Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 15
OUR GREATEST NEED: INTERCESSORY PRAYER
I am aware that this series of articles is supposed to be about Simon Peter and not about everything. When I get started on the subject of intercessory prayer, however, I find it hard to quit. It strikes me that this is our greatest need and our most neglected service today. Won’t it be terrible in judgment to face eternal God and have to admit that we knew what was wrong with us and how to cure it, but just didn’t do it? Won’t it be terrible to have to admit that we knew we weren’t praying enough and knew that life would straighten out if we did; that we knew it was what the church really needed; but we did something else instead.
Why the Early Church Succeeded
We have been pointing out for years that the first century church didn’t need Sunday schools or pipe organs to make it fulfill its function. That is true. It is also true that it didn’t need parties or frills either. It didn’t need fine buildings and seminars. But we forget the fact that one reason it didn’t need these things was the fact that it had praying members. When the Apostles were threatened by the Sanhedrin the church met specifically for prayer. When Peter was imprisoned they met at the house of Rhoda to pray. We have argued that all we need today to save the world (if the world can be saved) is the preaching of the Word. We have been wrong. We must have prayerful preaching of the Word. Prayerless preaching is a mockery of the Word. The amount of praying we are doing is not enough. We are preaching enough and singing enough and communing enough and playing enough and talking enough, but we are not praying enough. If the church as we have known it fails in its purpose in this century it will be because we did not pray enough. If you find your own lives ending in failure it will be for the same reason. If you are dammed to hell it will at least partially result from a lack of sufficient prayer. Oh brethren, if you would see the church rise and conquer, pray more. If you would see your loved ones stronger and happier, pray more. If you would see your immortal souls eternally saved, pray more.
How Long Should One Pray?
But someone says, “The hypocrites for a pretense make long prayers. We are not heard for our much speaking or loud crying.” This, of course, is quite true. I am not asking for long prayers in church or on street corners for a pretense. I am asking for long hours in your secret closet of prayer for a purpose. I am not asking for much speaking and loud crying to persuade God to hear. I am asking for hours of intercession and soul searching because God is already hearing.
If Jesus visited your home would you say after a short chat, “Now Lord, since I’m not heard for my much speaking you may go on your way while I watch my favorite TV program?” When Jesus prayed all night was he trying to be heard by much speaking or was he a longtime praying because he know God was listening and there was so much to say; so much need to be prayed for. God hears the shortest prayer for anybody. But there are so many bodies to pray for. God draws nigh to catch six words of prayer. But with God nigh why this hurry to get away from his presence?
What Prayer Does to Us
In hours of prayer we learn things about ourselves that shock us. To begin with we discover how little we know about prayer and how sterile our previous prayer life has been. The first few minutes go nicely and then a restless boredom, a dreary conviction of your own incapacity will attack you. Never before has time seemed to move so slowly or an hour taken so long to pass. But if you persist the hour of prayer will gradually begin to take on new meaning and beauty. The busy rat race about you begins to look sillier and less important. Your sense of values begins to undergo a change. You see changes that must be made in your own life in order that you may be a clearer channel through which God may bless your loved ones. Thus you begin to grow into what God and the church really need.
There was once a man by the name of Mark Hopkins. He was recognized as one of the greatest teachers of boys ever seen in this country. Once when a debate was raging about an appropriation of funds for school buildings and equipment, a man arose and said that what was needed was not great buildings and expensive equipment. Far better education could be provided with Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a boy on the other end. This was readily admitted but it was pointed out that while we would all take this method of education if possible, there just weren’t enough Mark Hopkinses to go around.
Our Great Deficiency
This is the problem of the kingdom of God. We suffer not so much from the lack of funds, or equipment, or buildings, but from the lack of praying saints. I hear brethren say we need more and better elders, or more and better preachers, or more and better programs, or more and better singing, or more and better services. What we really need are more and better praying saints. The only way to get them is for the members we have to start praying. Some of you can’t lead singing. But these things are not at present our primary need. All of you can pray. And intercessory prayer is what we need. It is the one thing that can open the way for the preaching of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.
Lack of Prayer Did This to Peter
But we must return to our study of Simon Peter. After the supper is over Jesus leads the eleven disciples out of the city and up the Mount or Olives to the garden of Gethsemane. To most of us Gethsemane means a place of prayer and a place of trial. Peter was forced to go through life remembering it as a place where he went to sleep at his prayers. He had gone there with a heavy hearted master. Jesus had honored him, along with James and John, by taking them with him deeper into the garden. There he told them to watch and pray. They knew he was deeply troubled. They knew he had powerful enemies. Peter had been warned that he himself faced a moral and spiritual crisis that very night. Yet Peter went to sleep at his prayers. Oh he was ready enough to draw a sword and stage a hopeless fight. He could believe in the advisability of this in spite of its obvious hopelessness. But he couldn’t believe in prayer enough to stay awake. No wonder we find him a little later still following but following afar off.
Yet who are we to look with scorn at this man? Are not we, too, usually looking for something glamorous to do while we go to sleep at our prayers? We flourish the sword of our own proud but puny efforts in the face of obvious hopelessness but sleep through the one thing that could interject hope.
From this point on the night was a terrible one for Peter but we must wait till our next article to follow him through the grim experience of that night.