The Priority Of Prayer Over Power
When King Artaxerxes detected a sad face on Nehemiah, he asked his Hebrew cupbearer what was making him sad. The question struck fear into Nehemiah, for to appear unhappy before those ancient oriental kings was taken by them as a dishonor to them-a practical indication that they were not as capable of absolute rule, in which all of their subjects rejoiced, as they deluded themselves into believing that they had. Nehemiah answered, telling the king of his grief over the demolished state of Jerusalem. When the king then asked Nehemiah what he requested for relief of his sadness, Nehemiah prayed to the God of heaven, then he spoke to the earthly king (Neh. 2: 1-5).
The priority of prayer over performance was maintained by Nehemiah throughout his work on the wall of the capital city of the covenant nation. When enemies mocked the work, Nehemiah did not waste words on them, but cried out to the Lord (Neh. 4:1-5). When enemies threatened to fight against the people repairing the wall, Nehemiah did not turn first to the critical and vital matter of instituting steps to protect the workers, but rather his priority was prayer for divine protection, then a plan for securing the people (Neh. 4:7-14).
Nehemiah is not alone in maintaining the priority of prayer over performance. David and other psalmists put prayer to God before any of their own devices to thwart their enemies (Ps.3,102,139:19-24). The apostles did likewise (Acts 4:23-31). In fact, we might say that Paul and Silas broke out of their Philippian dungeon by prayer and praises to God (Acts 16:25,26).
Our natural, (not spiritual) inclination, however, is to let prayer fall into being for us an irrelevant relic. The pressing affairs of our lives and the practical things apparently demanded of us in response to them, leave no room for prayer. Yet, especially for believers, who should know better than to forsake one of the offensive weapons of the full armor of God, when our performance takes priority over our prayers, failure, frustration, and fruitlessness ensue.
It is right for us to consult in prayer our Lord, without whom we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), before we venture to say or do anything on our own. If we view such prayerful communion as an added burden rather than the energizing power for our projects, we will not pray. Prayer is not a burden, but the highest privilege we have on this earth. In it we relate rightly to our God, humbling ourselves before Him and requesting things of Him that He will hear and answer above what we ask or think. Why should we seek to prosecute our work or face our challenges without availing ourselves of the Lord’s almighty arm? It is ridiculous for us to rely on our finite and fallible understanding to form our plans, when infallible divine wisdom is ours for the asking (Jas. 1:5). It is sinfully arrogant of us, and insulting to our God, that we should trust in our own puny efforts rather than call upon omnipotence to help us.
I realize that the devil, who often has a greater respect for the power of prayer than do we, is ever active, suggesting to us that prayer is useless, and distracting us by many things that seem more vital and urgent than the one thing necessary. But our maintenance of a consistent, vital prayer life, arid our resisting the enticements and intimidations of Satan that threaten to swamp us with demands that leave no place for prayer are disciplines of faith that we must exercise if we truly rely on the Lord for salvation.
As we begin yet another new year, I see many exciting projects and prospects. The Lord is raising up pastors and missionaries; buildings are being expanded and improved; children are growing into fine servants of the Lord; many Christians who were broken and burdened last year are finding relief this year. Added to this, there are challenges, such as the pressures of the secular culture in which we live which have not decreased but rather increased. With all of these prospects and challenges, we can easily neglect the vital work that our Lord says should fill the house of His Father (Mt. 2 1:13).
Therefore, let each of us examine ourselves to see whether prayer continues to take priority over performance, or whether a host of pressures, personal preferences, and distractions have not succeeded in forcing prayer into irrelevance. When our prayer meetings are poorly attended (as sometimes they are) I ask myself if the business occupying those not in attendance is more vital than what we are doing at the meeting. I wonder, especially regarding those members whose voices used to join with ours in the chorus of intercession, but who have been increasingly absent from the prayer meetings, if what they are doing is really more important and sure to provide more lasting fruit and holy satisfaction than what would issue from their spending 90 minutes with their brethren in corporate prayer. Surely we all can profit from asking ourselves these same questions, and committing ourselves to making whatever changes may be necessary in our priorities.
Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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