Praying Things Through Before They Happen
Now I’m coming into the next thing. I’ve got a little list here and it doesn’t follow but we’ll get through it. Something else that I find extremely important is this: Pray things through before they happen. Now because this is a religious meeting and I’m a preacher I’ll give you a scripture for this. Philippians 4:6–7:
“Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Let me say another thing I appreciate about John Wesley is his spirit. I admire in many ways Martin Luther but I don’t envy Martin Luther’s spirit in the least bit. In fact, I’d rather stay away from it. He was a tremendous man, he impacted history but his personal attitude was of no appeal to me whatever. Least of all his attitude to the Jewish people. But John Wesley had a kind of sweetness in the spirit.
I tell you just by the way, I’ve been exercised for years as to what are the really important general principles for building churches. Not that I regard myself as a great church builder but I feel it’s one of the issues before us. And I’ve searched the New Testament many times and I do believe there are practical principles. But you know what I’ve come to the conclusion? The thing that the New Testament emphasizes the most is humility. I don’t think you can build a New Testament church with people that aren’t humble. It’s the material first, then the blueprint. John Wesley said the truly humble are one kind regardless of what garb they wear (or what label they carry). There is a bond that unites us. And I have found that. I can relate to Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, it makes no difference if there’s that inner humility of spirit.
Coming back to this scripture. In one of the passages in his journals John Wesley takes the middle of Philippians 4:6: in everything by prayer, and he makes this comment: I am persuaded that God does everything by prayer and nothing without it. And that has stayed with me ever since. I am persuaded that God does everything by prayer and nothing without it. And gradually in my own life prayer has been taking a more and more important place. Not that I’m a person that spends long hours in prayer but there’s few days that I don’t spend an hour. That’s not a tremendous record but it’s a lot higher than most Christians. I think the average minister spends six minutes a week in prayer. Let’s not oooh until we spend a lot more ourselves. But I have become persuaded that the safe way to live is pray things through before they happen.
Now you can’t always do that. You can be confronted with a crisis and you have to turn to God instantly. But when I begin to feel that God is directing me in a certain situation or I see a certain problem arising in somebody’s life or in a situation, I set myself to get the jump on the devil by praying it through before it happens. And then when it happens I feel confident. If I have faced a thing in prayer and prayed honestly and systematically, when it happens I can face it with confidence.
When I take a ministry journey and I’m on one now, I probably pray it through for two or three months before I set out. And I mention the places and one of the things I do is I feel that God has put a rod of authority in our hands. And the name on the rod is Jesus. And when I’m going anywhere I stretch out that rod over that place and over that situation and over those persons before I get there. Now it doesn’t mean there won’t be crises or problems but basically I have that inner confidence that this situation is going to work out because God is in charge.
Like yesterday, we get to the airport and discover that our flight is canceled. And really it was kind of miracle of God’s grace that we were able to get here because we had to go a completely different route. But I felt an inner confidence. This thing is prayed through before it happened. I do believe that you’ll be able to face life situations in a different way when you practice praying it through. To me it’s not a religious exercise you understand. There used to be a time when I felt prayer is a duty. I ought to be praying. And when you approach prayer that way you don’t do much. Now, it’s my refuge. It’s my key. I do it because it pays. Because if I don’t do it the results are not nearly so good.
Ruth and I feel a major responsibility, perhaps our primary responsibility is intercession for Israel and the Middle East. And we give ourselves very seriously to that. And there are certain scriptures that God has given us. I’ll give you an example. Two examples. They’re both in the book of Psalms in the 120’s. Psalm 125:3. Now this is one of those scriptures that’s given. You would never see it this way if God didn’t give it to you. But it says:
“The scepter of the wicked shall not remain over land allotted to the righteous.”
And then another one in Psalm 129. Now I am not suggesting to you people that these are prayers for you to pray. I’m giving you examples of assignments that Ruth and I have had. I’m going to quote this in the King James. Verses 5–6:
“Let them all be confounded and turn back that hate Zion. Let them be like the grass upon the housetop that withers before it grows up.”
“You will make your prayer to him, he will hear you and you will pay your vows.”
“You will also decree a thing and it shall be established to you.”
It is possible to make divine decrees in our prayers to change the course of history if you’re praying by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in line with scripture because Jesus said the scripture cannot be broken. Anything that opposes scripture ultimately must be broken, but the scripture never.
And the Lord told Jeremiah that his word was a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces. I tell people the hammer is guaranteed, it’s the rock that will have to break. I find prayer exciting. I hope that you do because it makes it much easier to pray when it’s exciting and it makes your prayers much more effective.
I also want to say that I think my greatest strength in my life and ministry has been praying together with my wife. My first wife, my present wife. Now I’m not suggesting that everybody is in the same situation, but for most of the time in my marriage we weren’t responsible for very young children. There was a time but it was not long. As a matter of habit I’ve always begun and ended each day by praying together with my wife. Years back I came to see if two of you shall agree as touching anything that they shall ask for it shall be done. You are invincible. There is nothing that can defeat you. Sometimes I felt almost sorry for the opposition after Lydia and I had come into agreement because I just knew it wasn’t going to stand. And I think I’ve had my share of opposition. I’m not saying that as a martyr by any means but I know what it is to have opposition. I’ve been surprised by talking to men in ministry how few even feel able to pray with their wife. I mean, that has astonished me. I’m not saying it to be critical but I just can’t understand how you can live with a woman and not be able to pray with her. And I venture to suggest, if that’s something in your life that’s true, it needs to be adjusted. One thing I praise God for is I’ve had a relationship of total honesty with my wife. I’ve never had to put on a religious front. If I disagreed I said I disagreed. And believe me, if Lydia disagreed she said she disagreed. I think I have really been blessed by God in the wife that he has given me each time. But then the Bible says a prudent wife is from the Lord. And he that findeth a wife findeth a good thing and obtaineth favor of the Lord.
And I think perhaps there may be an area of fallow ground in the lives of some of you that needs to be cultivated which is praying with your wife. Jesus said if two of you shall agree. The Greek is really harmonize. And praying together, if you stick with it, will produce harmony. I think if you have the responsibility of raising a family, the thing that children want most is harmony. They can’t define it but they can feel it. It’s good to take care of their education, their physical well-being and so on but what makes home a home is harmony. And as you know through your experience in ministry, the United States is filled with kids that had everything but harmony in their home. And they’re wandering around looking for some missing piece. They probably don’t know what they’re looking for or what it is. So I seriously recommend that if you’re not in the habit of praying with your wife you begin to cultivate that habit. Don’t start with a prayer meeting. Begin on a small scale. I always find myself that I pray best if I read the scripture first. I make it a general principle unless there’s an emergency not to pray unless I’ve read a portion from the word because it brings my mind into harmony with God. I begin to think in terms of God’s ways and God’s thoughts.
There have been so many sermons preached on prayer and so little praying resulted that I’m kind of reluctant to dwell on it. A lot of people read books on prayer rather than pray. I tell you, the people who pray are the ones who end up on top. I’ve had enough time to look at some men in ministry that I know in various aspects. I’ve sometimes wondered at the success of some of them because they didn’t seem to have the most powerful ministry and yet they came out on top. My conclusion was they were the men who knew how to pray. I told this brother that I was speaking about that we prayed for him to be more stable. He’s in the middle of a trial and I said the one that prays will come out on top. When all the dust has settled, the one who prayed stands.