray without ceasing. We should never give up praying even when Satan should suggest that it is vain for us to cry out to God for help. As watchful Christians, we should never give up the regular offering of prayer to God. It should be a fixed time of devotion to God, just as we have fixed meals. Not like a superstitious act, but as a daily convenience and remembrance of our Heavenly Father in the morning, noon or night. And not necessarily three times a day, but even more times. In fact, while we may be busy with our hands, our hearts and minds can be fixed on our God at all times. We must be always in the spirit of prayer.

Thus, if we love the church and God’s people, we should be praying unceasingly for the church and fellow-believers. If we love our family members, we should be praying always for their growth in Christ, or the unbelieving ones to come to know Christ as their Saviour and Lord.

Synchronized Prayer

This year we have started a synchronized prayer group on WhatsApp. This is to encourage everyone in church to be united in prayer for one another, and for the church at 9.00 pm every Thursday evening. It is strictly voluntary, and you can join the group by informing me or Dness Patricia Lee, or PA Lim Ee Meng, and your name will be included in the WhatsApp prayer group. This is NOT a chat group, and does not need any responses. We also do not encourage anyone to send any messages, video clips, advertisements or anything else. The administrators will upload the prayer requests for intercessors’ reference (those who are praying or interceding in prayer). The group will also be informed when God has answered the prayer. But this does not stop the intercessors from praying unceasingly throughout the week for the requests uploaded.

Beloved, if you are unable to join us at the Central Prayer Meeting on Thursday evening, then let me encourage you to join us in this Synchronized Prayer, and see God work great wonders as we pour our hearts out to Him in prayer. He answered us when we asked whether we should start Herald as a church; He answered us when we prayed for the sick and those who needed surgery. God continues to hear our prayers, and reaches out to us as we reach out to Him.

Let us be challenged to be like one of the participants in the 1850s, and see God work a great revival in our midst as we “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” (Col 4:2).

Pastor Bob Phee

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